Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Dr Strangelove: No 6 best comedy film of all time.
Stanley Kubrick’s bleak Cold War satire Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb belongs to a class and genre all its own. Here’s everything you need to know about the game-changing film, which made its premiere on January 29, 1964.
The film was originally intended to be a very serious war drama, but as the production progress, the cast and crew found the piece so funny, Kubrick decided to reorient his approach to the film and make it a comedy. He did not intend for the film to be silly or fantastic; on the contrary, all of the situations in the film are gravely important.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 motion picture “Dr. Strangelove” or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.As we all know that when the script for the movie was first written it was not a funny, but a very serious movie about nuclear disaster in which every leaving creature on thisplanet would die. However when the director Stanley Kubrick began to film, things have changed. It was decided that it should be a comedy, a parody about nuclear war. Now the question arises why would they change it?In 1964 when the movie was filmed Cold War was at its peak, Cuban Missile crisis were just over and people were still in a shock. We have to take into consideration that people during those days had nothing to joke about, because any moment “Ruskis” might come and nuke America. I think that Stanley Kubrick did a right decision by changing the movie from a serious genre to a comedy. I think the reason was that people were already enough scared and paranoid about nuclear war, also making a serious movie would only make things worse. Let’s picture our selves in 1964, do we really want to see how one day we can all die and not be saved by Bruce Willis or George Clooney? I don’t think so, especially at those times. People don’t like to talk about horrible things that can happen or what can go wrong, so I believe that one of the reasons why the script of the movie was changed is because otherwise no one would have seen it, or…
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, more commonly known as Dr. Strangelove, is a 1964 political satire black comedy film that satirizes the Cold War fears of a nuclear conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. The film was directed, produced, and co-written by Stanley Kubrick, stars Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, and features Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, and Slim Pickens. Production took place in the United Kingdom. The film is loosely based on Peter George’s thriller novel Red Alert (1958).
Strangelove presents an indictment of war, military power, and blind hubris in the form of a hilarious, understated satire. Satire is a literary genre that uses comedy for social commentary.
Dr. Strangelove critiques mutually assured destruction, a military strategy that posits that the use of nuclear weapons can only lead to the annihilation of both sides in a conflict. The Cuban Missile Crisis lingered in recent memory in 1964, when Dr. Strangelove opened in theaters across the country. Kubrick utilizes satire in the film to critique the political climate of the early Cold War. Satires provide the kind of critical distance that comes with exaggerating a situation enough to be able to step back from yourself and have a laugh at the absurdity of it all.
The story concerns an unhinged United States Air Force general who orders a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. It follows the President of the United States, his advisers, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a Royal Air Force (RAF) officer as they try to recall the bombers to prevent a nuclear apocalypse. It separately follows the crew of one B-52 bomber as they try to deliver their payload.In 1989, the United States Library of Congress included Dr. Strangelove in the first group of films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
During the writing process, however, the director found himself struggling to escape a persistent comedic overtone because he found the vast majority of the political calamities described in the story to be inherently funny. Eventually, Kubrick abandoned the idea of fighting the adaptation’s dark sense of humor and embraced it wholeheartedly.
The film proceeds to switch between three settings: the B-52 bomber, Burpleson Air Force Base, and the War Room at the Pentagon in Washington DC.
The Big Lebowski to Jeffrey Lebowski a.k.a. the Dude in The Big Lebowski (1998)) Beginning with the landmark Stanley Kubrick film Dr. Strangelove; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), dark comedy emerged as a genre that allowed filmmakers to develop serious cultural critiques of American politics and society in the guise of comedies. Dark comedy also permitted filmmakers to take on more controversial or serious subject matter at a time when the longstanding strictures of the Production Code Administration (PCA) were increasingly under siege but had not yet been dismantled.
“Dr. Strangelove’s” humor is generated by a basic comic principle: People trying to be funny are never as funny as people trying to be serious and failing. The laughs have to seem forced on unwilling characters by the logic of events. A man wearing a funny hat is not funny. But a man who doesn’t know he’s wearing a funny hat … ah, now you’ve got something.
