Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb: A Movie Review
Dr. Strangelove (1964); Director: Stanley Kubrick; Starring: Peter Sellers (in three roles)
Friends, this is a good one!
I borrowed this DVD for free from my local public library, a few days ago. It was my first time ever watching it. This is a film I will watching again and again.
Let me start with this:
I have been thinking, lately, that one good way to approach the watching of films and the reading of books is to ask oneself the following question: If this film (or book) were a person, would I like him?
Today I want to particularly focus this question on comedy films. I unapologetically hold up both Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1972) and this film, Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), as masterpiece cinematic comedies. I talked about why I admire the former film so much in a previous review.
My point here, though, is simply this: If Dr. Strangelove and Last of the Red Hot Lovers were people, I would like them very much; and I would, indeed, be proud to be their very best friend.
However, if most so-called "comedies" put out by Hollywood today, were people, I would not like them. In fact, I would likely find them profoundly annoying; and, at best, only tolerable in very small doses.
Consider this, then
Most people are reasonable human beings, I should think. What I mean by that, then, is that most people are healthy, functional combinations of seriousness and humor.
Extreme personalities, on either side of the scale, tend to be rather unpleasant people to be around. Too much seriousness in a person makes Jack a dull boy, a bore, a psychic energy vampire.
On the other hand, a person with too much of the making with the funny, to the virtual exclusion of a chill, down gear, relatively "straight" mode, makes for an irritating person, who can, at best, only be endured by normal people in very, very, very tiny doses.
You know the guy, whose conversation consists of at least 98.5% jokes (or, I should say, attempted jokes)? You know the guy who tells jokes and always laughs at his own jokes, so that you know that he made a joke and that, therefore, you should laugh too?
You know the more extreme of even these characters, the guy whose conversation is at least 98.5% attempted jokes, laughs at his own jokes, and then is always trying to convince you that what he said is funny by poking you with his elbow and saying, "Hunh? Hunh? Hunh....?"
Most likely, if you're like me, you eventually giggle a little, out of polite embarrassment.
Now, most reasonable people are not like that with the jokes they make. When a joke "lands," as it were, with their friends and family --- they certainly appreciate the positive response. But when a joke does not land, then they do not try to convince people it was funny by poking them with their elbows and saying, "Hunh? Hunh? Hunh...?"
In the case of the latter situation, they take the "fail" in stride and move forward. In the former case, they acknowledge the positive response, but also take that in stride, and move forward.
Bad comedy movies tend not to take such a balanced, reasonable approach.
Too much seriousness in a person is indicative of a person who is unable to laugh at himself (there is something "funny" about each and everyone of us). Excessive earnestness is symptomatic of someone lacking awareness of anything outside of his own head, lacking any awareness about how others perceive him (in all of his strengths and flaws).
It must be tough for a person of excessive seriousness to make and keep friends, since it is one of the function of friends, non-relatives who feel a deep affection for you, to gently "rib" you, as it were: "I kid because I love," as the saying goes.
There are things about each and everyone of us that are ripe for parody: quirks, unusual habits, mannerisms, phrases, compulsions, food likes and dislikes.
It would seem that a person of excessive seriousness would not allow himself to get too close to anyone, lest they come to see who he is on a deep level, and thus leave himself open to mild, congenial parody.
He who will not willingly let himself be parodied, cannot be truly loved.
Additionally, too much seriousness devalues seriousness. That is to say, if everything is serious, then nothing really is. Paradoxically, then, it is hard to take an excessively serious person seriously. Therefore, there is something laughable about an excessively serious person.
When an excessively serious person wants to tell you something "serious," or "in all seriousness," its almost like the boy who cried wolf. One is probably tempted to "block out" the supposedly serious thing, an excessively serious person has to say, with, perhaps, unfortunate consequences.
Obviously, everything I just stated about "people," also applies to film, so that no film, regardless of genre, should ever "take itself too seriously." I will talk more about this topic when I, eventually, review a third novel by Dan Brown: Origin.
On the other end of the spectrum is the person of too much humor (or most likely, attempted humor).
As I discussed earlier, a person of excessive trying-too-hard-to-be-constantly- "funny" can prove to be a rather grating presence, which can only be endured by normal, reasonable people in very, very, very tiny doses at a time. As I also mentioned previously, most comedy movies put out by Hollywood these days, make themselves insufferable in precisely this way.
Once again, if everything is funny (or rather, trying-to-be-funny), then nothing really is.
I'm just saying that its all about contrast.
Something is only funny against something which is not meant to be funny (or relatively sober); and something is only serious against something that is funny (or meant to be relatively humorous).
I hate to belabor this point, but somebody has to.
If I say (Joe is a funny guy), this statement only has meaning if Joe has (at least to my perception) an established serious mode, in which he demonstrates the ability to hold intelligent, sober, and emotionally diverse discourse.
Does that make sense?
If Joe is to be considered "funny," then, he needs to be able to break a serious mood with "jokes" that are well-timed and well-delivered, more often than not (nobody's perfect).
Joe is not "funny" without having demonstrated an intelligent, sober, emotionally diverse modality of speech and conduct. Without this, then, Joe's constant joke-making merely makes him a BIG GOOF as opposed to authentically funny.
You cannot call a BIG GOOF funny because this creature has not demonstrated any substance.
Let's wrap this up: Final Verdict
I apologize, dear readers, if the previous scribbled paragraphs proved to be an upsettingly eccentric "review" of a film, but it felt right under the circumstances.
What is my point?
Dr. Strangelove is a five-star film, which I took to like a dear friend I have known and admired for many years. This film is a comedy that delivers the comedy properly, which is to say, in a natural, relaxed, organic, forward-moving (not "mugging" for the camera, as it were) way.
Like a healthy, balanced, reasonable person, with whom it is desirable to spend extended periods of time, this film is truly "funny" because it has established an intelligent, sober, emotionally diverse foundation. Therefore "funny" has actual meaning in this film.
This film is filled with strong performances from strong performers, from top to bottom of this roster. But, of course, Peter Sellers in his three roles as President of the United States, a British air force officer working in a sort of exchange program with his American counterparts, and as a somewhat crazed, former Nazi scientist, is brilliant. I won't even waste time trying to come up with the words to describe Mr. Sellers' total mastery in this film.
What makes this film funny, is the fact that unexpected things are said and done, at unexpected times, in unexpected places --- without the approval-seeking so common today, in so-called "comedies" put out today by Hollywood, in which the performers are forever "mugging" for the camera. You know, like that guy always trying-to-be-"funny," telling jokes and laughing at his own jokes, poking you with his elbow saying, "Hunh? Hunh? Hunh....?"
What's the film about?
Well, since I want to spare you another 1300 paragraphs, let me just say this: The key is in the phrase, "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb!"
Trust me, its very funny.
Thank you for reading!