0441: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Dr. Strangelove

Rating: 10/10

I’m a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick, so any of his movies on the list I’ll probably be especially biased. Either way though, this is a great movie. Kubrick was an artist and a genius and I feel considering his movies is like considering a piece by Beethoven or da Vinci, endlessly up for interpretation and debate. His movies were all different from one another, masterpieces, and, most importantly, designed to make the viewer think.

This film is no exception. It has an all-star cast and they all give amazing performances. It has a compelling story and great cinematography and music. And it’s hilarious, being Kubrick’s only official comedy. It takes real-life fears of the time and parodies the hell out of it.

Kubrick has been described as being a genre all his own. Because of this, I would say that his movies aren’t for everyone. I especially like his movies. I like how they feel like mysteries, but not for the characters in the film, but instead as something for the audience to figure out. But Kubrick doesn’t show his hand, only gives us clues and slight details as to what everything really means. His movies are encoded.

No, you crazy conspiracy theorists, I’m not saying he left secrets in his films that he secretly faked the Kennedy assassination. But he did use a lot of subtext in all his films and rarely said things outright (for the most part) unless it had to do with the surface narrative. The most interesting things about his movies are what’s left unsaid. But because of this I feel almost as if I should make two movie reviews for all his films, one for the surface narrative, and another for the subtext. Let’s see how this pans out…

Surface Narrative: Dr. Strangelove is about a scenario where base commander Jack D. Ripper, who is also completely insane. He orders all the B-52s near Russia to bomb the hell out of it. It’s then uncovered that the Russians have developed a “doomsday device” that will blow up the whole world if they ever get bombed. So it’s a race to stop the B-52s before they blow up the world.

I think the surface story is a good one and absolutely hilarious. George C. Scott really steals the show as General Buck Tergidson, before Peter Sellers steals it back when Dr. Strangelove is introduced. I think that if you never even noticed all the things I mentioned about encoding and subtext, you would still enjoy this film. Truthfully, I think most of his movies are like this and that’s how you can tell a movie is properly encoded. If it tells a complete story without you noticing anything amiss until later viewings, you know its done right…speaking of which, let’s get to the

Subtext (probably spoilers): This one is really all about sex…and violence. I mean, the violence is mainly in the surface part already but there’s some here too. Let’s consider it. Okay, well, there’s only one woman in the whole movie and she only has one scene, that’s weird right? I mean, this is all about men fighting each other, but you’d think there’d be more women in there somewhere. But, when you consider sexual reproduction, wherein it’s one woman’s egg versus a million billion sperm, and then only one sperm gets to impregnate the egg to become a person or animal, things become clearer.

Then when you consider the ending, that one sperm “detonates” the egg, setting off the “doomsday machine” and blows up the “world.” By which I think it means that one sperm gets to live, against all the odds against it, and it kills all the other sperm. The egg/Earth also must be destroyed as it changes into new life. I think in a way this is Kubrick’s message saying that this desire for war and to fight one another comes from the very beginning of our being, as sperm fighting to survive and become human. It carries into our normal lives as we strive, as Buck Turgidson does, to be the best, and to come out on top. This leads to war, war caused from pettiness felt on the most basic of levels. In the end we can never escape from our desire to survive and reproduce.

There’s more to it than that, of course, and tons of clues throughout (the beginning of the film is two planes fueling in midair as music plays to reinforce how much it looks like an act of mating), but I’m not here to over-analyze the film. I’m sure you can find enough crazy videos about it on YouTube. But maybe not, I’m not sure if this has as many cult followers as the Shining does.

Why I think It’s On the List: As far as I know, it’s the only movie that is a parody of real life, at least there isn’t another one nearly as successful at doing so. Also, it’s a Kubrick film, and all of his movies should be on the list, even Fear and Desire…okay, maybe not Fear and Desire….

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