Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb ★★★★

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Criterion Collection - #821

Stanley Kubrick most certainly could not be easily pinned down, as time and time again he dabbles on something new, delivering an experience that would equally challenge and engross his audience as any of his previous films would, but ensuring that it would be a product of unique qualities, marking a new chapter into his filmography that demonstrates his growth as a filmmaker.

Dr. Strangelove would be the last film from him that I would see, and for that reason, expectations would be undoubtedly high but undermined by the fact that I had previously witnessed the film’s first 15 minutes years ago, possibly a chance encounter, only to find the result very underwhelming. Could years of growth and experience change one’s outlook? It certainly did, as many of its elements would have swiftly zoomed passed me, as I would have lacked the mature touch to gain some sort of connection with the intentions that Kubrick is attempting to push. Dr. Strangelove marks as one of the filmmakers more grounded features, devoid of that escapist or melodramatic surge that dominates many of his films, a style that is individual from his entire body of work but fitting to the demands of the source material.

This is a film that recalls more of the director’s early works, Fear and Desire and The Killing, where the ensemble casting would dominate its narrative focus, undertaking a broader outlook of storytelling, allowing its themes to resonate through its birds eye angle. Many of his other films appear to show obsession in personal growth, a self-destructive nature that would propel their paths for them rather than wait for complications to arrive at their doorstep. Dr. Strangelove dabs on this self-destructive nature but never indulges on such, with its paranoia stricken Jack D. Ripper - played marvellously by Sterling Hayden - driven to take matters at his own hands, yet his condition speaks profoundly of the human mind that plagued the American population, albeit comedically excessive here. From there, the film pulls away and observes on the motivations of other characters, explore how they mentally endure through such constraint circumstances, and the claustrophobic tension that arises within the famous War Room.

Although early moments, it left me confused on why a film would be heralded as a comedy, but by its end, I realised multiple instances where I found myself chuckling at its silliness, an absurdity that is reinforced by its self-seriousness, the emotions of its characters peaking in moments of awkward glee and hysteria, at times a sense of honesty deeply rooted in its attempt at hilarity. Its cast play their roles with splendid timing and diverse deliveries, at times their attempts for laughs are handled with such subtlety that we find ourselves rewarded if given more attention.

Although it didn’t penetrate me or excite me as some of the filmmaker’s other films, it did however pose a thoughtful message, exploring the conditions of the Cold War with a comedic flair that does not intrude upon its serious themes. No doubt this deserves to be admired by film enthusiasts, and definitely a necessary piece for Kubrick lovers.

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