Thursday, June 7, 2012

"Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (1964)

Strangelove is an enigma of a film. It is a classic comedy, universally acclaimed, and yet if it were made today it would likely bomb.

It is not a conventional comedy. Nowadays comedy is generally an exercise in seeing how far one can go. How much does it take to shock and offend people into nervous laughter. Even in its day Strangelove was out of place. It was released in the same year as “The Pink Panther” and “A Shot in the Dark.” It doesn’t push the slapstick or even intellectual humor that those films do.

Instead, this movie is funny in its sheer ridiculousness. Not ridiculously farfetched, but rather the way it highlights the absolute absurdity that the world of the Cold War had embraced. The subject of the story was so real, dark, terrifying and unfortunately plausible that all you could do was laugh in resignation. Ideological differences and technology had created an atmosphere where people were prepared to destroy each other so entirely that humanity would have difficulty persisting.

In some ways our world today is potentially even more terrifying. The doctrine of mutual destruction that the film addressed made the world of the Cold War a scary but rational one. Today ideologies are fractured, irrational and frankly a bit insane and they have the power to do significant harm, if not the global destruction that we flirted with before.

An attempt to recreate “Dr. Strangelove” today replacing the Cold War with terrorism would not be as funny or comforting. Then we had an inherent silliness that helped us realize the “worst case scenario” would never come to pass. Today we know that the General Rippers are real, active and just as crazy.

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