By contributor Patrick Zabriskie
Summary: Stanley Kubrick brilliantly uses provocative social-satire to show the world the Cold War’s insanity.
Review: I enjoyed watching ‘Dr. Strangelove’ a lot, and had I been around to appreciate some of the attitudes and paranoia of the Cold War, I probably would have enjoyed it even more. What makes this film so entertaining is that it shows the absolute worst-case scenario, that most dreaded fear for mankind-Nuclear Holocaust — but it does so in such a wonderfully humorous way.
And so we can’t help but laugh. We laugh at the comically insane general who orders U.S. B-52’s to bomb the Soviets and purposely start a war. We laugh at the crazily patriotic captain of one of the planes, with his cowboy hat and goofy southern accent, who vows to do his patriotic duty come hell or high water. We laugh as the President of the United States and the Soviet Premier, who are evidently VERY good friends, argue about what to do, and we laugh at the bumbling politicians in Washington who scramble to call the bombing off, lest they set off a Soviet super-weapon. We laugh because the situation is so absurd. It’s so goofy and ridiculous and hilarious throughout.
But then the ending comes, and we see a montage of nuclear explosions (for the Russian super-weapon has gone off) that seems oddly out-of-place with the rest of the film. All of the sudden there’s a sinking feeling in our stomach, and the last feeling of this film is that of sorrow.
Why such a sad ending? It’s because Kubrick is reminding us of something: While incredibly funny, the seemingly absurd situation in ‘Dr. Strangelove’ is not so far from possibility. Sure, it seemed ridiculous in the film, but the threat of sudden, unexpected war, people not knowing what to do or how to stop it, and total annihilation is actually a reality. The film’s insanity parallels that of the Cold War and really of all war. Escalation, growing militaristic tension, and the constant hatred of the “other” can only lead to tragedy. Had the United States and the Soviet Union persisted in this, we likely could all be dead now, much like the ending of the film. It was only through reconciliation and reaching out on both sides that allowed for the Cold War to end, and even now there is still tension with other countries due to it. Let’s hope we never run into an ending like ‘Dr. Strangelove’.
This film is one of Kubrick’s many cinematic masterpieces. His strong sense of storytelling shines through brilliantly here, and his message is as powerful as any he has given. Few people could have mixed something so funny with something so meaningful, and few movies are stronger for it.