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 ★★★★★

No. 175:
Empire Magazines Greatest Challenge: 301 films, 301 words

While Kubrick had certainly been making a name for himself in in Hollywood beforehand, Dr. Strangelove is probably considered by many to be his first genuine masterpiece; and it deserves absolutely no less than that.

A vicious and hilarious satire of Cold War fear and paranoia, the film takes the straight faced turmoil of Peter George’s ‘Red Alert’ and populates it with walking political stereotypes and madmen, letting the action unfold through blackly comic cause and effect. The story of nuclear Armageddon unfolds from the perspectives of those directly involved. There’s the President and his incompetent advisors in the War Room, who place excessive, petulant hubris ahead of their countrymen and civilian lives. Even in a time of turmoil they still fear giving away their game-plan on “the big board”. Then there’s the unhinged General, stricken with paranoia so much that he would take matters into his own hands and doom the entire world for what he deems to be the greater good. Meanwhile, the B-52 bomber flies the payload ahead, as the patriots aboard unknowingly become the world’s greatest threat. The Stetson toting hero figures of the old west may bring about total annihilation in their blindness.

For a film of such scale its production feels small, but the set designs are imaginative and enclosed enough to sustain the intimate tension of the plot. The characters are all memorable and performed perfectly, with Seller’s giving three of his greatest performances, while Scott, Hayden and Pickens bring flesh to long distorted icons of Western ideology, arrogance and sexual prowess. Shot and edited with a speed and a ticking clock quality, and one of the best screenplays of Kubrick’s career. It’s one of the sharpest, blackest, funniest and most distressingly poignant satires ever made, with a remarkable ending pitch like no other.

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