Sunday, August 9, 2015

Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb) Review (Classic Write-Up)

Last year, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldbergs comedy The Interview generated an enormous amount of controversy by creating a film centering around the concept of assassinating of real-life world leader Kim Jong-Un. They certainly weren't the first filmmakers to utilize comedy as a way to lampoon similar story territory, as the likes of Trey Stone and Matt Parker and Charlie Chaplin can attest. Hell, Stanley Kubruck used the Cold War as the focus of his 1964 feature Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb).

In contrast to some of his most famous directorial efforts that lean far more heavily on dramatic content (namely his follow-up film to Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey and the 1980 horror film The Shining), Dr. Strangelove plays its stories and characters in a more farcical manner. going as bombastic as possible in terms of depicting the chaos that ensues from one trigger happy general and taking a similar approach to the archetypes the various members of the cast inhabit (there's a military official that wants to immediately resort to violence for instance).

This tactic of filmmaking even extends to the casting, which allows Peter Sellers to inhabit three roles in the movie, including that of the titular character, an overtly eccentric German scientist. I honestly didn't notice it was him playing all of those characters (though in retrospect, it does make it clear why two of his characters, Dr Strangelove and the President of the United States, don't inhabit the screen face-to-face, to the best of my recollection), so I toss in extra kudos to Seller for playing these characters in such a distinctive manner that allowed for each of his three roles to take on a unique life of their own.

Confining much of the story to the War Room in the Pentagon, where the POTUS is looking for a solution to an impending nuclear war, allows for the chaotic nature of the world to escalate at a masterful pace.  The separate ideologies of the members of the cast are given a chance to simmer in an environment full of tension and frayed nerves. Conversely, a military base where Lionel Mandrake (the third character played by Peter Sellers) allows for a sharp contrast in aesthetic, as the base is being overrun by soldiers and violence. Not only does Dr. Strangelove utilize a dichotomy of locations that Kubrick uses to highlight both the physical and mental toils of the war, it gives the film the opportunity for some subtle gags that are executed beautifully, namely a gigantic sign proclaiming a desire for peace popping up in the middle of a warzone.

Fifty-one years later, the Cold War is now a part of history books all over the world, but even if one were to (somehow) not have knowledge of this historical event, Dr. Strangelove still works like gangbusters. Whether you're looking for evidence of Kubricks mastery as a director or just a comedic feature film thriving on absurdity, this one just checks off all the boxes and more. Really, with a film this layered and well put-together, I couldn't help but be enthralled by every scene of Dr. Strangelove.

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