Cinema: Doctor Strangelove at 50

By Ryder W. Miller


Hearkening back to the “Good o’le Days”, a time when people were less crass and maybe more innocent and maybe more naïve, Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb, reminds us still of the insanity of the world. It might take one a few viewings of the film to appreciate it’s humor. It is a dark humor about a world that was going wrong, but maybe solved the problem posthumously through detente. It is a mad romp and tells of a world we maybe have avoided. It present a harsh truth through fatalism.

It is difficult to say who is crazier, the crazies who are getting help and medication or the people who don’t think they need it and take on a sometimes violent world and maybe make it worse.

Watching and reading the news can put things in perspective. It can be a dangerous world, which is not technically called “crazy” for it, but at the same time there can be some community for those who are understanding and generous-something the world needs more of. War seems to be something we have not been able to leave behind with us living through now what could be considered World War III in The Middle East. There is the hope that the list of possible enemies is getting shorter and shorter in this.

There unfortunately can be intractable obstacles to understanding and acceptance of one another. There are also things that people do not seem able to forget or forgive. People hold grudges even if they have not been in a war where there can be an accepted code of conduct.

Dr. Strangelove from Stanley Kubrick is masterful satire. It can be a clear proof that The West is allowed freedom of speech. While watching it one might consider it proof that people are allowed to express opinions and complain. There is opportunity for outcry and protest. It and Democracy is what some have gone to war for.

The world has got harder and maybe we have lost empathy in what has become a less sentimental world. Maybe the world is just harder to laugh at. Humor can sometimes keep us from forgetting the problems of the world.

Dr. Strangelove (1964) is an amazing movie in a number of ways. The movie excels in it’s choice of settings. It seems like you are there when you are in the plane that has taken the order to disconnect from the rest of the military and drop a bomb on “The Russkies”. You are in the war room with The United States President who is being briefed on a situation that is now out of his control. One is at the military base where the attack order has been given and is also under attack by other military personal who are trying to diffuse the situation and stop the mission.

The performances are brilliant. Sterling Hayden, who is famous for his Film Noir roles, is strange even among the stranger. Peter Sellers is amazing playing three roles in the film. This might have been his most famous and successful “role” with him being especially offbeat as a nuclear scientist, president, and military officer. He is not always bumbling, but he is not fully prepared for what will follow. George C. Scott is animated and demonstrative and memorable in his role as a General. Together they present a world that has gone haywire and out of control.

Things sure have seemed to have changed since with us being more concerned about Terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and Climate Change. There are still nuclear missiles that are ready to go, but we don’t here about them as much.

There is great psychological depth in this movie and fascinating deadpan humor. The film presents a world that is so absurd that it is not clear what the humor is. The characters, however, have mostly cracked under the military stress.

Though he lived and worked in Brittan, Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) was originally for Manhattan. He was great at probing the psychological depths. He was a fierce social critic in this and could challenge a world that we let go beyond our control. It was great to see the film again, one that could make us change the world for the better.


RyderRyder W. Miller is an environmental reporter, independent scholar, critic, and eco-critic who writes about Nature, Astronomy, the Sea, Academic books, Art, American Literature, and Genre Literature. He also writes short stories (usually genre stories) and poems. He is the editor of From Narnia to a Space Odyssey and co-writer of San Francisco: A Natural History. He is currently looking for a publisher for a book of Nature Writing/News Columns called An Ocean Beach Diary (published in The West Portal Monthly and Redwood Coast Review), and a collection of genre stories (many already published in Mythic Circle and The Lost Souls website). He has published on the web what could be a book collection of essays about science fiction and fantasy. He is also working on a anthology of Environmental stories called Green Visions. Following the dictum of C.S. Lewis he has come to believe that it is easier to criticize than understand, but not every book is worthwhile or a contribution.