Satire in Dr. StrangeLove?
Dr. StrangeLove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb was produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1964. "Dr. StrangeLove" is a Cold War suspense comedy that depicts the extreme tensions felt by the American government and public regarding the potential for nuclear war. Roger Ebert, a critic wrote that this "cold war satireÐ'...opened with the force of a bucketful of cold water, right in the face". In his review Ebert's contemplates the use and effectiveness of satire in Kubrick's film.
Critically acclaimed, "Dr. StrangeLove" uses satire to "reduce nuclear annihilation to the level of a very serious social gaffe" according to Ebert. The poking fun and mockery of human idiocy or vice in a literary work is satire. This mockery of human idiocy is applied flawlessly to the film to emphasize the significance of the Cold War anxiety. The review by Ebert announces that the film "had gotten away with something", he adds to that point by describing the high tensions felt between the two national party's of America; pointing out the blatant attack of the film on the circumstances of the 1960's.
The execution of parody and use of wit seems to have impressed Ebert. He glowingly describes incidents where the satirical theme is palpable, such as the instance with Mandrake the British attachÐ"©. After General Ripper has committed suicide, Mandrake finds the code to recall the planes, but does not have the correct amount of change to dial on a pay phone and save the world. The continuation of all life on Earth was dependent upon that precise phone call; while all that the audience is capable of as Mandrake flusters is shake their heads and smile. Another distinct situation of foolishness identified by Ebert was the series of conversations between the Russian premier and the U.S. president. As President
Martin calls Dimitri, the Russian premier; the level of intensity in the war room is at a boiling point, until the Russian ambassador mentions that Dimitri is intoxicated by alcohol, and in the company of women. As the scene continues, Martin downsizes the point of nuclear annihilation to minuscule
importance, arguing over who is more sorry, Dimitri or himself. Ebert also mentions the verbal repartee regarding the autodestruct mechanism, when it destroyed itself, or the idea of no fighting in the confines of the war room.
Although, Ebert succinctly illustrates the most encompassing and plain sighted instances of satire and humor there are several more clear depictions of the extensive use of satire within the film. Ebert fails to comment on the sign on General Ripper's military base, "Peace is our Profession". A full four second still frame of the massive billboard is included during a dogfight between two American troops. The irony of men who believe in the same causes firing upon each other with the intentions of killing each other underneath such a sign is amazing. This situation is prefaced by General Ripper declaring to his troops to "shoot first and ask later" a line that declares the amount of fear and enmity barefaced in General Ripper and his men. In addition to the serious portrayal of satire a humorous episode was the evaluation of the military survival kit by Maj. Kong. As he opens the U.S. ration pack and lists his supplies in case of the commonly survived accident of a plane crash with three nuclear missiles. He is provided with items such as lipstick, nylon stockings, and several packs of chewing gum. The reaction was priceless in Major Kong's eyes, a "fella could have a good week in Vegas with all this stuff". The entire scenario was amusing, because there seems to be absolutely no need for any male military personnel to be rationed lipstick and chewing gum in their survival kit. This clear and observable
2001: A Space Odyssey is usually cited as Stanley Kubrick's sole contribution to science fiction. Wrong. Dr. Strangelove is a black comedy. It's a savage, surreal political satire. It's a cautionary Cold War tale. It's a suspense farce. And it is also science fiction. Sci-fi is not confined to stories of space exploration, the future, or extra-terrestrial life. Science fiction is speculative fiction about human beings exploring themselves and their possibilities.
Crucially — and this is the science bit — it often does this by dealing with humans dealing with technology. Technology running away with us is the basis of Dr. Strangelove. When a fanatical U.S. general launches a nuclear attack on the U.S.S.R. the president has his hands full recalling bombers, calming Russians, contending with his advisors and a twisted scientist. The thriller plot comes from a serious novel by RAF officer Peter George, published in the US as Red Alert, in the UK as Two Hours To Doom under the pseudonym Peter Bryant.
Kubrick loved it but thought people were so overwhelmed by the threat of annihilation that they were in denial, apathetic to nuclear documentary or drama. His goal — brilliantly realised — was to surprise audiences into reacting to the very real prospect of global extermination. His means was the cinematic equivalent of a political cartoon, outrageously funny and deceptively provocative. It was in Kubrick's nature to disdain leaders as madmen. Co-writer Terry Southern was a satirist with a penchant for sexual mania. Together they contrived a cast of caricatures whose grotesque concerns and absurd fixations, by their very incongruity, play up the harsh, precise realism in which they are set.
The opening narration of the film, about intelligence of a doomsday device, is factual. The Strategic Air Command operations: fact. The interior of the B-52 bomber: accurate; the responses of its crew: out of the flight manual. The computers that take the situation beyond human intervention: more capable of doing just that with every passing year. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
The action is confined to three locations, each stricken by a failure to communicate. At Burpelson Air Force Base Gen. Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), obsessed with bodily fluids and commie conspiracy, circumvents Fail-Safe protocol and orders a bomber wing to nuke the "Russkies". An RAF gallant on an exchange programme, Group-Capt. Lionel Mandrake (a moustachioed, spit-and-polish Peter Sellers) is held captive by this genocidal maniac, then has to convince his hostile "rescuer", Col. "Bat" Guano (Keenan Wynn) and a disbelieving telephone operator that he has to speak to the president.
Aboard the B-52, code named "Leper Colony", moronic but dogged Maj. T.J. "King" Kong (SlimPickens) and his crew (including James Earl Jones making his screen debut as Lt. Luther Zogg, Bombardier) experience radio failure and are oblivious to frantic efforts to recall them. In the War Room at The Pentagon (" Gentlemen, you can't fight in here. This is the War Room!"), sane but ineffectual President Merkin Muffley (bald, bespectacled Sellers), rampant, gum-chomping Gen. Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott), Soviet Ambassador de Sadesky (Peter Bull) and demented Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick's nod to Metropolis' mad scientist Rotwang, complete with mechanical arm, with Sellers parodying Werner Von Braun and Edward Teller) are gathered in a desperate, futile attempt to stop the machinery of an automatic Armageddon being activated.
After paying Sellers a million dollars ("I got three for the price of six," Kubrick quipped) The director still had enough for production designer Ken Adam to create an awesome, nightmare set for Gilbert Taylor's superior black-and-white cinematography. Sellers' side-splitting, three-way display is legend but the ensemble is a wow of exaggerated, perfectly-timed, acutely-shot posturing. While two images are never forgotten — Kong astride the hydrogen bomb, yee-hawing all the way down, and Strangelove, unable to control his mechanical arm flying into the Nazi salute and throttling himself.
Every viewing is a reminder that the film is stuffed with sparkling dialogue: Kong taking inventory of the B-52 survival kits, which include money, chewing gum, nylon stockings, lipsticks and condoms, exclaiming "Shoot, a fella can have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff!"; Guano, sizing up Mandrake as a "Deviated pervert", Muffley breaking it to Soviet Premier Kissoff that one of his base commanders "Went and did a silly thing" in a classic Sellers monologue; Strangelove, so aroused by mass slaughter he rises from his wheelchair shrieking "Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!"
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Kubrick would elaborate on the menace of computer dependence in 2001, on institutional and political violence in A Clockwork Orange, on the madness of war in Full Metal Jacket. But he never made us laugh so hard again.