Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Rated: PG for thematic elements, some violent content, sexual humor and mild language (re-rating) (2004)
Length: 95 minutes
Grade: A,B,A,A=A
Rotten Tomatoes: 100% favorable, 9.0/10 average
Budget: $1.8 million
Box Office: $14 million (9 U.S., 5 DVD)

Written by: Terry Southern (Easy Rider, Barbarella, Casino Royale, and The Cincinnati Kid), based on the novel Red Alert by Peter George, who also helped write the movie Fail-Safe.
Written and Directed by: Stanley Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut, Full Metal Jacket, The Shining, Barry Lyndon, A Clockwork Orange, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Lolita, and Spartacus—the only movie he did not at least help write.)
Starring: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, and Keenan Wynn.
With: Slim Pickens, Peter Bull, James Earl Jones, Tracy Reed

A deranged Air Force base commander unilaterally sends his bombers to attack the Soviet Union at the height of the cold war, and the President must figure out a way to stave off Armageddon while keeping a warmongering general at bay.

Entertainment Value: A
This is simply one of the most brilliantly crafted scripts Kubrick ever worked with. Not only is the basic idea brilliant, but the writing is sheer genius, and the acting brings it to perfection. Sterling Hayden, Peter Sellers (in all three of his roles!), and especially George C. Scott are so good that it’s impossible to overstate. Kubrick is a filmmaking treasure, and this is one of his finest.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity B, Violence B, Language B
Everything in this movie is very tame by today’s standards, even including a shot of a man looking at a centerfold which actually shows no more skin than any average prime-time television drama routinely does these days. There is some war violence and an off-screen suicide. It’s PG for sure.

Significant Content: A
As a colossal satire, there is one simple point to this movie: the world is being run by military-political madmen. They are either morons or genuinely insane or so ingrained with insane paradigms that the distinction makes no difference. The whole point is as if to say with 100% sarcasm, “See, there’s nothing to worry about here. Look at how competent and reliable everything and your leaders really are. You’re totally safe from nuclear war.” That’s the point of the sarcasm in the title. “I think about all these things, and I feel totally secure without a care in the world.” Obviously, this is meant to show how absurd the doctrines of nuclear mutually assured destruction really are by revealing how frighteningly vulnerable they are to human error or derangement.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
What can you say? The Doomsday Gap. General Turgidson worried that the Soviets will have a mineshaft gap even as the world is about to end. Wrestling in the War Room. If you’ve never seen this brilliant film, I almost hate to ruin any of it for you by telling you the bits and pieces. But what makes the whole thing work so well is that each piece of the puzzle is taken from real life and then just played out until it becomes absurd. That’s why the best way to understand this movie is as a fascinating political warfare chassis painted to perfection by characters who are the filmmaking equivalent of political cartoon caricatures of real people.

Discussion Questions:
~What do you think the Kubrick intended to happen as a result of this film? What possible action could be taken if you were to take the messages of this film seriously?
~Given that there has not been a global nuclear war (or even a minor incident) since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, would it be fair to say that history has disproved this movie’s worries?
~To what degree do you think this movie fails to inspire action precisely because the characters are so over-the-top in their roles?
~Ripper says that Clemenceau was wrong about war being too important to be left to the generals, that now it is too important to be left to the politicians. What do you think of this idea?
~The slogan of the air base is “Peace is our profession.” What double-meaning is involved here? In what ways is this meant to be ironic?
~Do you think we were more at risk of nuclear war in the 60s or that we are more at risk of it today?
~Going through the characters, who do you think they were meant to represent? What is deranged or ridiculous about each one?
~Ripper is sexually abstinent, but Turgidson is very active with his secretary. What is this movie trying to say about the connection between male sexuality and warfare, if anything? Do you think that warfare is connected to male sexual aggression?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Ripper explaining to Mandrake about the communist plot.
~President Muffley breaking the news to the drunk Soviet Premiere.
~Slim Pickens riding cowboy and the final scene. Would it be fair to say Kubrick is saying that this would be the ultimate symphony of humankinds pursuit of warfare?

Overall Grade: A
If you haven’t, you must. Not all Stanley Kubrick films are as tame in content and as easily approachable as this masterpiece. A real treasure.

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