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As dark comedies go, there are few that come close to the merit of Stanly Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. By tapping into his dark sensibility, as seen in his later films A Clockwork Orange and The Shining, Kubrick is able to add the perfect amount of “dark” necessary to a dark comedy’s plot. Dr. Strangelove greatly complements his reputation, and in my opinion, is one of his greatest films both aesthetically and narratively.
Three of the film’s main characters, President Merkin Muffley, Dr. Strangelove, and Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, are played by the great comedian Peter Sellers. In addition to providing excellent acting for the film, his number of performances adds a comedic quality that is very important to the tone. I myself even found it hard to pick out his three parts at first. Through the combination of Sellers’s comedic acting and Kubrick’s dark directing, Dr. Strangelove can be considered the ideal definition of a dark comedy.
The plot of the film surrounds a single action made by Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper—a character who has become obsessed that the Soviets are trying to poison the American water supply. In this act of idiotic justice, he sends out the order for nuclear bombs to be dropped on Soviet territory. Although the order is eventually discovered and stopped by Group Captain Mandrake—a close associate of Ripper—one plane’s communications become damaged and are unable to receive the cease order, thus are determined to drop their bomb. Both the president and Dr. Stranglelove attempt to stop the plane before it drop’s its bomb.
While the film does surround several main characters, the film’s structure regards an event rather than simply one protagonist—very similar to the style of Quentin Tarantino. Although it is obvious by the end that the hero of the film is Mandrake, Sellers’s three characters can somewhat be considered to be competing for the part throughout the film. Through this competition, Kubrick is able to express his antiwar statement. Though the intentions of the American—as seen though President Muffley—and Communist governments—as seen though Dr. Strangelove—may seem good, they will eventually lead to destruction, and it is up to the individual citizen—as seen though Mandrake—to prevent this destruction.
Another aspect of the film that makes it so captivating is its dialogue, also similar to the style of Tarantino. The exaggerated military protocol stated by the Major T.J. while aboard his plane is hilarious and memorable. Finally, Kubrick’s use of black and white overlays the movie’s tone with, not only a vintage feel, but also a very dark sense.
Although I personally do not care much for politics, I greatly enjoyed this movie and would defiantly put it in my top 20 films. With this review, I have barely scratched the surface of the film’s structural prowess. Overall, this film is the perfect formula for a dark comedy and is ideal for anyone who is looking for not just a laugh, but a laugh with a gloomy tone.