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Idea and Symbols in Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove"

Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Discovered to Stop Worrying and Really like the Bomb presents us with a fascinating satirical snapshot of the Cold War. It reflects back at us the absurdity of US (and to a comparable extent Soviet) nuclear policy. Unsurprisingly, the film was controversial, accused of “pinko” communism just before production even ended. The irony of this accusation in light of the film’s topic matter is palpable. Kubrick makes use of character flaws to symbolize and scathingly criticize the institutions that those characters represent. This criticism is wide reaching, spanning from the weakness of the British military and American politicians to the warmongering of the US Military-Industrial Complex and the latent Nazism of the American scientific neighborhood. These criticisms reflects Kubrick’s personal views, as well as several common sentiments of the time.

Naturally, each and every unreliable character in the film represents a separate fear or anxiety the American public had about specific institutions. Generals Ripper and Turgidson every single represent the wild and warmongering behavior of the US military (particularly the US Air Force) and the bloat and waste of the military-industrial complicated throughout the Cold War. The amorality and latent Nazism of the American scientific neighborhood, especially those members involved in nuclear capable missile investigation, is symbolized in Dr. Strangelove. Every single character has a distinct flaw, even when multiple characters represent the exact same institution (Turgidson and Ripper representing the US Air Force/military). There is nonetheless one overarching flaw shared by all of the characters: impotence. All of the key characters in the film are impotent in one particular way or an additional, no matter whether literally (Ripper), politically (President Muffley), or militarily/physically (Mandrake and Strangelove). Impotence is what drives all of these characters to act as they do.

The most clear case of impotence is in General Ripper, as his impotence is literal, and his delusions about its causes are what motivate him to carry out his plan to bomb the Soviet Union and creates the central conflict of the film. But it is not delusion alone that drives him. He believes the US military has been created impotent by politicians, and that the US is not taking a difficult adequate stance on the Soviets. This idea really a lot reflects sentiments inside the military neighborhood at the time (and almost certainly somewhere within every army in every single nation in each century). For example, in 1962 throughout the Cuban Missile Crisis, Air Force Common Curtis LeMay (upon whom Common Turgidson is primarily based) was an outspoken advocate of direct military action against Cuba, pushing for an invasion even right after the Russians withdrew nuclear armament from Cuba (Smitha, “The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962”). Despite the fact that LeMay’s opinion was in the minority for the general public in aftermath of the crisis, accusations of a variety of politicians being soft on the Soviets would continue all through the Cold War.

In contrast to Ripper, General Turgidson is shown as becoming virile. He is in the midst of relations with his secretary at his character’s introduction. A single could interpret Ripper as representing the violence the US military could commit, as evidenced by his name. In contrast, Turgidson would represent the military-industrial complicated and the bloat of the US military. In 1964, the US military had not flexed its muscles in total war given that 1945 and had not been permitted to deploy its most effective weapons since the bombing of Nagasaki, regardless of requests to do so in the course of the Korean War. The violent aspect of the military is unused, top to aggravation in Ripper. In contrast, military spending was alive and effectively. In 1964, defense spending accounted for 9.53% of the GPD. Take into account the situation 50 years later in 2014, and defense spending was only 4.59% of GDP (Chantrill, “US Government Spending 2014”)(Chantrill, “US Government Spending 1964”). The US nuclear arsenal in the film is apparently sufficient, with Turgidson saying a first strike could destroy 90% of Russia’s nuclear capability. Turgidson is by no implies satisfied with merely having the implies to destroy Russia, and still prefers a release to the lengthy military buildup. Once again, Kubrick utilizes sexual frustration to illustrate these feelings. Turgidson is interrupted whilst with his secretary at the starting of the crisis. Throughout the film, Turgidson appears eager to get the nuclear war more than with.

In contrast to each Ripper and Turgidson, Mandrake does not long for war, and he adds physical failings to moral and mental ones. Mandrake is a high ranking Royal Air Force officer (Group Captain is equivalent to Colonel in the US ranking method) who apparently served for the duration of WWII as a Spitfire fighter pilot. He is timid, apologetic, and unassertive. In the war, he did not learn to use land primarily based little arms, having “only ever pushed a button in [his] old Spitfire,” leaving him militarily impotent he was also maimed, losing a single of his legs, leaving him physically impotent. Once it is assumed that Mandrake represents the British Empire in common and the British military in distinct, his flaws are simply interpreted as criticisms of these institutions. His inability to help Ripper with the machine gun is symbolic of the loss of British will to fight alongside the US. His false leg itself indicates the loss of British potential to fight, as effectively as the loss of components of the British Empire in the postwar period. Massive stretches of British colonies and holdings have been decolonized among 1945 and 1964, and decolonization continued till 1997 with the handover of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China. The loss of these territories is reflected in Mandrake’s loss of his own flesh.

Beyond witnessing his physical impotence, we see Mandrake try unsuccessfully to convince Ripper to contact off his attack. It is straightforward to interpret this as a sign of British diplomacy failing to convince the US to hold off in Vietnam or other conflicts. Even prior to the end of WWII, Britain was currently losing influence. By the time of the film, Britain was no longer a power on roughly equal footing with the US, but a dependent with fairly small say in what America wanted to do. We once again see a symbol of failing diplomacy when Mandrake is attempting to make contact with President Muffley, but is obstructed by Colonel Bat Guano, with diplomacy and collaboration hindered by the US military. In the very same scene, British cultural irrelevance is also emphasized. When Colonel Guano shoots the vending machine for its alter, he warns Mandrake that he will “answer to the Coca-Cola company” if his intentions turn out to be unjustified. This exchange shows the British as culturally dependent on American organizations. But the exact same scene could also be a criticism of the influence of corporate America on the planet, rather than a comment on British cultural dependency, a nod towards who truly runs the world.

