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Our M.A.D.ness

Fifty years ago this October the world was brought to the brink of catastrophe when the United States and the USSR squared off over the stationing in Cuba of Soviet medium range ballistic missiles equipped with nuclear warheads. Less than two years later the greatest film treatment of the absurdity of nuclear warfare and one of the greatest films of all time was released by the visionary director Stanley Kubrick, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. More than any other product of our culture, this film captures the insanity of military-industrial leviathans dedicated to the strategy of mutually assured destruction, or M.A.D. At once, it is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen.

Maybe you like slapstick comedies in which the humor results from the bumbling antics of silly characters or comedies of manners in which the humor derives from the peculiarities of human character and behavior, but to me nothing is funnier than satire, in which the humor comes from revealing the underlying absurdities of powerful or respected figures or institutions. All of the above are present in Dr. Strangelove.

Peter Sellers gives an incredible performance in three hilariously different roles, a British RAF officer serving as adjutant to the Strategic Air Command general who looses armageddon in an attempt to preserve our “precious bodily fluids” from corruption by the Ruskies, Merkin Muffley the soft spoken president of the United States, and the eponymous ex-nazi German scientist, Dr. Strangelove. George C. Scott supplies a healthy dose of the aforementioned slapstick in the role of the wildly gesticulating and over-eager General Buck Turgidson.  To top it all off, Slim Pickens gives an hilarious performance in his role as the devoted Texan bomber commander Major “King” Kong culminating in the iconic scene riding the bomb to oblivion.

No one should fail to see this movie. And lest you think any relevance it might have is long past its expiration, bear this in mind. At the time Dr. Strangelove was released, the total worldwide nuclear stockpile amounted to about 36,000 weapons (NRDC). The peak total was reached in 1986 with over 65,000. The current stockpile, more than twenty years after the end of the Cold War, is still more than half the number at the time of the film: 19,000 weapons (Ploughshares Fund). – Aaron Brumley, IT

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