Dr Strangelove

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What I love most about Dr Strangelove is the fact that General Ripper destroys the world because he can't get an erection. It's just the most absurd reason to start nuclear war. Yet it also weirdly has a ring of truth. There you are, you're a General in the American Air Force, responsible for thousands of men and the safety of the country, and your sexual prowess slowly begins to ebb away. What do you do? Do you accept it like a normal human being and seek help? Do you just ignore it? Or do you let it drive you mad and then concoct elaborate conspiracy theories to explain your inability to get it up? Ripper certainly goes for the final option. Only this is a man who can drop nuclear bombs and who has an Air Force that can avenge his sexual impotence. The end of the world and the final big bang are his last orgasm.

And when you watch the film it's amusing to notice Ripper's two big penis substitutes – his large cigar and his huge gun. He's obviously compensating for his sexual shortcomings. And the excuses he makes are hilarious. I can't help but crack up when he talks about "loss of essence", "bodily fluids" and "fatigue". What is the virile American male who's insecure about his sexual potency meant do? Nuke everyone of course!

And the phallic symbols aren't only restricted to General Ripper. If the copulating aeroplanes aren't bad enough then there's Major Kong with a huge bomb between his legs. He whoops in orgasmic delight as he fulfils Ripper's revenge by dropping the General's substitute penis on the Russians. That'll teach anyone who laughs at his flaccidity!

But staying on the subject of sex in
Dr Strangelove, another thing that tickles me is the way that the Nazi, the Commie and the Yank agree that using a mineshaft (snigger, snigger) to have sex with lots of women is a terrific idea. Nothing builds bridges like promises of post-nuclear war orgies. Oh, and I also love the moment when Sellers as Strangelove gazes down at his groin with wide-eyed alarm as his rouge Nazi hand does something off-screen…

However, it's not all about sex (although Kubrick rightly shows that most things are about sex).
Dr Strangelove is also about the stupidity of authority and the blind way we accept it. I mean, surely if someone is a General or a leader of a nation, they must know what they're doing. They must be right in the head. They must have our best intentions at heart. Right? Of course it's a load of rubbish. People in power are just as crazy, if not more so, than everyone else. Yet like sheep we all go along with it. Just take how gleefully Kong ensures humanity's demise. He doesn't ask questions, he just goes along for the ride, whooping all the way. And then there are the soldiers forced to fight one another. It's always the ordinary people who end up paying. And how insane is the idea of a nuclear deterrent anyway. Whatever happens no one can win. Whoever fires first, the result is always mutual annihilation. But perhaps Ripper does everyone a favour by ending the insanity with his own brand of madness.

As you can probably gather, Ripper is my favourite character. Buck Turgidson, though, would have to be my second. I love his cold rationalism – "Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks" – and his blind, patriotic pride – "Does he have a chance? Hell yeah!" He's the red blooded American male who's happy to cheat, lie and shout in order to get his way. And he's strangely endearing. Sure he's a loudmouth and he's really not that smart, but like Homer Simpson you just can't help but warm to him. And I also crack up at his prayer. It's very American to talk coldly about carnage and then give thanks to god. And speaking of the fictitious one, I also love the way that Ripper sends his bombers off to nuke Russia and those pesky Commie atheists and then says that "God willing we will prevail and in peace and freedom of fear." As always, the religious have a terrific way with hypocrisy.

But it would be remiss of me to talk about
Dr Strangelove and not mention Peter Sellers. He's magnificent. Each three of his creations is superb. But although Strangelove gets most of the attention, it's probably Mandrake that I like the most. He's just so terribly British. I mean, just take the calm, rather frightened way that he talks to Ripper. And the blasé way that his mentions his torture at the hands of the Japanese in the Second World War. And I still crack up when he mentions his "gammy" leg. He's a sane voice in the mouth of madness.

But there's so much that I love about
Dr Strangelove and so many moments I could mention. However, it all really comes down to one thing. People are bloody insane and each day we spend without destroying ourselves is down to blind luck.

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  1. As far as sexual references go, don't forget Keenan Wynn. After all of his paranoia about "preverts", he ends up on the wrong end of the cumshot with the Coke machine.