July 2: #18, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here, this is the war room!"
There's a lot to love about Dr. Strangelove, which quickly sets itself up with one tasty Cold War-era hook: a team of bombers have been told by the madman General Ripper to let loose with an atomic bomb attack that will decimate Russia and start a nuclear war.
From then, the movie essentially takes place in three locations: the Washington, D.C. Pentagon war room, Ripper's military base, and in one of the bombers complying with Ripper's “Wing Attack Plan R” orders. The use of the three settings is great, as are the acting performances by Sterling Hayden's Ripper, George C. Scott's General Buck Turgidson, and many others.
What makes this film such an effective dark comedy is that it explores how the fail-safes and procedures that were put in place to help leaders feel secure during a paranoid time actually seal their doom. Ripper is the only one who knows the code to address the fleet, and he won't let anyone know what it is so they can change the orders. No one can get on base to get Ripper to talk to the president on the phone, because Ripper has instructed his men to shoot anyone who approaches, even the sneaky Russians who he says may be pretending to be US soldiers.
Ripper wants the US to feel forced into going all-in with the attack since it can't be stopped anyway, eviscerating Russia in the process. The president telephones his Russian counterpart in a very funny scene only to find out that Russia has its own fail-safe that will cause trouble – a doomsday protocol that can't be disabled and will essentially nuke the world if they are attacked.
And there's your Kubrickian critique: it's the folly of our leaders and the bureaucracy and protocol that only serve to make a farce of even the most serious situations. It's everywhere in this film, such as in the war room, where there are dozens of people who never even speak. Why are they all there? For the same reason that everyone has thick binders and the bombers have pages after pages of possible commands with fancy codes: because the government's answer to problems is always to add more. More nukes, more officials in the war room, more protocol, more bombers.
The satire works on an analytical level and even on a funny-ha ha level, such as when the airborne soldiers are given their survival kits, complete with tiny combination Russian translation book and Bibles. Names such as General Ripper, “Bat” Guano, Major Kong, and President Merkin Muffley may be a little on the nose, but they add a little amusement factor, as well.
|General Ripper, shown here being very concerned about your...fluids.|
When the film comes to its conclusion, we find that not only have the officials and politicians not learned their lessons, but just the opposite as they quickly plot a way to make the best of a terrible situation by pursuing their own selfish interests only to immediately begin the paranoid standoff with Russia once again. Thanks to Scott's outstanding comic performance especially, Dr. Strangelove succeeds both as a Cold War cautionary tale and a very funny dark comedy.