Kubrick’s 1964 comedy critiques the United States during the Cold War.
TU’s Pizza and Politics club recently hosted a screening of Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 dark comedy “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Pizza and Politics shows a politically-related movie or current event preceded by pizza and followed by discussion.
The film’s plot revolves around a nuclear attack ordered by the psychotic General Ripper (Sterling Hayden) on Russia during the Cold War. The president (Peter Sellers) attempts to stop the attack from occurring, but it becomes increasingly clear that “mutually assured destruction” has already been set in motion.
The true genius of “Dr. Strangelove” is in its hilariously cynical view of the U.S.’s response to crisis. General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) is a patriotic warmonger who hates “ruskies” with a passion. When Scott refused to act as ridiculous as Kubrick wanted him to, Kubrick told Scott to overact for “practice takes,” then used these takes without telling Scott. His resulting performance stands out as simultaneously hilarious and deeply chilling.
After the president rebukes his plan of war, accurately calling it mass murder, Turgidson refers to this murder as “getting our hair muffed.” He continually acts as if war has already been declared with the Soviets, wanting to deny them information and expressing excitement about Ripper’s surprise attack.
The titular character, also played by Peter Sellers, is another outlandish, yet strikingly-real critique of German nationalism. He is modelled mainly after Wernher von Braun, an ex-Nazi scientist brought to America to work on aerospace weapons. Strangelove wears a singular glove on a hand which unwilling jerks itself into a Nazi salute as he says “Mein Fuhrer.”
In the climax of the film, Strangelove suggests a fastasical solution to nuclear fallout with a wide grin on his face: He recommends that a select sector of humanity should be relocated into mine shafts to avoid nuclear fallout. Turgidson chimes in passionately: “Mr. President, we must not allow a mine shaft gap!”
All of the elements of comedy combine to create an utterly hopeless look at the American defense system. The film paints the government as completely incapable of handling serious threats, or even accidentally imposing them upon themselves.
While Kubrick’s film takes place during the Cold War, it is really about the broader incompetencies throughout modern the American government and is still incredibly relevant. Many people in the current political climate are still eager for war, especially those at the top who stand to gain prestige or status.
The deranged conspiracies of General Ripper also still permeate certain parts of American culture, particularly his disgust at fluoride being put in tap water. Turgidson’s blind patriotism and laid-back attitude towards civilian casualties seems similarly omnipresent throughout American history.
Strangelove’s obsession with death and his glee at the idea of saving a select few with mine shafts suggests a critique of an elite with special privileges.
From Vietnam to Iraq, American war hawking and incompetence never ends, and the powers that be seem to be eyeing Iran next. Kubrick’s movie still stands as the greatest critique of this farcical tragedy in cinematic history.