Monday, 29 July 2013

Aint War Hell? - Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Dr. Strangelove, or, to give it its correct and full title, "Dr. Strangelove Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb" is a seminal film made in 1964, directed and co-written by Stanley Kubrick.
Based on the book "Red Alert" (also published under the title "Two hours to doom") by author Peter George, the film takes a satirical look at cold war politics, set against the backdrop of attempts to prevent the mutually assured destruction of the human race in a global nuclear conflict.

Peter Sellers, who at the time was considered to be a "bankable" name in films, crams in three roles, fistly as US president Merkin Muffley (a slang name for a pubic wig) , then as RAF exchange officer Group Captain Lionel Mandrake,  and then finally as the titular character of "Dr. Strangelove", the ex-Nazi scientific advisor the the president.
Sellers was also cast to play the role of Texan bomber commander Major T.J "King" Kong, however his inability to mimic a texan accent, coupled with an injury which would have prevented him from working on the mock up set of a B-52 bomber meant that the role was recast with veteran western actor Slim Pickens in the role (Pickens was kept unaware that the role was part of a comedy film, so thus he played his part completely straight, or, to put it more honestly, he played the role as himself).

 James Earl Jones makes an early film appearance as one of the B-52s crew, and actor George C Scott plays the role of fanatical US General Turgison (Kubrick tricked Scott into playing the role of Turgidson in a far more OTT manner than Scott was willing to play him, simply by telling Scott that he wanted him to do an OTT performance as a warm up to shooting the main scenes, then Kubrick used the scenes in which Scott behaved in a ridiculous manner in the final film. Scott was not pleased with this and refused to ever work with Kubrick again as he felt that Kubrick didn't take his talents seriously)

This film has, quire rightly, been lauded as one of the best films ever made, simply because it presents the very real concern of the outbreak of world war 3 in a manner which, even though acted out in a comedic and somewhat farcical manner, was a very real threat throughout the 60s and 70s, and even though a caption at the beginning of the film states that a situation such as the one presented in the film could never happen, it turned out that findings found after the cold war ended showed that indeed such a situation could have easily occurred on both sides.

The plot is fairly simplistic, but also complicated at the same time, requiring some knowledge of the circumstances of the cold war in order to fully appreciate.
Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (USAF) blames Soviet fluoridation of drinking water for a single episode or premature ejaculation and the humiliation that resulted from it, and thus his paranoid and ultra nationalistic mind arrives at the conclusion that the only way for hm to be able to preserve the "precious bodily fluids" of honest Americans is to start a nuclear war.
To this end, he uses a little known "Emergency plan R", which would allow air force commanders to make nuclear strikes on Soviet target following the destruction of Washington D.C without authorisation from the president.
To this end, he orders the 843rd bomber wing under his command to proceed to attack their pre assigned targets within the Soviet Union, and, to ensure the bomber crews do not deviate from the plan, their communications are all to be routed through a device called the "CRM-114 Discriminator", which will automatically ignore any radio signals which are not preceded by a three letter code, which only Ripper himself knows.
Very quickly, the forces of the USA and the USSR realise that this isn't a training exersize, and begin frantically working together to stop the mutual annihilation of the human species.

One of the real gems in this film is the way in which the military types are portrayed as being both warmongering and unable to think for themselves, as they blindly follow orders to the letter with no regard or interest in what they are actually doing. The encounter between Mandrake and Colonel "Bat" Guano exemplifies this splendidly, as Mandrake is the only person realistically capable of stopping world war 3, but yet Guanos rigid adherence to his orders delays Mandrake in preventing the war while they argue over semantics and nuances in the orders given to Guano, resulting in some believable and very dark humour which I could actually see happening in real life.

The final scene, featuring Dr. Strangeloves idea for preserving human life after the war, is simply brilliant, and showcases that even as the world is ending around them, the idiots in power are more concerned about staying in power than they are about stopping disaster, especially as it means that they will all basically become entitled to a lifetime of consequence free indiscriminate sex with young female survivors.

D.R Strangelove is most definitely a film that EVERYONE should watch, as aside from beautifully illustrating the total pointlessness of war, it also beautifully points out the uncomfortable fact that most people in positions of power are either completely incompetent, completely inept and/or are only interested in furthering their own gains.

I give this film 10 out of 10 Teller/Ulam devices!

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