The characters in “Dr. Strangelove” do not know their hats are funny. The film begins with Gen. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) fondling a phallic cigar while launching an unauthorized nuclear strike against Russia. He has become convinced that the commies are poisoning “the purity and essence of our natural fluids” by adding fluoride to the water supply. (Younger viewers may not know that in the 1950s this was a widespread belief.) Ripper’s nuclear strike, his cigar technique and his concern for his “precious bodily fluids” are so entwined that they inspire unmistakable masturbatory associations.
Strangelove has a black-gloved mechanical prosthetic arm that he can’t control. The black glove belonged to Kubrick, who wore them on the set to protect his hand from the hot lights he was handling. Sellers thought it would be a great prop for Strangelove, and it also reminded him of the black-gloved mad scientist in Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis. As a famous scientist in Fascist Germany, Strangelove probably had access to the latest and greatest biotech engineering guys to design his prosthetic arm. But it has a few glitches; it has a life of its own and has the tendency to fly up in a Nazi salute, or grab Strangelove menacingly. The arm represents one of the movie’s major motifs: man-made technology that escapes human control and wreaks havoc on us. Kubrick evidently thinks that’s hugely ironic and incredibly funny. In the last scene in the film where Strangelove’s gleefully laying out his survival-of-a-superior-race plans for humanity, he’s desperately trying to control his disobedient arm while trying not to look like an idiot. He can’t. It’s pure genius.
In retrospect, Kubrick’s black comedy provided a far more accurate description of the dangers inherent in nuclear command-and-control systems than the ones that the American people got from the White House, the Pentagon, and the mainstream media.
“Dark” or “black” humor occurs when funny elements are introduced in an otherwise serious or pessimistic atmosphere, thus producing a satiric result. Dark humor in films can unsettle the audience’s expectations, infuse dramatic scenes with comic tension, and deliver the film’s messages in sophisticated ways. The title sequence of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb(1964) is a textbook example of black humor: the scene plays a light, airy rendition of the song “Try a Little Tenderness” while showing U.S. bomber planes refueling in mid-air and flying calmly through the skies. Later in the film, a deadpan Colonel “Bat” Guano (Keenan Wynn) implies that having to answer to the giant Coca Cola Company for breaking into one of their soda machines for change is a more dire situation than trying to call off a nuclear attack. George C. Scott’s General Turgidson provides humorous understatement when he says that General Jack D. Ripper (yes, the names satirically emphasize the connection between sex and brutality), “may have exceeded his authority” in ordering a nuclear attack. Equally funny is when Turgidson says that the whole military decision-making process should not be scrapped because of “one slip-up,” as if, even if that one mistake causes human extinction, it shouldn’t be criticized too harshly. The Russian leader’s name, “Premiere Kissoff,” is an appropriate comment on what is happening to the human race. And, when Slim Pickens’ Major Kong promises citations and promotions for his crew after their mission, it strikes the audience that there can hardly be any “after” following the explosion of the nuclear weapons. The plane’s H-bombs themselves are hilariously labelled “Nuclear Warheads – Handle with Care,” as if they were some dinner plates in a crate. All of these examples of wit not only contribute laughs for the audience, but they also reveal subtleties about the attitudes and ideologies the film is satirizing. These touches of black humor help elevate the film to a level of social commentary that has stood the test of time.
The impact of “Dr. Strangelove” as both a cautionary tale and a “nightmare comedy” (in Kubrick’s words) has not lessened with the passing of years; indeed, it has become more pronounced. Much of Sellers’ work as Strangelove was improvised, and Kubrick, recognizing the actor’s genius at creating such a horrifically comedic character, gave him free reign.Uncharacteristically for such a meticulous filmmaker, Kubrick even included a take near the end of the film in which Peter Bull, playing the Russian ambassador, is clearly starting to laugh — or as the British put it, “corpse” — in the middle of a scene, reacting to the extreme energy and absurdity of Seller’s performance as the wheelchair-bound, partially paralyzed Dr. Strangelove.
