Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, the work of Stanley Kubrick based on the novel Red Alert by Peter George, is possibly the greatest satire ever made and a paradox. The first piece of this paradox is the movie’s filming style. It is scored, shot and acted as if it is not a comedy but is still hilarious. The movie is not a traditional comedy, but is shot as a thriller or noir movie, drawing its laughs from the sheer absurdity of the threat of nuclear annihilation. The lighting is constantly hard with very distinct shadows, as opposed to the traditional soft lighting of comedies. This feels strange while watching the movie as focus is not explicitly drawn to any character in the frame. In addition, the lenses Kubrick used were ultra wide, which also draws focus away from any particular character. Most comedies are character-focused, but this movie simply is not.
The next paradox is that between love and war. The movie is carefully crafted to draw parallels between the masculine ego of characters and the tendency towards aggressive actions. This parallel is made apparent from the opening credits which play over the mid air refueling of a bomber to the music piece “Try a Little Tenderness” which makes the scene sexually charged. This is one of 3 songs in the entire film which I’ll come back to later. The film is riddled with these connections between sex and war. General Ripper’s motivation for the nuclear strike against Russia is entirely based in his sexual inadequacy, and Major Kong’s famous scene riding a nuclear warhead to his death are all underscored with a sexual tension. The power of love, or lust, bringing about the end of the world.
Back to the scoring, the three pieces of music are the opening “Try a Little Tenderness,” the ending “We’ll Meet Again” and an instrumental arrangement of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” This last piece is important because it is representing two songs, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” the pro war story of a town welcoming home a war hero and “Johnny I hardly Knew Ye” an anti war song which speaks to how war scars the survivors. These two songs have the same instrumental but very different lyrics and meanings. The use of these songs is a brilliant paradox of hating war while honoring those who serve. The closing of the movie is the comforting words of “We’ll Meet Again” over the end of the world, another strange paring of love and war.
Dr. Strangelove is one of the greatest satires of all time because it balances two entire opposed ideologies throughout the entire film while pointing to the darkest tendencies of humanity. The film is shot to not be a comedy which heightens the ridiculousness of the decisions of the characters.