Stanley Kubrick directs "Dr Strangelove." The plot? General Ripper, a manic US general, orders a nuclear attack on Russia. He believes the "purity of his essence" has been contaminated by the enemy, the mere existence of whom threatens his gene pool. To maintain the purity of his lineage, Ripper thus initiates "Attack Plan R", an order which results in the 843rd bomb wing leaving their fail safe points and proceeding into enemy airspace. In response, the Russians reveal that they are in possession of a "doomsday device". Throughout the film, Americans and Soviets will attempt to defend and propagate political ideologies that mutually define the other as a danger to purity.
Ripper, like most of the film's characters, is sexually dysfunctional. He misinterprets his post coital fatigue (or erectile dysfunctions) as a Communist plot and believes that "the enemy" is sapping his "sexual essence". To reassert both himself and his masculinity, Ripper sees it as his duty to deny or destroy Russia. As he gains power, Ripper munches on phallic cigars and unsheathes huge, eroticised machine guns.
Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) tries to stop Ripper, but is himself too weak and effeminate to overpower the psychotic general. Mandrake, a nervous flight commander named after a flightless male duck, has a broken leg, frequently stammers and proves not "masculine" enough to overpower the deranged Ripper. This tension between masculine/feminine/creation/destruction permeates the entire film.
Enter Buck Turgidson (George C Scott), a warmonger who seeks to capitalise on Ripper's sneak attack. The ball's already rolling, he says, so let's roll along with it. Buck's name is symbolic of sexual virility (Buck: vibrant male, turgid: swollen).
But once again, Sellers plays the effeminate foil to his hyper-masculine counterpart. He's President Merkin Muffley, a bald and small man, unable to commit to combat and constantly seeking to "work with the enemy". "Merkin" and "muff" are slang terms for pubic wigs and female pubic hair respectively.
On the other side of the Atlantic we join Major Kong, a George Bushesque Texan warmonger. His B52 bomber is making a run for a Russian base at La Putta (the whore). Unfortunately, a Russian missile damages the aircraft's radio and they are unable to receive the recall code. Kubrick's films frequently deal with systems, machines and communication networks breaking down. Here, a bizarre and complex series of freak accidents - impurities or oversights in the system - essentially leads to Armageddon.
The recall code is itself discovered by Captain Mandrake. An acronym for "Purity of Essence" and "Peace on Earth", the code points to both party's fascist mindset: for peace to arise, there can only be one pure lineage. The Other must be eradicated.
When Kong reaches his target, he rides a bomb down to ground zero. This activates the "doomsday device", blanketing the earth in a series of atomic explosion. Like most Kubrick films, the film climaxes with a system failure. The irony here is, not only that base human drives result in intrinsically corrupt and inherently stupid systems, but that it's precisely a series of fail safes and precautions, a neurotic desire for total control, that kill us. Once an irrationality (or rather, super rationality) is introduced via the psychotic Ripper, the system self destructs.
Before the film's iconic finale, its cast of world leaders listen as Dr Strangelove, a wheelchair bound ex-Nazi professor, describes the steps "necessary" to preserve life. With passages equating US presidents to "fuhrers" and with world leaders discussing fascist policies and eugenics, its clear what power and ideology has ultimately triumphed. The film ends with bombs going off in tandem with the "newly risen" capacity of Strangelove and his Nazi affiliations.
With "Strangelove" Kubrick recognised the inherent beauty of the mushroom cloud as well as its horror. Spectators often embrace apocalypse, or unconsciously desire some idealised notion of it. But rather than the arms race, it is libidinal drives which Kubrick satirizes. Think Major Kong straddling a 20 megaton thermonuclear bomb as it plummets towards a soviet ICBM site, hollering inane Texan war whoops as he falls. If violence always has a sexual element, and vice versa, this is warfare as a kind of sexual hysteria, Kong whipping his bomb in a masturbatory frenzy, hat in hand, before the screen is engulfed in the brilliant over-exposure of nuclear detonation, the perfect oneness of pleasure, where the intersecting vectors of sex, death and speed collide headfirst in an orgasmic explosion of fission, fcking and fallout.
The great black joke of "Strangelove" is that war stems from the phallus and that nuclear stalemate is a kind of sexual frustration (or strange love) to the technocratically evolved male; there are forever strong, dangerous unconscious drives conspiring to launch the ultimate attack. No surprise then that the film is awash with sexual imagery. Phallic Guns, cigars, swimsuits, playboy centrefolds, dominant young bucks, sexually dysfunctional wheelchair bound degenerates and a narrative book-ended by copulating aircrafts and an atomic ejaculation...the film's entire semiotic language is a consistent ballet of creation (sex) and destruction (war). This is combat out of obedience to the crotch, war as the drive to dominate and possess (there is a "mating-warring association" deep in the male brain, dominance associated with the phallus; think how phrases like "f*** you up" and "get some action" have double meanings), man seemingly raping/pillaging to create space for his dark cycles of creations.
The film is also unique in the way it blends genres (comedy/thriller/documentary). Kubrick's camera is initially detached, godlike and methodical, coolly milking the suspense, while the film's second half, with its outrun missiles and nervous faces awaiting annihilation, plays likes a precursor to contemporary "ticking clock" action movies. Kubrick changes aesthetics styles once again for the film's (now much copied) ground battles, which incorporate urgent documentary-like war footage. The rest of the film swings between comedy/satire, and straight drama. This results in strange and complex juxtapositions.
10/10 - Masterpiece.