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Blu-ray Review: ‘Dr. Strangelove’

★★★★★

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Missile Defence System with the ability to hit a long-range ballistic missile out of the sky must be beneficial to human survival. At least this was the view of George W. Bush, who must have been acting on advice from his new senior defence advisor George Lucas when working towards the ‘Star Wars’ defence project.

The scheme has since had its grandiosity checked by Barack Obama – who reasonably admits that similarly ‘awesome’ defence capabilities could be achieved by placing smaller yet equally destructive missile launchers on boats. Nevertheless, it seems that this overarching goal of establishing some ultimate state of transcendental invulnerability is so important, we are prepared to obliterate ourselves in the process. It is baffling then, how parallels to Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove have escaped public attention.

Quotes surrounding this contemporary saga could be mistaken for direct excerpts from Kubrick’s film; the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, fearing for impact on his own military capabilities, released the following statement:

“We will not be hysterical about this, but we will think of retaliatory steps”.

Compare to Peter Sellers’ Merkin Muffley speaking to the Russian Premier over the phone:

“Listen, I mean, it’s not gonna help either one of us if a, if the, if the Doomsday Machine goes off, now is it? Dmi…Dmitri, there’s no point in you getting hysterical at a moment like this! Dmitri!”

The point here is that Kubrick’s film is the most accurate and timeless portrayal of a world facing mutually assured nuclear destruction, and paradoxically accomplishes this feat not through a realistic study but through the blackest surrealism. The core issue here is that this surrealism highlights above anything else that man is doomed in his quest for self-preservation, purely because he constantly battles two, primordially-ingrained and interlinked instincts: to kill and to procreate.

The rationality behind every decision in Kubrick’s film is somehow warped by these exaggerated, selfish urges. Brigadier General Jack Ripper (Sterling Hayden) starts the nuclear attack because of his obsessive fear of a “Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all our precious bodily fluids”; Dr. Strangelove (Sellers) finds a perverse sexual fascination in the destructive power of the Doomsday Device (“the Doomsday machine is terrifying and simple to understand… and completely credible and convincing”) before suggesting that women in the protective mine-shaft be “selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature”. And of course, the film culminates towards the iconic image of Major Kong (Slim Pickens) cheering wildly astride the dropping nuclear warhead.

Still as powerful as it was after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Dr. Strangelove deserves not just contemporary re-viewing, but thorough studying. Its core message is that apparently utilitarian human action is always somehow coloured by uncontrollable, selfish and primal urges – whether its in the fabrication of a nuclear deterrent (the Doomsday Device) or the erection of a large missile defence turret that casts a sinister shadow across the rest of the world.

Tom Read