50 STRANGELOVE YEARS AGO… (in reality that hasn’t gone away)

50 years ago, while Darth Vader piloted the plane Slim Pickens made one of the most remembered scenes in movie history. 50 years ago, Dr. Strangelove was made. The idea for the film is probably conceived during the Cuban missile crisis in which the world came to the brink of the nuclear fallout. Stanley Kubrick  made The Killing, Paths Of Glory, Lolita and Spartacus before it; but the idea of satirizing the nuclear outbreak was so new, bold and proving that dangers of the nuclear war could be fully understood only in showing its nonsensical nature. Conflicts of the Cold war, no matter how serious they look, aren’t worth the consequences of the nuclear fallout. If any reasonable person has put the consequences of the nuclear war in the perspective, there would be no choice but consider them too fantastic, too hideous to be true.

Having that in mind, Kubrick knew that Dr. Strangelove  couldn’t be something like Fail-Safe, couldn’t be another catastrophic movie. Putting the nuclear war in the comical and satiric perspective, Kubrick showed that everything that’s happening in reality is laughable and the bunch of mad men with a bunch of buttons to play with could really bring Doomsday to the world. While watching Peter Sellers in his brilliant performances in the movie, we couldn’t help but ask is there some bloke just like him who’ll do exactly the same thing but with pathos and remembrance, he’ll say that he’s done it for our sake and for the sake of our children. Drop the nuclear bomb for my sake and for the sake of my children… Maybe statement like that sounds too unreal, too far-fetched but if we keep in mind that Lyndon Johnson was sided with the generals in the argument for bombing Cuba during the missile crisis, then the allegory with Sellers performances – stands.

If in 1962. two great leaders weren’t in Oval Office and in Kremlin, respectively, the world would probably suffered a nuclear holocaust. Russian and American hardliners were all for immediate action, and Fidel Castro later admitted that he was prepared for the retaliation and pressing Khrushchev to strike first, before the US does. Fortunately, neither did. Kennedy was also under the magnifying glass of his own generals (especially after “The Bay Of Pigs”) but he stood his ground. From the later recounts of the participants (R.F.K. and McNamara) Kennedy did something nobody expected; he gave the Soviets the chance to back off. Nuclear disaster was averted. In Dr. Strangelove, however, idea of another great genocide is approached differently. War is, as general Ripper says, to serious thing to be left to the politicians. Preemptive strike against the enemy is approved by, what is called, “a simple slip-up”. Through the satire and humor Stanley Kubrick shows us terrifying seriousness of the nuclear war. Sometimes, comedy can terrify more than a melodrama of horror.

Close-ups of Sterling Hayden (general Ripper) could easily be close-ups of any dictator in history. When you think about it, most of the excuses which are used by generals Ripper and Turgindson (George C. Scott) can be traced  to one or another despot, dictator or tyrant in history. Terror indicted by war is the main theme of the Dr. Strangelove. In only ninety-five minutes, Stanley Kubrick made a masterpiece. Masterpiece of anti-war cinema. Dr. Strangelove is certainly a comedy. But, sometimes, it’s also a philosophical masterpiece. The dialogue between Mandrake and Ripper about the necessity of water is opposite of the “doomsday machine”, device to extinguish all life on Earth. Problem is, that consequences of both views are, unfortunately, completely the same.

Well deserved passage of this text has to be dedicated to Peter Sellers. His performances, all three of them, are magnificent. If anybody asks me again who are the greatest comedians in movie history, Sellers would certainly belong in that pantheon, together with Marx brothers, Chaplin and other masters of laugh. With Dr. Strangelove as proof of his remarkable genius. Fifty years has passed since man rode the bomb. Fifty years of happiness because usually stupid race was clever enough NOT TO DROP the bomb. But, if in the future somebody with the truth, God or German philosopher on his side would conceive strange ideas about pressing that button (which probably isn’t red, most probably it wouldn’t be button at all) I would like for him/her to imagine Sam Pickens and – reconsider.

50 years after it was made, Kubrick’s masterpiece is still laughable and terrifying as it was then. Somehow, I feel regret that we, as a race, haven’t learn important lesson this film tried to communicate all those years ago. War doesn’t pay, some prices are just too high to be payed. Then again, there was no nuclear catastrophe. Maybe Kubrick, Sellers and Pickens should take some credit. Maybe Dr. Strangelove  is a morbid testament of hope. Hope that we’ll stay clever enough. And that, 50 years from now, we’ll still pass that hope to the new generations of Mandrakes, Rippers and Strangeloves around the world.




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