Dr Strangelove Film Review

Dr Strangelove Film Review By Dima Saqfalhait

“Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

Oscar Wilde, a famous Irish playwright known for his satirical comedies, once wisely said: “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.” Nothing is more befitting to summarize Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece: Dr Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) as much as these words. A black comedy that is so comical, not because of its improbability but rather how likely it may actually come true (keeping humans negligence and love of power and retaliation in mind). It makes you laugh at the inescapable absurdity of the situation, in avoidance of the more natural feeling: fear. Can laughter and fear coexist in one film? Well this one goes to show they can.

Dr. Strangelove, which is based on Peter George’s novel Red Alert (1958), ridicules the Cold War and the fears of a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. It all starts when a United States Air Force Base Commander, Jack D. Ripper, impulsively commands a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, followed by him shutting down all means of communication with the aircraft for fear of infiltration. He also shuts down his base and gives clear orders to attack whoever approaches the base. In defense of his crazy plan, Ripper tells his colleague:   

“Mandrake, do you recall what Clemenceau once said about war? He said “War is too important to be left to the generals.” When he said that, fifty years ago, he may have been right. But today war is too important to be left to the politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought.”

Back at the Pentagon, and to be more exact at The War Room, we watch as the President of the United States, along with his advisors and the Soviet Ambassador deliberate the best way to stop an atomic holocaust from taking place. With only two hours in hand until the planes reach their target, they are aware that they need to think fast.

The USA president calls the Soviet Premier Dimitri Kissov on the hot line to warn him of the attack and offer to reveal the Soviet targets in order for the Soviets to protect themselves, willing to sacrifice his own men in avoidance of the death of millions. One of the most absurd dialogues takes place, as both men argue who’s sorrier than whom for the situation:

“I’m sorry too, Dmitri. I’m very sorry. All right, you’re sorrier than I am. But I am sorry as well. I am as sorry as you are, Dmitri. Don’t say that you’re the more sorry than I am because I am capable of being just as sorry as you are. So we’re both sorry, all right? All right.”

Suddenly, ferocious old enemies appear like an aging couple who can’t seem to agree on one thing. You can almost trace love in their dialogue, as if after all they are different faces of the same system. They appear so defenceless and pitiful, and the nuclear war is made to look (so laughably-accurate) like a children’s game. 

Just as what happened in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), humans are yet to find that their impenetrable smart machines may outsmart them and work against their favour. We find out about the Soviet self-protection system “Doomsday Machine” (ironically implemented but not yet publicized in media which defies its entire purpose of intimidating the enemy) which is a cost-effective program that is designed to automatically explode in case soviet bases were ever attacked, threatening the extinction of life on the surface of Earth for 93 years. 

“Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy the fear to attack. And so, because of the automated and irrevocable decision-making process which rules out human meddling, the Doomsday machine is terrifying and simple to understand.”

Does this mean we will witness a human extinction in the film? I will follow my strict “no spoiler” rule and leave it to you to find out.

Characterization is brilliant in the film, so is dialogue. Peter Sellers gives a brilliant performance of three distinct complex characters, one of whom is of the USA president. Additionally, the factual history behind the idea of the film is worth investigating, which is nicely laid out in this article published by The New Yorker. I enjoyed the film immensely and will happily watch again. 

For more film quotations and recommendations, you can follow Dima Saqfalhait’s Instagram account @cine.words

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