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Dr. Strangelove

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Dr.Strangelove

Dr.Strangelove or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb, is one of Stanley Kubrick's greatest works and the best dark comedy to hit the silver screen. Kubrick perfectly captures the tension caused by the Cold War and boldly produces this film at a time when the Cold War was at it's height. By using a comedic voice Kubrick is able to portray a very serious subject manner, such as nuclaear war, in a way people can understand through comedy. So incredible was this story that it could only be taken in, and absorbed as a satire. Kubrick knew this, so he turned to the novel Red Alert, by Peter George, and transformed it into a screenplay, and added a certain degree of absurdity. By enlisting the talents of hit author Terry Southern, whose sharp wit and brazen mentality was exactly the edge Kubrick was looking for (Inside). Together, they were able to come up with a winning combination by taking the over-all plot of Red Alert and adding comedic elements. Such as Dr. Strangelove, a character that did not exist in the original novel. The mixture was just right and translated extremely well to film. In my opinion this is why Dr.Strangelove has been recognized as number 26 of the 100 most important films by the American Film Institute (IMDB). Unlike Fail Safe, a melodrama tackling the same subject and released around the same time, was not. Kubrick's mastery of his art is seen through out the film. In addition to Kubrick's talents, the brilliant performances of his stars Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, make Dr. Strangelove a film that will withstand the test of time.

Formalistic in nature, the film retains the qualities found in classical cinema as do most comedies, applying aspects of both formalism and realism. As such, the film is told in a classical narrative structure. We are overtly aware of jumps in time to keep us up to speed but they are subtle enough that we are not jarred and don't feel the need to inquire as to why the jump has been made. This is best illustrated in the three main locations of the film: Burpleson Air force base, the War Room, and aboard the B-52 Bombwing 843. We jump back and forth between these different places with ease. When this is happening we are aware the chronology is the same. Yet, the story carries us along so there is no need to question the fluidity. The movie, though it does open with a brief narration to bring the audience up to speed about America's nuclear capability and our ability to strike Russia at a moments notice, does not have a specific narrator. The film is told from a third person point of view. An omnipresent narrator allowng us to step away from the characters and gives us the freedom to stay detached from any one thing or event.

Though this is a "war movie," the film falls into the category of a dark comedy. It is a comedy in the sense that it presents the story in such an unbelievable manner, and pokes fun at our conventions of what we think know about the given situation. In Dr. Strangelove we, the spectator, take our knowledge of the Cold War and apply it to the story. We have our own ideas of what to expect. What makes it funny is it's abrurdity. We realize there is no way a base commander, in this case Brig. Gen. Jack. D. Ripper (played by Sterling Hayden) would ever scheme of an all out nuclear assault on our enemy because of a hair brained conspiracy of communist "chlorinization" of our water. We know that given the possibility of an accidental strike against the soviets that the President, in this case President Merkin Muffley (played by Peter Sellers), could not have a jovial and kidding conversation with the Premier of Russia given the severity of the situation and impending doom. We find these things laughable. What makes the movie dark is not the fact there is little use of bright lighting, but rather the fact that these "insane" and "horrible" situations are satires of real problems we could have faced. Though we laugh at dark comedies, it is not because we are "happy," about them or that they make us feel "good." We laugh because the horrible things they parody shock us. Laughter relieves the tension the film creates. We are comforted by the fact that it is so implausible of a situation that we have a knee jerk reaction and find humor in them. In the most memorable scene of the movie, one where Maj. J.T.'King' Kong (played by Slim Pickens) rides the H-bomb down to earth to explode is not funny because millions are about to die, but because there is a cowboy "Yoo-hooing," his way to certain doom. As defined in Understanding Movies, film scholars would say that this film is Parodic. Parodic because by now audiences are very familiar of the stigmas of war movies, armed with this, the author, Kubrick can mock the conventions of the genre and reduce them to howling clichйs presenting them in a comedic manner (Giannetti, 383). This boils the film down to a point we can comfortably simplify the distinction and call the film a dark comedy.

Being said our expectations as a viewer are satisfied by this dark comedy. We get what we expect from a war flick and are satisfied by the appropriate parody of characters and of the situation. Though some may argue the bombs going off in the end were frustrating, not quite the ending they had hoped for. I feel it is the perfect and a most appropriate ending for Dr.Strangelove. The very fact that as the tension boils over in the War Room, Dr.Strangelove (Sellers) offers up a solution that may save humanity (decrepit as his plan may be) by moving deep into the earth to live in mine shafts, General Turgidsen (played by George C. Scott) jumps on the idea but immediately focuses on the possible continued communist threat. Worried the "Russkies" might get wise to the solution, "Mr. President, we must not allow a mine shaft gap!!" He has, in a sense, in the face of total annihilation, maintains focus on the ensuing Cold War, even if it means taking it with them to the grave. The film could not end any other way. If it had, no lesson would have been learned (by the audience) and that would have left the spectator definitely frustrated. To me that is the beauty of the ending, the characters didn't learn anything! It just pointed out how stupid, the best of us can be, after all these are supposed to be the great military minds, and leaders of the world. All of which meets its most appropriate end with the detonation of the "Doomsday device." Illustrated by Kubrick as a beautiful mosaic of music and nuclear explosions, watching it feels like watching a well choreographed waltz.

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