The ‘60s was an eventful decade for the American public. Civil Rights, Hippies, Vietnam, the Apollo missions, The Cuban Missile Crisis, Student Protests culminated a decade that had some reasons to please, but many more to annoy. In the backdrop to all this chaos, Stanley Kubrick directed and produced Dr. Strangelove, a satirical film on the threat of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Dr. Strangelove, one of Stanley Kubrick’s great directorial ventures, was released in 1964, when the anti-Soviet, anti-Communist propaganda in America was at a relative peak.
While Brig. General Ripper gives arbitrary orders to dispatch nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union, The President and his War Cabinet learn that the Soviet Union’s Doomsday Device will automatically set off reactions that would annihilate the whole world in case nuclear weapons were dropped on it. What follows the potentially apocalyptic circumstances is a hilarious treat full of ironies, Peter Sellers’ triple role (as a frantic President, an ex-Nazi scientist, and a nervous British Group Captain cajoling an American General) coupled with the idiosyncratic acting of George C. Scott (as General Buck Turgidson) and Slim Pickens (as Major T. J Kong). Dr. Strangelove isn’t among today’s expensive, tasteless Sci-Fi films, and especially because it was released in 1964. Instead, the movie was shot in three principle settings; The President’s War room, Brigadier General Jack Ripper’s office, and the inside of a B-52 bomber. The movie doesn’t have too many movements either; President Muffley and his Cabinet remain seated around a table, Major T. J. Kong and his flight crew is confined to the cockpit, and General Ripper and Group Captain Mandrake converse inside an office.
Nevertheless, Dr. Strangelove never even allowed an impatient teenager like myself to get up from the couch and refill my popcorn. Part of that was based on the fact that I was watching the world’s leaders stop a plane from destroying the world. However, as a viewer I was able to appreciate the comedy because I could see all the events unfolding. Between the three parallel developments in the film, no one set of characters knows the developments in the other settings. General Ripper doesn’t know his ambitious plan to destroy the Soviet Union will destroy the whole world.
Major Kong doesn’t know that he is following the orders of a rogue general. And President Muffley has no way to figure out where Major Kong’s B-52 is headed. It is an essential trait of a comedy to leave its characters aloof of all the links in the plot, while allowing the viewer to enjoy the failure of the characters to do so. Dr. Strangelove does that, but as is the case for all satires, it points at important concerns that are necessary for any viewer to truly appreciate the quality of thought that went behind crafting the script.
It addresses the most important political matter of the time, The Cold War and the Nuclear Scare. In the movie, the grim consequences of the troubled relations between the Soviets and the Americans are brought down to a less serious level. The irony in Peter Sellers’ words that remain synonymous with the movie today, ‘Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here, this is the War Room! ’ while trying to attempt to diffuse an apocalyptic crisis will surely bring a smile across your face.
Dr. Strangelove is essential to watch because it places itself among the handful of movies in my library that derive their comedy from the situation in the plot. Nowhere will you laugh because someone has had his or her hair razed, or has spilled ketchup all over the President’s expensive clothing. As a viewer, you will enjoy the 90 minutes of your life spent nose deep into the Cold War era, and will be glad that Dr. Strangelove constitutes a part of your cinematic knowledge.