Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb ★★★

The inevitable has occurred: I've watched a hugely popular and acclaimed film and come away scratching my head, wondering what on earth is so special about it. But don't revoke my Letterboxd membership just yet: do me the favor of hearing me out first.

Dr Strangelove is obviously a sacred cow in film circles, and I can see why. It's often hilarious, sometimes visually striking, and full of excellent performances and dialogue. It's a funny film about a thoroughly unfunny situation. It's a perfect satire, really. But it left me completely cold.

Perhaps that's because I'm eighteen and therefore my memory (or even my parents' memories) doesn't extend back to a time when nuclear annihilation seemed almost imminent, and my knowledge of the Cold War is limited to what I learned in my high school history class. I know the facts; I don't know the emotions. But that can't be it. People close to my age (and younger than me, if this website is any indication) love Dr Strangelove.

And I'm no prude, either; I laughed out loud at the sexual references, and especially at the blatant imagery of Major Kong diving into Russia with an enormous missile between his legs. I found the phallic symbols and the suggestive dialogue and images to be the funniest parts of Dr Strangelove, and I also laughed at the various other kinds of humor in the film, especially during the war room scenes ("You can't fight in here! This is the war room").

I get the film. I know that it's a social satire, one that makes fun of just about everybody but gets the point across nevertheless: nuclear war helps nobody. It's a perfect way of making a point so simple that it eludes just about everybody involved. Kubrick essentially likened the nuclear arms race to a bunch of important men comparing, ah, missile sizes. That's a brilliant metaphor, goddammit, and obviously hit its mark when the film was released. It still does.

I knew in my mind that Dr Strangelove was excellent, but I found myself unmoved nevertheless. And that begs a different question: is a film only good if it moves you emotionally, or am I supposed to give five stars and unequivocal praise to Dr Strangelove simply because I'm fully aware of the fact that it's a great film?

I don't know. Films are a lot more complicated than the ratings we ascribe to them, and my three-star rating only hints at my overall enjoyment (or lack thereof) of the film, rather than its quality.

I'll watch Dr Strangelove several more times in the future, and perhaps one day everything will click together and the film will engage me on a mental and emotional level. Until then, I'm afraid I'll have to look the fool when I confess that I was completely unmoved Dr Strangelove, and found it to be quite an ordinary film experience despite its extraordinary grasp of the issues it explores.

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