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DIRECTOR: Stanley Kubrick RELEASE DATE: January 29, 1964 RATING (US): PG
CAST: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden et al.
// review by Beverley

There are certain films that you hear being referenced time and time again. "Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" was just such a film. I became convinced that I had to see it. This film was directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1964. Much like 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was intellectually interesting but thankfully less confusing to follow. Also, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, this film was based on a book (in this case, "Red Alert" by Peter George).

One thing that surprised me was that this film was in black and white. Unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey, the cinematography was fairly standard and the use of sound was fairly typical, in fact even primitive. I think perhaps this was because it was trying to emulate the style of cinema in the earlier Cold War era, as the focus of the film was on the Cold War conflict. This very conventional approach to film might even be associated with a new or documentary style, so it may serve some thematic purpose even though it might not seem very creative or original.

Also interesting was the contribution of Peter Sellers, who managed to play three very unique characters in the film. His ability to play such diverse characters as the staunch British captain Mandrake, the meek and whiny President Merkin Muffley, and of course, the eccentric 'ex'-nazi scientist Dr. Strangelove shows not only his capacity as an actor but also the impressive capabilities of wardrobe and cosmetics. Each of these characters had a drastic contrast and I would not have realised they were the same actor unless someone had brought it to my attention. Of course, accents were also often used to reveal character, so simply giving a character a Russian or German or British accent could quickly establish who they were and what their role was in the drama of international politics.

One aspect that I found surprisingly enjoyable was the strategy of the plot. The entire film revolves around an unfortunate collision of some of the most minor details that lead to disaster. An attention to the nuances, the causes and effects that lead into this collision, can be incredibly interesting. The film presents the events in a way that always teases you with a possible solution, the slightest hope of resolution, almost like a chess match, but inevitably some unexpected and obnoxiously simple obstacle arises that prevents it.

The storyline for this film was amusing at times, displaying a variety of eccentric characters and an absurdist sense of humour, but it was also a bit too bleak for me to appreciate. Surprisingly, the humour was a bit too dark even for me. I did enjoy many of the characters, however, such as Buck Turgidson, a xenophobic general who takes great pride and pleasure in his tactical bloodshed to the point of often losing his grasp on reality, and Brigadier General Jack Ripper who is clearly insane and very concerned about the well-being of his own body fluids. These characters give us the opportunity to ask ourselves, "Are we really the ones who are evil and insane and simply unwilling to see it?" Dr. Strangelove's awkward habit of calling the President "mein Führer" on impulse mockingly suggests that perhaps we are not that different after all.

In sum, I found this movie to be very intellectually stimulating and very artfully presented. Plot and characters were carefully thought through, the use of sound and cinematography served the purpose they needed to, and overall the film was enjoyable. My greatest complaint is that I was simply unable to find it humorous, as the thought of a nuclear apocalypse just seems to dark for me to laugh at. Still, I am not surprised this film is so popular, even if it really the right film for me.


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