Dr. Strangelove Or: How Stanley Kubrick Invented Black Comedy

By | June 6, 2019

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Left: Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove. Right: George C. Scott as General 'Buck' Turgidson. Source: IMDB

Stanley Kubrick's 1964 nuclear-war farce Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb has been called the first black comedy in film history. The film, starring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, addresses many rather serious questions of the era, when the Cold War cast its ominous shadow over daily life in America. The United States and the Soviet Union were capable of destroying each other many times over -- was this concept of "mutually assured destruction" supposed to make us sleep easy at night? The "peace," if that is the word for it, depended on a precarious balance -- what if something goes wrong? And what if the people in power -- who are endlessly wargaming doomsday scenarios and coldly crunching numbers -- are slightly crazy? While the outcome of these quandaries in the film is complete annihilation, the film is able to find the absurdity in the situation and satirize it.

Audiences had never quite seen anything like Dr. Strangelove, and there hasn't been a film quite like it since. 

Beginnings Of The Film

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The War Room as shown in a poster for 'Dr. Strangelove.' Source: parkcircus.com

The dilemma begins when Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper sets nuclear war with Russia in motion. Ripper, a slightly unhinged character, believes that the Russians were poisoning the water supply with fluoride. The rest of the film focuses on the repercussions of his action, showing the absurdity of the people who are making decisions that may impact humanity.

The film was based on the novel Red Alert by Peter George. Although George collaborated with Stanley Kubrick, the director, and satirist Terry Southern, there were some differences between the film and the book. The film retained much of the main plot and technical elements of the novel. However, the novel did not include the character Dr. Strangelove and it was much more serious than the film. Kubrick had originally planned to film a drama, but during research, discovered comedic elements in the situation and eventually fully incorporated them into the film.