Thursday, March 20, 2008

Kubrick Kick: Dr Strangelove


Yes, the Kubrick Kick series returns for a bit. I took a bit of a break from Kubrick with a whole bunch of non-Kubrickian films, but after the death of Arthur C Clarke, I was renewed in my vigor for that difficult and skilled director (Clarke, of course, being the co-writer on 2001: A Space Odyssey). Today, "a lay of the land" examines the comedy Dr Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.

The 1964 film stars Peter Sellers in three roles, George C Scott and Slim Pickens. Set during the height of the Cold War, a mentally unstable general orders a nuclear strike against the Russians, and the films follows the Pentagon, the Presidents and some military people trying to stop it, as well as scenes inside the B52 as it heads towards its final destination.

It's supposed to be a comedy, I guess. I didn't really laugh a lot, though, but that might be for a few different reasons. Firstly, a lot of the jokes are so famous ("You can't fight in the war-room") that hearing them in their original context is almost surreal. Secondly, the movie is slow moving and not a lot happens - just like a Kubrick movie. What I did find funny was the little things, such as Slim Pickens reading the contents of the survival kit, or George C Scott answering a private telephone call in the middle of the war room from his sexual partner.

The character of Dr Strangelove wasn't particularly funny or interesting, but again, that may have been because I'm so familiar with the character already. I've seen it parodied and referenced so many times. Peter Sellers is a very versatile actor, I have to admit, and he certainly lives the role of Strangelove, Mandrake and the President.

What I found to be the most fascinating part of the movie, but also the most frustrating, was the sexual subtext to absolutely everything. Everybody's name and actions have some sort of a sexual reference to it, from the President's name (Merkin) to the title character's name. There's talk about stealing our essence (semen) and talk about polygamy. The insane Air Force general is chomping on a phallic cigar and Slim Pickens is riding a phallic bomb. It's all very Freudian. I say that it's frustrating because it's built into the movie, but it doesn't really say anything about it. Are we supposed to conclude that sexual frustration is what caused the Cold War? I don't know.

It's almost blasphemy to say that I didn't really like Dr Strangelove, considering it's one of the best films ever, apparently. I know. I just didn't engage with it. In my Kubrick Kick series, I've found that I learned a lot about how I react to films rather than the films themselves. Expectations and knowledge of the film have changed how I view things. Perhaps, with more viewings, I will enjoy Dr Strangelove more. There's certainly parts I liked about it (Scott's performance is terrific) and parts I disliked (pretty much all the bomb foreplay filled with technical jargon), but I can appreciate it, I guess.

Anyway, I'm not going to spend too much more time on this film. I didn't really enjoy it as much I wanted to, but I certainly didn't hate it or love it. Next in my Kubrick Kick series, I will be taking a look at the director's noir thriller The Killing from 1956, which I'm told has a very awesome ending.

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