Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb still stands as one of the greatest war films of all time, not in spite of what it does differently, but because of it. In the pantheon of great war films, there are no others like Dr. Strangelove. It is because of the bizarre mix of terrifying truth and Marx Brothers like one liners that the film succeeds on so many levels.
The film is funny because the subject matter is funny. Terrifying, yes, but funny. The notion of nuclear war is so ridiculous and absurd that you can’t help but laugh at the logical inconsistencies that would lead to such scenarios. In fact, Kubrick tried to write the film as a drama, only to find that that was nearly impossible. The subject of the jokes are the insecure men who send brave soldiers off to die for the sake of their egos.
The movie has an important statement to make, yet it never comes across as preachy. It’s a sincerely, honestly funny film. The jokes are amusing on a base level of simply being good humor, but they also draw attention to the stupidity of nuclear war.
Years later, when Kubrick made Full Metal Jacket, he seemed to fully embrace the humorous nature of war to the point that there were no overt jokes in that film, but rather, he simply relies on the weirdness of war to provide the humor. While not as direct as Dr. Strangelove, Full Metal Jacket is equally funny in spite of the lack of any real comedic elements.
At the heart of the film would be Peter Sellers in multiple roles. These days, one star in multiple roles is usually a sign of a bad comedy, where the producers thought that a weak script could be saved with enough money to just hire one star and put him in a dozen different sizes of fat suit. Sellers was simply a master of creating characters and was allowed to create several for the film.
The centerpiece of these would have to be Doctor Strangelove himself. Strangelove is portrayed as a former Nazi, whose limp right hand will sometimes snap into a Nazi salute. It is through Strangelove that the link between nuclear armament and sexual dysfunction is made most clear and direct. When the bombs start to fall, his sexual thrill is made nearly tangible.
George C. Scott turns in an incredible performance as General Buck Turgidson. The character is much wilder, more manic than anything Scott has done. He’s usually seen as this master of gruff understatement, saying more with a growly whisper than most actors say with a big speech. Kubrick actually had to trick him into going so over the top by promising that these would be “practice takes” where he could take the scene farther than it needed to go to get the kinks out! Similarly, Slim Pickens was tricked into playing it straight as Major Kong by being told it was a dramatic war film.
If you haven’t yet, you need to see this film before you die. It is essentially the only statement that ever needs to be made on the foolishness of nuclear war.
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