We’re going a little deeper into the archives of science fiction this week, to pull out the 1964 Stanley Kubrick film, Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The black-and-white visuals and Cold War imagery give the movie a dated effect, but I’m realizing how distressingly relevant the underlying message still is.
At the top level, the movie is a satire of mutually assured destruction and nuclear war. A rogue American general named Jack D. Ripper, consumed with paranoia, orders an unprovoked nuclear strike against the Soviet Union, and a fleet of bombers take to the air.
When news of the strike reaches President Merkin Muffley, he descends to the underground War Room, joined by the maniacal General Buck Turgidson, the Soviet ambassador Alexei de Sadeski, and the title character, a nuclear scientist from Nazi Germany now serving the United States. De Sadeski reveals the existence of a Soviet Doomsday Device, which will automatically destroy all life on Earth with a cloud of radioactive gas if an atomic strike on the USSR is detected. The Americans and the Russians work together to recall the bombers, but one, piloted by Major T.J. “King” Kong, has been damaged and cannot receive the radio signal, and prepares to deliver its payload.
Earth’s last hope is the failure of Kong’s bomb, spray-painted with the name “Hi There!”—which jams in the bay. But the dedicated pilot climbs on top of it, and jumps up and down on it until it deploys. Kong rides the bomb to the end of the world, gleefully whooping and waving a cowboy hat in the film’s most famous scene.
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The Americans pause for a moment of silence, before planning to resume the Cold War after the apocalypse when they emerge from their bunkers. The credits roll with a montage of mushroom clouds set to Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again”.