Stanley Kubrick‘s 1964 anti cold war film gives you an uncomfortable reality check at how stupid humanity really is. However it also makes you see how hilarious it is that we’re all willing to absolutely decimate all life on earth in order to prove who’s country is more superior. To get an inkling of how the story unfolds I will give a brief explanation of what happens; the film first opens with a border line psychotic General Ripper (Sterling Hayden) announcing his airforce base is in ‘code red’ and orders the base to seal itself off from the outside world. He then continues to put operation “wing attack plan R” into effect which gives him the power as a lower ranking officer than the president to launch a nuclear attack on Russia. As a result of this crisis an emergency meeting is called at Washington DC within the Pentagons war room. Within the war room are characters such as President Merkin Muffley, ex nazi Dr. Strangelove (both played by Peter Sellers) and General Turgidson (George C. Scott) along with many other important generals.
All these men put in the effort to try and stop the currently inevitable nuclear war from happening. Kubrick portrays all the big manly military men as babies with weapons, they’re all incapable of understanding the power these weapons posses however also the fact that they will inevitably set them off reaping havoc to come. One of the solutions we see in the film is a phone call between the US and Russian president which sounds like a little child apologising for accidentally breaking their neighbours window with their football when news reach them about the accidental launch. Kubrick isn’t afraid to exercise any ethnic stereotypes such as the Russian president answering the phone drunk and general Ripper claiming that all commies “never drink water, only vodka”. The film is designed to take the highest amount of mockery out of the cold war shenanigans as possible therefore anyone that takes this film seriously is extremely sensitive. A very famous quote in the film, which i personally love myself upon hearing it, is “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the war room!”… oh the irony, do I have to say anything else?
A rather large Freudian essence hangs heavy over this film, and thats how deeply sexual but subtle it is, I think its brilliant if you ask me. For the whole duration of the films title credits we see a fuel plane refuel one of the B-52 bombers during flight however the fuel pump largely imitates a phallus going in and out of the opposing plane as it bobs up and down, side to side, from the turbulence. A lot of the Military General characters suck on a dong like cigar, the more they do it, the more war mad and frustrated they get. A comparison to this, the disabled ex nazi, Dr. Strangelove puffs on a very small cigarette that he can barely hold and I think that is done quite deliberately in order to give a little dig towards nazis and the incapable. Through adding a subtle sexual nature to the props, set design and dialogue it then reinforces the idea that all militarised men are sexually frustrated, testosterone filled war machines that can explode at any moment, depending on which way you take that reference. The whole film is saturated with subtle digs, hints and jokes and thats what makes it such a rich motion picture that is understandably still known today.
Set design within this film can be explained as immense, the war room is one of the most memorable staged areas in film history. The giant boards with all the little lights and icons mapping out important information which overlooks an equally humungous round table mirrored by some overhead lighting. Stanley adds a nice touch to it during one scene were general Turgidson is reading out a statement and because the camera is from a far within the room he makes him sound just as distant, echoed and slightly muffled to add a true point of perspective for the audience.
This now brings me to my most personal favourite scene in film history, Major Kong, the pilot on board one of the bombers, rides a nuclear warhead rodeo style down to earth and literally goes out with a bang. This scene alone has sparked countless pieces of artwork, graffiti and even tattoos! Overall if you’re interested in the rock stars of film directors and you want to delve into some anti war media thats up there with Ford and Wyler‘s work then you must give this a watch, heres the trailer:
Written by: Charlie George Eve