Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

The great mystery of this film is how so many can have missed its point, a point that Stanley Kubrick and company tried so hard to make clear. From the title, which uses the word "love" not once but twice, to the opening visual of a B-52 coupling with a tanker for refueling, all the way until its concluding series of climactic explosions, this is not so much the black comedy that folks seem to want it to be but a love story, and an erotic one at that. And at the center of its eroticism is the manly power of the United States of America's Cold War forces circa 1963.

Kubrick lingers lovingly, even fetishistically, over long tracking shots of the B-52s in the air--those sleek silver phallic symbols. The compelling figures in the film, however psychotic, are the gung-ho militarists--Sterling Hayden, George C. Scott, Keenan Wynn, and Peter Sellers as the Doctor. Hayden, as General Jack D. Ripper, is shown for much of the film with a stogie jutting from his mouth. Freud may have said that, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar", but this not such a time. George C. Scott's General Buck Turgidson has the only scene with a female, and a bikini-clad one at that. Slim Pickens (Major "King" Kong), lest we've missed the message, rides his missile right into the target. Meanwhile, the men of peace are effete and ineffectual--Lionel Mandrake, with his proper British accent, and the balding president, Merkin Muffley--even their names inviting contempt.

From whence comes the comedy in the movie? It derives precisely from the contrast between the virility of the warmongers--too long contained, their precious fluids going to waste--and the obsequiousness of the doves. For what point could there be to having this marvelous fighting force and not using it to end the war? Perhaps the most famous line in the film--"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here. This is the War Room!"--perfectly captures the absurdity of the situation. A nation girded for war but holding itself back and cowering in fear can't help but seem ridiculous. In effect, the film is one long plea to the garrison state to: Get it on! Its subtitle--"How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb"--is an invitation to take the Cold War hot and to end, one way or another, a status quo of Mutual Assured Destruction which truly was a sign of madness.

The love on display--of a nuclear arsenal and the men who long to launch it--may be strange, but it is love nonetheless. Nor should the message be dismissed as mere partisan political parody. It is in fact a prescient polemic. Its implicit criticism of JFK, shocking at the time, for taking the sissy way out of the Cuban Missile Crisis, has proved quite correct in retrospect. It turns out that, as men like General Curtis LeMay (the obvious model for Ripper) had said, pretty much any time until the late '60s America could have easily won a first strike nuclear attack and thereby avoided the misery, death, and economic waste of the latter '60s and the '70s. We'll never know how much better a world we might live in now had Kubrick's wise counsel been heeded, but he deserves kudos for trying.


Grade: (A-)


See also:

    -FILMOGRAPHY: Stanley Kubrick (1928-99) (
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) (
    -OBIT: Stanley Kubrick, Film Director With a Bleak Vision, Dies at 70 (STEPHEN HOLDEN, March 8, 1999, NY Times)
    -TRIBUTE: Farewell to a Fearless Imagination (JANET MASLIN, March 14, 1999, NY Times)
    -INFO: Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) (
    -PODCAST: David Mikics on Who Stanley Kubrick Really Was: In Conversation with Andrew Keen on Keen On (Keen On, December 13, 2021, LitHub)
    -INTERVIEW: Stanley Kubrick Interview (1987): 2 hour tape made by Tim Cahill while reporting for Rolling Stone.
    -ARTICLE: 'Dr. Strangelove': Kubrick Film Presents Sellers in 3 Roles (Bosley Crowther, January 30, 1964, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: The Ending You Never Saw in 'Strangelove' (Peter Bull, January 9, 1966, NY Times)
    -WATCHING MOVIES WITH BARRY SONNENFELD: Making the Wit Seem Unwitting (RICK LYMAN, March 29, 2002, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Dr. Strangelove (Roger Ebert, July 11, 1999, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Dr. Strangelove (
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Dr. Strangelove (
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Dr. Strangelove (MetaCritic)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (James Berardinelli)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Tim Dirks, The Best Films)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Eugene Archer, January 26, 1964, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Eric Lefcowitz, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Jason Zech, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Play)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Jere McVay)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Kevin LaForest, Montreal Film Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Strangelove (Brian Koller, Films Graded)
    -REVIEW: of Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker by David Mikics (Andrew Delbanco, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of


you're confusing the film he made with the one he thought he was making, like Graham Greene's Heart of the Matter.

- oj

- Jul-15-2008, 21:13


No, that would be *you* who didn't know what kind of film he was making. You can place yourself next to Stephen King on the list of "People Who Thought They Were Smarter Than Kubrick." Worst still is that you seem to be indulging in the same kind of crap that college kids do when they deliberately read all sorts of crap into movies that aren't there because of their dumba** political agendas.

- Everyone on Earth

- Jul-15-2008, 19:24


No, what makes it even better is that Kubrick had no idea what film he was actually making.

- oj

- Jul-14-2008, 18:23


This is, without a doubt, the single stupidest review I have ever read on the entire Internet. The guy who said that "Schindler's List" was "funny, but not 'ha, ha' funny" on was not as dumb as this. Yeah, that's right--Stanley Kubrick was a hard core right winger who sees the warmongers as having the right idea! BRILLIANT! I hope you guys see "The Shining" so you can interpret Jack Nicholson's descent into insanity as a powerful commentary on how men are sick of women and their stupidity, and how the white man, yearning to be free, has been held down for too long by the force of "security."

- Everyone on Earth

- Jul-14-2008, 15:13


"We'll never know how much better a world we might live in now had Kubrick's wise counsel been heeded" Or worse if the Soviet Union actually retaliated and nuked Florida. They probably would have too. It would have given them a "moral" reason to do so. Much like we see in Iraq. I think you assume communism could have been killed off militarily. You and I know you are wrong because it it didn't take a war to kill communism. It only took the proserity of capitalist economies in the west to change the thinking of people in eastern Europe. China is at a cross roads for this very reason. They, too, will abandon communism in due time. In order to kill off a bad idea, you have to convince the people that their idea is bad. Experience and results are what do this. People in the east realized how far behind they were in comparison to the west. Attacking with force would only cause them to defend it. This shouldn't surprise you. I am sure you would react the same if someone tried beat you to get you to recant your beliefs. Why would they be different?

- James

- Mar-16-2007, 01:17