Stanley Kubrick, Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963)
- Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove is a black comedy about a maniac's attack on the Soviet Union which triggers nuclear annihilation (and, believe it or not, it's one of the funniest films ever made). To tell you anything about it almost ruins the film; you are just going to have to watch it. But I will tell you that the film responds to a serious version of the same story, which became the film Fail-Safe (1964).
- Questions to Think About:
- 1) Who do the following characters represent in the real world: Dr. Strangelove; President Merkin Muffley; General Buck Turgidson; General Jack D. Ripper (P.O.E.); Group Commander Lionel Mandrake; Major King Kong; Russian Premier Dimitri Kissoff; Ambassador De Sadesky?
- 2) Why are there so many sexual references throughout the film--such as the copulatory refueling scene of the opening credits, the character names, the seductive messages scrawled on the sides of the missiles, the conflation of military and romantic terminology by Buck Turgidson and his secretary/mistress ("you just start your countdown, honey...")? What explanations for this can you find in Elaine May's essay, "Women, Sex and the Bomb"?
- 3) And on the same wavelength, why so many sports metaphors --like "the big board" in the War room, references to the dropping of bombs as "scoring," the weather ship that offers refuge for the bombing plane called "TD" as in touchdown, Buck Turgidson's speech encouraging a pre-emptive strike like Knute Rockne in the locker room at halftime? What is Kubrick saying about seeing nuclear war as a game?
- 4) To what extent does Jack D. Ripper's concern that fluoridation represents a commie plot and his conviction that his political well being depends on his "denying his essence" to women reflect mainstream fears about Communism in the Cold War years? How many people were drinking rainwater and grain alcohol and striving to "Preserve Our Essence"? What kinds of actual activities was Kubrick parodying with Ripper's paranoia?
- 5) Discuss instances of irony used to make a point about the absurdity of the Cold War in the film. What do the billboards at the army base ("Peace is Our Profession") and the President's statement to the wrestling Soviet ambassador and Buck Turgidson ("You can't fight in here, this is the War Room!") illustrate? If you have read George Orwell's 1984, what parallels occur between Orwellian "doublespeak" and Kubrick's ironic statements?
Further resources and readings:
- Tim Dirks's Review of the film, with dialogue (excellent resource).
- IMDB resources for the film.
- Nora Sayre, Running Time: Films of the Cold War (1982)
- Charles Maland, "Dr. Strangelove (1964): Nightmare Comedy and the Ideology of Liberal Consensus," in Peter C. Rollins, ed., Hollywood as Historian: American Film in a Cultural Context (1983)
- Norman Kagan, The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick (1972)
- F. Anthony Macklin, "Sex and Dr. Strangelove," in Film Comment (1965)
- George Orwell, 1984 (1948)
Prepared by Professor Catherine Lavender for HST 622 (Cold War America), at The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York, Summer Semester 2000. Send email to email@example.com
Last modified: Tuesday 13 June 2000.