Saturday, 2 February 2013

Classic Films: Dr Strangelove

"Based on the findings of the report, my conclusion was that this idea was not a practical deterrent for reasons which at this moment must be all too obvious." - Dr Strangelove
One of the most memorable passages out of Jon Ronson's The Men Who Stared At Goats was his description of a military general who reasoned himself into his ability to walk through walls. The book, full of wacky antics of men in uniform, loses its hilarity when I stop and reflect on the destructive capacity they have at their disposal.

While it's easy to get moralistic and preachy about nuclear weaponry, I'm glad that Dr Strangelove went the black comedy path. Anything less wouldn't capture the insanity of the proposition at hand. Perhaps the screwball moments were a little too light, but the satirical comedy shone like a nuclear blast.

The real humour, though, was the same humour that Kurt Vonnegut captured so well in Cat's Cradle. The utter disbelief that these events could possibly transpire, not for its implausibility but precisely the opposite. The strive for power, the dehumanisation of the enemy, and the fear that the opponent will do the same - it all seems jaw-droppingly real. Indeed, that's where my jaw was for the final 20 minutes of the film.

The film is soon to turn 50, and I have never known what it's like to live in cold war conditions. The Soviet Union dissolved when I was 7. The nuclear threat, for me, has been what a terrorist network or state hopes to acquire, or (even worse) a proposed solution in the war on terrorism. We're meant to be frightened that North Korea and Iran have nuclear ambitions, but it's odd that we're at 5 minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock now, while this film was released at 12 minutes to midnight.

The anti-communist rhetoric of the film (especially Jack D Ripper's speech on base) is something that sounds like the anti-Muslim rhetoric of today. Likewise, the paranoid conspiracy ranting of General Ripper sounds quite normal compared to the insane conspiracies of today. The Orwellian message on the military billboard "Peace is our business" was a nice touch.

The imagery of a cowboy riding a nuclear weapon to Armageddon is perfect. If it were an argument, it's the ultimate reductio ad absurdum to the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction. Rational self-interest is a dangerous thing to gamble on, and with countries still harbouring nuclear ambitions, is there anything to do other than laugh at the insanity? If we didn't laugh, that would be grounds for insanity.

So, yes, I enjoyed Dr Strangelove. Though given I was already a fan of Kubrick, I expected to enjoy it.

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