Like Mandrake’s, Strangelove’s impotence is primarily physical. Until the final moments of the film, he is unable to use his legs, and 1 of his hands acts on its personal throughout. Dr. Strangelove is an amalgam of a variety of German scientists recruited in the course of Operation Paperclip, the US initiative to recruit German scientists and engineers following the finish of WWII (Trueman, “Operation Paperclip”). His alien hand could be symbolic of latent Nazism in Operation Paperclip scientists. Although former Nazis had been never officially recruited, the reality was that many scientists and engineers were Nazi celebration members and had their backgrounds whitewashed before getting recruited (Trueman, “Operation Paperclip”). We see a comparable whitewashing with Strangelove, who changed his name from Merkw?rdigliebe. In the finish, we see considerably of Strangelove’s latent Nazism come out. When it is inevitable that the doomsday device will be activated he progressively loses handle of his alien hand, culminating with a Nazi salute to the president. Strangelove begins describing how humanity could persist underground. As he describes the arguably eugenic variables that would be employed to determine who lived on in a shelter and who died aboveground, Strangelove appears much more or less unconcerned by the prospective for catastrophe throughout the film and happily gives scientific guidance to the President and military representatives. If it is assumed that Strangelove represents Germany as a entire rather than just the Operation Paperclip scientists, then his crippling and wheelchair are effortlessly interpreted considerably the identical as are Mandrake’s false leg and crippling. Strangelove is crippled due to the fact Germany was crippled, and far more severely than Britain. Whilst Mandrake can put on a show of being in a position bodied, there is no pretending for Strangelove, just as West Germany could no longer pretend to be a dominant power.

All through the film, despite the fact that he is the leader of the dominant energy, President Merkin Muffley is ineffectual and unable to manage his subordinates. Once more, the really name of his character is representative of his character. Both his first and final name refer to the female genitalia, and his character is timid and weak. He seems, and is seen by his advisers as, weak towards the Soviets, even inviting them into the war room against the suggestions of Turgidson. Moreover, he does not appear to be up to date on nuclear approach or technology. When informed of the existence of Wing Attack Strategy R, which Ripper issued to his bombers, the President acts indignant and shocked. Turgidson reminds him that he authorized the plan right after getting accused of getting weak towards the Soviets. When this takes place, the President seems to be embarrassed it is clear that he has lost face. This setup shows the inability of the President, and as a result the civilian American public, to control the military, even when they are the ones approving plans. He is similarly surprised that the US is pursuing its own doomsday device system, even although the source is the New York Times. If it is assumed that, as the President, Muffley also symbolizes the American public, then this ignorance of nuclear approach and technologies becomes representative of the tendency of the public towards ignorance, even in crucial matters. Indirectly, the public did approve of Wing Attack Program R and an American doomsday device plan by electing Muffley and other politicians. The problem faced in the film is in the end born from institutional failures allowed to fester by an ignorant and disinterested public.

Kubrick, by way of symbolism and satire, showcases the failures of all the key institutions that manage the use of nuclear weapons. The military is depicted as hotheaded, rash, and paranoid, even though politicians are painted weak and ineffectual. The scientific neighborhood is shown as willing lab dogs for the military-industrial complicated. Each the British and the Russians act as fading powers, vulnerable to the whims of the US. Much of this is hidden in plain sight, with names accurately describing character traits. Furthermore, Kubrick utilizes sexual metaphor to drive residence the symbolism, with nuclear explosions constituting the film’s climax. Dr. Strangelove came at a time when the threat of nuclear holocaust was nonetheless very true, and really fresh in the public’s thoughts from the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kubrick’s scathing criticism of the establishment naturally gave rise to debate and led to accusations of anti-American or communist agendas in the film. At the time, the film presented a challenging appear at what the public had let develop in America, and today delivers audiences a terrifying glimpse of just how close we came to oblivion.



Operates Cited



Trueman, Chris. “Operation Paperclip.” History Finding out Web site. N.p., n.d. Net. 25 Apr. 2015.

<http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/operation_paperclip.htm>.

Lindley, Dan. “What I Discovered because I Stopped Worrying and Studied the Movie: A Teaching

Guide to Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.” Lindley: Study Guide to Kubrick’s Dr.

Strangelove. University of Notre Dame, eight Sept. 2009. Net. 24 Apr. 2015. <http://www3.nd.edu/~dlindley/handouts/strangelovenotes.html>.

Smitha, Frank E. “The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962.” Cuban Missile Crisis. Gaertner Humanities

Incorporated, n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2015. <http://www.fsmitha.com/h2/ch24t65.html>.

Chantrill, Christopher. “US Government Spending 1964.” US Government Spending. N.p., n.d.

Net. 24 Apr. 2015. <http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/year_spending_2014USpn_16ps2n#usgs302>.

Chantrill, Christopher. “US Government Spending 2014.” US Government Spending. N.p., n.d.

Net. 24 Apr. 2015.

<http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/year_spending_2014USpn_16ps2n#usgs302>.

Dr. Strangelove Or, How I Discovered to Quit Worrying and Love the Bomb. Dir. Stanley Kubrick.

Hawk Films. Released by Columbia Images Corp., 1963. DVD.
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