As part of my study of storytelling through film, this weekend I watched Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.
More than 50 years after it as made, it doesn’t have the shocking impact that it originally had. Irreverent, over the top political satire wasn’t part of the culture then. Today, however, we’ve lived through the era in which people got their news from John Stuart. (They still do, for all I know–I try my best to avoid it.) We just assume that our top political and military brass are from the bottom of the barrel. The film looks normal, maybe even slightly boring, in this regard.
What is totally relevant today is the particular dysfunctionalities of the powerful men it skewers. At least three of the main characters, and we can easily speculate about a fourth if not all, are driven by masculine anxieties and misdirected lust. General Ripper’s paranoia about Soviet plots against his “bodily fluids” and “purity of essence,” which both led him to initiate the strike against the Soviets and revealed to his colleagues that he was certifiably insane, floats in modern variations around the internet today without irony. His delusions that women sense his supposed superiority and “flock around,” trying to parasitize his “essence,” are straight out of the MGTOW meme pool.
Cultural commentary aside, the film is a masterpiece of suspense. We know, because it’s such biting satire, that the Doomsday Machine is going to be triggered–but how? How close will they come to being able to save humanity before they fail? How many holes in their own best laid plans will they be able to exploit? How many ways will their own scheming and arrogance come back to bite them? How far out of touch can they be, at what worst possible moment?
The War Room is a beautiful, iconic set, with its huge, elegant circular table in a lofty, triangular room, and with the big screens overhead. It makes the inept, immature behavior of its occupants seem all the more pathetic by juxtaposition. And it is a joy to see Peter Sellers play three different characters, all distinct, each one beautifully done.
And from now on, whenever I stumble into another annoying MGTOW rant, I’ll be be able to laugh at the looming, grandiose Jack D. Ripper, chomping on his classically phallic cigar and spitting about “fluids.” For that, I will be eternally grateful.