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The great mystery of this film is how so many can have missed its point, a point that Stanley Kubrick and company tried so hard to make clear. From the title, which uses the word "love" not once but twice, to the opening visual of a B-52 coupling with a tanker for refueling, all the way until its concluding series of climactic explosions, this is not so much the black comedy that folks seem to want it to be but a love story, and an erotic one at that. And at the center of its eroticism is the manly power of the United States of America's Cold War forces circa 1963.

Kubrick lingers lovingly, even fetishistically, over long tracking shots of the B-52s in the air--those sleek silver phallic symbols. The compelling figures in the film, however psychotic, are the gung-ho militarists--Sterling Hayden, George C. Scott, Keenan Wynn, and Peter Sellers as the Doctor. Hayden, as General Jack D. Ripper, is shown for much of the film with a stogie jutting from his mouth. Freud may have said that, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar", but this not such a time. George C. Scott's General Buck Turgidson has the only scene with a female, and a bikini-clad one at that. Slim Pickens (Major "King" Kong), lest we've missed the message, rides his missile right into the target. Meanwhile, the men of peace are effete and ineffectual--Lionel Mandrake, with his proper British accent, and the balding president, Merkin Muffley--even their names inviting contempt.

From whence comes the comedy in the movie? It derives precisely from the contrast between the virility of the warmongers--too long contained, their precious fluids going to waste--and the obsequiousness of the doves. For what point could there be to having this marvelous fighting force and not using it to end the war? Perhaps the most famous line in the film--"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here. This is the War Room!"--perfectly captures the absurdity of the situation. A nation girded for war but holding itself back and cowering in fear can't help but seem ridiculous. In effect, the film is one long plea to the garrison state to: Get it on! Its subtitle--"How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb"--is an invitation to take the Cold War hot and to end, one way or another, a status quo of Mutual Assured Destruction which truly was a sign of madness.

The love on display--of a nuclear arsenal and the men who long to launch it--may be strange, but it is love nonetheless. Nor should the message be dismissed as mere partisan political parody. It is in fact a prescient polemic. Its implicit criticism of JFK, shocking at the time, for taking the sissy way out of the Cuban Missile Crisis, has proved quite correct in retrospect. It turns out that, as men like General Curtis LeMay (the obvious model for Ripper) had said, pretty much any time until the late '60s America could have easily won a first strike nuclear attack and thereby avoided the misery, death, and economic waste of the latter '60s and the '70s. We'll never know how much better a world we might live in now had Kubrick's wise counsel been heeded, but he deserves kudos for trying.

(Reviewed:13-Aug-03)

Grade: (A-)

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See also:


    -FILMOGRAPHY: Stanley Kubrick (1928-99) (Imdb.com)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) (MRQE.com)
    -OBIT: Stanley Kubrick, Film Director With a Bleak Vision, Dies at 70 (STEPHEN HOLDEN, March 8, 1999, NY Times)
    -TRIBUTES (MRQE.com)
    -TRIBUTE: Farewell to a Fearless Imagination (JANET MASLIN, March 14, 1999, NY Times)
    -INFO: Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) (Imdb.com)
    -PODCAST: David Mikics on Who Stanley Kubrick Really Was: In Conversation with Andrew Keen on Keen On (Keen On, December 13, 2021, LitHub)
    -INTERVIEW: The Film Director as Superstar: Stanley Kubrick (Joseph Gelmis, The Film Director as Superstar, 1970)
    -INTERVIEW: Stanley Kubrick Interview (1987): 2 hour tape made by Tim Cahill while reporting for Rolling Stone
    -ESSAY: Stanley Kubrick redefined: recent research challenges myths to reveal the man behind the legend (Nathan Abrams, March 4, 2024, The Conversation)
    -ESSAY: Kubrick‚Äôs Outsiders (Dick Turner, 3/11/24, Splice Today)
    -ARTICLE: 'Dr. Strangelove': Kubrick Film Presents Sellers in 3 Roles (Bosley Crowther, January 30, 1964, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: The Ending You Never Saw in 'Strangelove' (Peter Bull, January 9, 1966, NY Times)
    -WATCHING MOVIES WITH BARRY SONNENFELD: Making the Wit Seem Unwitting (RICK LYMAN, March 29, 2002, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Dr. Strangelove (Roger Ebert, July 11, 1999, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Dr. Strangelove (MRQE.com)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Dr. Strangelove (Imdb.com)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Dr. Strangelove (MetaCritic)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (James Berardinelli)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Tim Dirks, The Best Films)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Eugene Archer, January 26, 1964, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Eric Lefcowitz, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Jason Zech, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Play)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Jere McVay)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Kevin LaForest, Montreal Film Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Brian Koller, Films Graded)
    -REVIEW: of Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker by David Mikics (Andrew Delbanco, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Kubrick: An Odyssey, Robert P. Kolker and Nathan Abrams: Christopher Bray, The Critic)