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

When and how did I watch this?

February 15th, 2017, on Amazon Instant Video.

Had I seen this film already?


What did I know about the movie before watching it?

Kubrick, from my amateur perspective, has sometimes turned in landmark classics and occasional complete duds. Nonetheless, his genius for screenplay and eye for cinematography is obvious to me now.  I expected this film to be something special.  We’re also in the top 50 here, so none of these films should be below spectacular.

What do I know about it now?

An Air Force general goes bananas and issues all planes in the vicinity of the Soviet border to attack assigned targets within. It looks like a horrific war film outright, but we’re introduced to a handful of colorful characters that are either confused or just obey orders without questioning motives, who skillfully steer the film into a dark satire. So goes the plot; everyone is simply reacting to dominoing problems, only slightly deviated by the heady officer Mandrake (Sellers). We don’t meet the title character (also Sellers) until approximately halfway through the film, who is sitting quietly at a board of advisers meeting featuring a baffled President (ALSO Sellers) and eventually an embattled Soviet ambassador. The struggle is chiefly between this Russian and a gung-ho general (Scott), who show little restraint regarding their mutual animosity and prejudice rather than dealing with the matter at hand — the inevitable end of the world. Though he appears to demonstrate the least sanity, it is Dr. Strangelove himself that proves to be the fulcrum in the see-saw shenanigans occurring around him, briefing everyone on what may transpire and what to do next.  As you might expect, the film doesn’t end well, but we laugh and shake our collective, post-Cold War heads at the hi-jinks on all fronts. This film demands deeper analysis, but I was most impressed with its daring to address our (America’s) propensity to retaliate, our relentless paranoia and self-talk, the general volatility of the situation, and general foolishness of humanity — particularly the government office — during the Cold War, and no less during some of the tensest periods of it. The dialogue is fantastic, and though it veers into some quirky humor, the film delivers some unexpected perilous scenes. A brilliant film overall, and one of the best on the list so far.

What are some themes in the film?

Pride, Cold War, military chain of command, bureaucracy, paranoia, trust

Did this affect me personally?

Dr. Strangelove himself is a memorable character. The bomb drop is both significant in style/context and hilarious. One of my favorite moments is when, during his final discourse, Dr. Strangelove struggles not to brandish the Nazi salute — again, hilarious and contextually significant.

And how about this moment?

Why is this ranked #50?

It’s a landmark satire. The Cold War always fascinated me when I studied it in high school, and for those that were “there”, much of the situation is undoubtedly burned into their subconscious, even though nothing “happened”.  The film poses a worst-case scenario that anyone alive in the 60s likely dreaded.  We can laugh it off now, but the prospect of self-annihilation is quite unfunny. The director and title are huge boosts, along with Sellers’ fantastic performance.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She didn’t see this one.

Would I watch it again?

Yes. This film has incredible replay value.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

Informative, edgy, well-written comedy. Everyone would benefit from a viewing.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

Dr. Strangelove is a legendary film, with a reputation beyond its somewhat oddball second title and the Kubrick label. It dares to explore some challenging themes and works its genius in a brilliant screenplay and a spectacular performance in Peter Sellers, but we can’t help but laugh at times, and at other moments simply shake our heads at humanity at large. It should be a revered film as long as human civilization exists.

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