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Cold War in Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” Movie Essay

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Updated: Aug 10th, 2020

The period of history known as the Cold War was characterized by an increasing tension between the Soviet Union and the United States, two of the world’s greatest superpowers. While neither of the two countries engaged in combat, both of them were actively preparing for a nuclear war by developing nuclear weapons of mass destruction. The tensions of that time are satirized by Stanley Kubrick in his movie “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”, starring George C. Scott as General Buck Turgidson.

In its essence, the movie plot centers around the idea that the tension between the two superpowers, fueled by psychological warfare, would eventually prompt one of them to act first and launch an accidental nuclear attack against the other side. Kubrick portrays a story of a United States army general Jack D. Ripper who unilaterally decides to launch a nuclear war against the Soviet Union. The story is adapted from Peter George’s novel “Red Alert” and is largely satirical: the character of the deranged general is named after a well-known serial killer, the team assembled to stop the bombing includes a former Nazi scientist named Dr. Strangelove, and the Soviets have an automatic system designed to launch a global nuclear war if an atomic bomb detonates on their territory. Eventually, when the officials of both countries fail to stop the bombing, Dr. Strangelove is wondering about the future of humanity while the entire planet is being obliterated. In a comedic manner, Kubrick showed the consequences the rivalry of the two nations might have led to.

With this movie, Kubrick criticizes American society as a whole. The director satirizes the desire of the United States to have the most powerful weapon, which eventually destroys it. Kubrick also contributed to the image of the Soviets as being equally blinded by their ambitions, creating a system which initiates global destruction in response to attack.

The portrayal of the destructive power of nuclear weapons has influenced the entire nation’s perception of atomic bombs and the war in general. The atomic bomb is portrayed as a weapon of such power which leads to unprecedented, apocalyptic levels of destruction. Indeed, the power of atomic bomb is such that nuclear war leaves no one alive: only a small number of people are able to survive through the bombing in protected underground shelters.

The cultural impact of the movie went beyond its satiric content: the presentation of wartime planning used in the movie defined visual language of other wartime movies for decades to come. The iconic underground War Room was copied numerous times, as was the wartime strategic planning process.

The widespread critical acclaim of the Kubrick’s work also propelled the carriers of the movie’s leading actors, including George C. Scott. The movie allowed Scott to fully showcase his talent in the role of General Turgidson, who had some of the iconic lines during his dialogue with the president. Scott’s hilarious performance made General Turgidson a truly satiric portrayal of pompous, arrogant individuals who saw the nuclear attack as a viable option. “Dr. Strangelove” became an iconic movie and allowed Scott to contribute to and become a part of its legacy.

Kubrick’s imaginative satire was a realistic depiction of what would have become of the world if the two superpowers continued their struggle for world dominance.

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