Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 black comedy has stood the tests of time as an iconic take on the Cold War era, one of the tensest and important time periods of the 20th century. For the first time in history, man had the means and the desires that could have led to its timely destruction. There were few days in which nuclear bombs and Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.) were not on the minds of many citizens around the United States and the USSR. Kubrick ingeniously manages to lighten the mood of the time period while simultaneously forcing the nation into introspection.
Plot-wise, the movie is quite simple. A paranoid US general subordinates his superiors and sends codes that cause American Bombers loaded with warheads to pursue targets in Russia. The leads to a mad scramble to recall the planes, a task which is incredibly difficult for a number of reasons. Ultimately, they are mostly successful, but one plane slips through, leading to a nuclear apocalypse accompanied with humorous music.
For the most part, many of the characters in the movie are passive or don’t desire conflict. The president is one such character. He desires peace so much that he is willing to let the Russian ambassador into the America war room to help resolve the situation. There are, however two strong contrast to this peacefulness: General Ripper and General Turgidson.
General Ripper is exactly the type of man who you don’t want in control of the big red button. Paranoid, but confident in his beliefs. He was certain that those Soviets were trying to mess with American’s “precious bodily fluids.” It is clear that he is delusional, but there were these sorts of conspiracy theorists during the Cold War Era. People were incredibly scared.
Much of this has to do with the mass hysteria that was generated. During a time of war, the government needs the back of it’s people; otherwise, the war effort is much more difficult. As a result, through propaganda and other means, the people are led to a state of paranoia where the war effort becomes a necessity and not an option. This paranoia could quickly become unhealthy, leading to situations such as the one proposed in this movie.
General Turgidson seems to view the situation as hopeless. Therefore, he states, it is best to go all in after the Soviets. After all, there is no way to stop the planes. His disregard for human life is alarming, but at the same time, it demonstrates a powerful point. M.A.D. was a powerful force during this time period. Part of the reason for why there was no nuclear war was because there was a high value placed on the life within one’s own nation. The fear of retribution by the other nation was well known, so no one wanted to attack first, for surely the first to attack would also suffer greatly. Turgidson seems to ignore this fact, saying that they will win nevertheless with casualties maxing out at 20 million “depending on the breeze.”
The absurd satire that is Dr. Strangelove is one that should be remembered throughout the years because it helps to show us just how bizarre and unhealthy the paranoid fantasies that arise during times of war can be.