The in communicating role of language is one of the typical themes of traditional criticism when dealing with this film. Language not only detaches characters from their reality but also detaches us from the reality (attack) of the film.
The comic or inappropriate language characters use detaches the audience in two ways: either it makes the viewer reflect about the object under attack or laugh at what (s)he hears without any edifying purpose at all. Once attack is dismissed, the main effect of language will strictly be that of engaging the audience’s attention by providing comedy and laughter. A clear example is the evolution of Muffley’s language. At first his language is completely serious and obeys to a sensible attempt to impose order in the midst of the chaotic situation he is in. But during the short spell in which he appears as a prominent figure his language changes into the outrageously comic speech of the telephone conversation with Premier Kissoff: in this case language carries the weight of the purely comic scene. Kong’s (the bomber’s pilot) portrayal relies on the characterising function of language from the beginning: his extraordinarily vivid accounts and descriptions are presented more as comic elements than as examples of his unawareness. Nevertheless, Strangelove is portrayed as the character whose use of language provides the best examples of comedy in the film. But the comic content of his language does not lie in what he actually says but in the way in which he says it and in the performance which accompanies that speech. Strangelove is an example of how a content which is obviously condemnable is rendered as comic through mainly Strangelove’s funny Germán accent, facial expression and body posture. In this case the context of the utterance outweighs in importance its content and transforms the essence of Strangelove’s appearances from denunciation into pure comedy.
Strangelove’s theatrical performance, his funny Germán accent and the struggle with his own mechanical hand, Major Kong’s final image in which he falls with the bomb as if he were riding a horse, are comic devices which clearly render themselves as artificial and contrived, which will prevent them from being understood as a literal description of an event. This artificial comedy may also present comic symbols and cinematic devices that comment on characters: Ripper’s cigar and pistol are sexual symbols (linking his prepotence in sex and in war), Strangelove’s orthopaedic hand reveals a man dominated by the machine; the President’s bald head and grey suit are symbols of his inefficiency while Kong’s cowboy hat ascribes to him a narrow American mentality. The third use of artificiality in comedy is its capacity to expound and communicate the character’s feelings and values: the atmosphere of outrageous actions and discourses will match Turgidson’s proposals or Strangelove’s ideas about a huge nuclear shelter. Their inability to respond realistically and practically to what is happening will be exposed through evident comic excesses. Artificiality is therefore the basis of this comedy.
After the narrator’s initial mention of a Doomsday device, Kubrick
subtly begins his nightmare comedy by suggesting that man’s warlike
tendencies and his sexual urges stem from similar aggressive instincts. He
does this by showing an airborne B-52 coupling with a refueling plane in
mid-air, while the sound track plays a popular love song, “Try a Little
Tenderness.” The connection between sexual and military aggression
continues throughout the film, as when an otherwise nude beauty in a
Playboy centerfold has her buttocks covered with a copy of Foreign Af-
fairs, but it is most evident in the names given the characters by the
screenwriters. Jack D. Ripper, the deranged SAC general, recalls the sex
murderer who terrorized London during the late 1880s. The name of
Army strategist Buck Turgidson is also suggestive: his first name is slang for a virile male and his last name suggests both bombast and an adjective
meaning “swollen.” Major King Kong, pilot of the B-52, reminds viewers
of the simple-minded beast who fell in love with a beautiful blonde. Group
Captain Lionel Mandrake’s last name is also the word for a plant repu-
tedly known for inducing conception in women, while both names of
President Merkin Muffley allude to female genitals. Appropriately, Ripper
and Turgidson are hawks, while Muffley is a dove. Other names-Dr.
Strangelove, the Soviet Ambassador De Sadesky, and Premier Dmitri
Kissov-carry similar associations. These sexual allusions permeate the
film, providing one level of the film’s nightmare comedy.