16. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

We built weapons of mass destruction because men are horny morons. This feels to me like the lesson of Dr. Strangelove, which feels to me like the spiritual older sibling (1964) of Network. In the latter film, an insane newsman is kept on the air for ratings, then assassinated on live TV when those ratings dip. In Strangelove, the world is destroyed by idiots. These movies are essence of satire – important ideas rendered audaciously farcical.

The metaphor in Dr. Strangelove is not subtle. (It’s right there in the title.) We open on bombers refueling in midair, and they look like they’re fucking. The only woman in the film wears a bikini, and wants the top general to ignore an existential threat because “I’m not tired.” (She’s in bed rubbing her calves together as she says this.) Among the contents of the bomber pilots’ survival kits are lipstick, nylons, and condoms. And the insane man who orders the irreversible strike against Russia, General Jack D. Ripper, is obsessed with “precious bodily fluids.” The truth about the Commie plot to sap our fluids, he says, came to him “during the physical act of love.”

It is beyond silly. The actors ham it up for maximum comedy, especially George C. Scott as General Turgidson and Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove. Sellers plays three roles, including President Merkin (please click here) Muffley, and he’s hilarious in each. Strangelove can’t control his hand – it keeps trying to choke him, and giving the Nazi salute.

Lore holds that legendary director Stanley Kubrick planned a dead-serious film about nuclear warfare, but realized as he wrote that it was plainly ridiculous. There are serious moments in Strangelove, when men die fighting at Ripper’s base, but this is a freak show. President Muffley is briefed on measures and countermeasures and countermeasures to countermeasures, all in place in case a government decides tens of thousands of people should be killed instantaneously. Why the fuck would we even consider that?

Perhaps because post-war survival requires living underground with a 10-to-1 female-to-male ratio. President Muffley hears this, stops worrying, and loves the bomb.



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