Thursday, October 07, 2004

...OR HOW I LEARNT TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB



Finally got the time to watch 'Dr. Strangelove, Or how I learnt to stop worrying and love the bomb', Stanley Kubrick's ludicrous satire on the nuclear age. In spite of the oft quoted caveat at the beginning (or end) of movies viz. 'The resemblance of the characters in this movie to any living person is purely coincidental', there are some movies in which you can almost guess beyond a doubt the real life characters on whom their reel life counterparts are modeled. In this case, the similarities were quite clear.
The movie starts with a psychotic American General ('Jack D. Ripper' probably modeled on the belligerent real life General Curtis LeMay) issuing an order to bomb Russian bases with nuclear weapons because he is quite certain that 'the Commies are bent upon sapping America's precious bodily fluids'. His second in command, RAF Captain Mandrake desperately pleads with him to give him the recall codes so that he can stop this armageddon. Meanwhile, the American President ('Merkin Muffley': look up a slang dictionary...I need say no more) becomes even more desperate on hearing this news. Constantly badgered by a pompous belligerent General ('General Turgidson' probably modeled on LeMay again), he is caught between saving his face and his 'boys' ,and making sure that an all out nuclear war does not ensue. To this end, he is trying his best to negotiate with drunk Russian premier 'Kissoff' (Khruschev?). At the other end of the earth, a maverick crew of a B-52 bomber, led by a cowboy hat sporting heavy Texan accented Major prepares his crew, both psychologically and physically for the inevitable. Again, I am not going to give away the end, but it suffices for me to say that perhaps the most telling and outrageous character of the movie is the American President's scientific advisor, Dr. Strangelove (almost certainly modeled on in my opinion on the fiercely anti-Communist nuclear pioneer Edward Teller), who happens to be an ex-Nazi scientist. Bound to a wheelchair, his right hand seems to have a life of his own. It does not help that he quite explicitly calls the President 'Mein Fuhrer' from time to time, and then acts as if it was a slip of tongue. When he is proposing a plan to build houses in mineshafts in the event that a nuclear holocuast occurs, he talks about how the general populace inhabiting the post war world should be tightly regulated, allowing only the 'fittest' specimens entry into the mines. His further proposal of keeping ten women per man so that the rate of reproduction is optimized to reach pre war values is looked upon with great satisfaction by all the generals. All this time, his right hand is going up and down by its own accord in the classic Nazi salute. The whole spectacle is a satire on the maniacal and similar ideas about 'the perfect race' that Hitler had.
All through the movie, Kubrick's genius shines. Right from the names of the characters to the dialogues, he makes a point everytime that sheds considerable light on politics, the male ego, and nuclear war in general. Especially the attention paid to the dialogues ('Gentlemen, please don't fight. This is the War Room') is memorable.
The performances are great. Peter Sellers does a triple role and is perfect for each one of them. I personally liked George Scott's performance the best as the paranoid, gum chewing General Turgidson.
It is astonishing how much research Kubrick put into the making of the movie. It was released during the peak of the Cold War, in 1964. The Cuban Missile Crisis had just passed in 1962 and JFK had been assasinated the year before. The world was in great political and social turmoil. Kubrick manages to capture many major aspects of the period in the movie. Most remarkable is the technical research which he did. He read many of the best known books on Atomic Energy and Nuclear War, including the 600 page 'On Thermonuclear War' by Herman Kahn. Incidentally, this book is another landmark book which came out at the same time, which paradoxically talked about the manageable effects of even all out thermonuclear war. (More on it some other time). Kubrick researched the construction of the interior of a B-52 bomber for the movie, using meager information available from public sources. At the time, it was the world's top bomber, and every detail about it was classified. However, Kubrick's conception of it as gleaned from public sources was so accurate that within a few days, he had the FBI come in and question and threaten him.
This movie is a tribute to Kubrick's brilliance not only as a director, but also as a responsible citizen and as someone who had keen insight into politics and human nature. But most importantly, the sarcasm of the movie is very much valid even today, when the threat of nuclear war is as real as ever (actually more so because terrorists now possess WMDs) masked behind prosperity and peace as it may appear.

2 Comments:

Blogger Sumedha said...

Well I dunno about Kubrick (hated Eyes Wide Shut),but Peter Sellers is always a major draw :-)
It's funny how Hitler and Co. thought they could do better than natural selection, isn't it?

9:34 PM  
Blogger Nikhil K said...

Wassup? Are the submissions over? One intersting pint about the hacker subculture is thatthey are maybe the first ever group to be so closely knit by a common philosophy and ideology. Being geographically dispersed, the hacker diaspora normally exhibits a reamrka;e cohesion. Reminds me of the Knights Templars and The Knights Hospitallers and the French ForeignLegion.

6:50 AM  

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