“Dr. Strangelove”: Kubrick + Sellers = Cinematic Masterpiece

In early 1964, America was mourning the tragic assassination of President Kennedy, The Beatles were the hip new band, and the threat of all out nuclear war with Russia still seemed likely. So, when Kubrick released Dr.Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb the world took notice, as his black comedy satirized the looming extinction of the human race.  However, it seems Kubrick’s intended goal of the film was not to help ease the widespread nuclear panic of the early 1960’s, but instead lampoon it. After all, what’s funnier than the destruction of all life as we know it, right?

Stanley Kubrick’s Cold War spoof is a cinematic masterpiece. Co-written, produced and directed by Kubrick himself, the film follows a disturbed United States Air Force general who orders the first strike against Russia, The President of the United States (along with his loyal advisers) bumbling through the imminent destruction, A Royal Air Force officer trying to prevent the nuclear disaster before it’s too late, and the crew of the plane ordered to drop the bomb. Watching Kubrick unfold his ominous political satire on screen is watching a true master at work: everything in the film has a purpose and nothing in it is without reason.

However, if you still need another reason to watch this classic, I’ll give you another: Peter Sellers. The legendary British comedian plays three of the major roles in the film: President Merkin Muffley, Air Force Capt. Lionel Mandrake, and Dr.Strangelove. Sellers is incredible as all three, however, it’s his portrayal of the ex-Nazi scientist Dr.Strangelove that would cement his film legacy and Hollywood career for years after the film’s release.  Interestingly enough, according to IMDd.com, Sellers was paid $1 million dollars for his three roles in the film, which was 55% of the film’s total budget of $1.8 million. Apparently, Sellers was also cast in a fourth role as Major TJ Kong, but was unhappy with his Texas accent and the role was subsequently recast to actor Slim Pickens.

Outside of the famous performance(s) of Peter Sellers, actor George C. Scott also gives a hilarious and dark performance as General “Buck” Turgidson, the anti-communist American general who sees the approaching apocalypse as nothing more than a game of chicken with Russia. Scott’s portrayal of the unhinged general would later be considered as one of the actor’s finest roles of his career as well. Scott is brilliant as the general; he infuses the role with blend of great physical comedy and zany facial expressions that truly enhance the conviction of his performance.

Political satire and performances aside, Kubrick’s intended purpose of the film was to further explore the relationship we hold with the technology we create to better serve our needs. His argument behind this premise is that the machinery that functions to serve man will eventually destroy man. A theme Kubrick would later revisit with his sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. And much like the computer system HAL 9000 that serves then attacks the astronauts in 2001, Russia’s “doomsday machine” and the US nuclear armament in Dr.Strangelove serve to only destroy mankind, not protect it. After all, how valuable is our technology if it brings about the end of all life on earth? Almost 50 years later, after the film’s original release date, it’s a question still worth asking today.