Following in the hilarious steps of Charlie Chaplin's 1940 movie, The Great Dictator, Stanley Kubrick's unforgettable Dr. Strangelove became in 1964 the exemplar for what good satirical films should be. The movie is an intense opus, a uniting of farce and somber morality to present man's destruction of the earth.
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Kubrick's use of irony and his juxtaposition of gruesome terror and side-splitting comedy expose the indifference of the military and government, the immaturity and corruptness of our world leaders. Nothing is out of Kubrick's reach: Nazism and the US-Soviet relationship during the 20th century are favorites in this one.
Characteristic of black comedy, Kubrick pairs horror with humor mostly to show the savageness of modern US government and military. Such twisted humor is not always appealing to everyone, no matter what the subject, but the actors in this film pull it off in a graceful way, and with the help of the special details Kubrick brings in. Who can forget billboards and signs proclaiming "Peace is our profession," placed behind scenes of battles and plans for war? Peter Sellers, who plays US President Muffley (among other crazy characters in this caper) adds to the irony of such scenes when a brawl occurs in his presence and he proclaims "You can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"
Chaos reigns in this film, with quite an amusing result. Even if viewers can detect the serious undertone behind it all, the military units see absolutely no gravity in their jobs, or in war and killing in general. Pilots have easy access to supposedly "top secret" codes, read Playboy and play cards while in combat, and have emergency kits that include condoms, nylon stockings, and lipstick. Bombs are named "Dear John" and "Hi There!", the last words possibly seen by observers before the obliteration of the world.
The officers are given fair play in this satire, with characters like General Turgidson (played by George C. Scott). Even with the smile on his face, I couldn't help but cringe a little hearing Turgidson nonchalantly say in the War Room (when not on the phone with his secretary/girlfriend) that "the world will suffer only modest...civilian casualties... No more than 10 to 20-million killed: tops!" Turgidson, himself an obviously inept officer, has to brief the US President on the stipulations of a plan the latter supposedly signed and approved. Indicative of the Red Scare and communism, another military officer, deliberately named Jack D. Ripper (actor Sterling Hayden), identifies water fluoridation as a Communist conspiracy to invade "our precious bodily fluids."
The relationship between Premier Dimitri Kissoff and President Muffley becomes humorously symbolic of the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States. Funny incidents occur, like Kissoff refusing Jamaican cigars because of the country's imperialist status while happily taking cigars from the communist country of Cuba. A Russian spy is let into the War Room by Muffley himself in a final scene. And, in probably the funniest encounter between Kissoff and Muffley, the obviously inebriated Kissoff is spoken to by Muffley like an adult scolding a misbehaving infant.
And then, of course, there are Kubrick's jabs at Nazism, embodied in the title character himself (also played by the enigmatic Peter Sellers). His right hand humorously whips up to his forehead in a spastic, constant salute, accompanied by Strangelove saying what sounds like "Heil!" He brushes on Hitler's ideal of lebensraum in suggesting salvaging a small population underground, and gives the criteria for this population similar to that of Hitler's Aryan race. He says that nuclear survivors will feel only a "bored curiosity" and "nostalgia" for those who had died.
Throughout the entire movie, even as I was laughing so hard I cried, I found part of me holding back, sensing the solemnity Kubrick was presenting. He has a romantic soundtrack playing while planes are being refueled, one of them eventually indirectly causing the set-off of the Doomsday device. A lilting female singer croons, "We'll meet again some sunny day," as the entire earth is destroyed.
In another scene, the Major pushes his underlings to complete the mission, with the incentive of medals when they return home. Playing in the background of this is "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," though no one ever does return home. Kubrick makes sure that the ironic elements are presented to their full effect in a way that is humorous and at the same time, thought-provoking.
Read more product reviews on Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (DVD, Canadian; 45th Anniversary Edition)
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