The video above has some since behind the scenes information on the making of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. I had the pleasure of watching both of them yesterday, as well as the delightful experience of watching a theatre-full of 20-somethings walking out of the cinema repeating dozens of the great lines they had just heard: “You can’t fight in here, this is the war room,” “you’re fine and I’m fine … it’s great to be fine”, and of course, “precious bodily fluids”.
Volumes have been writing about the brilliant acting, directing, and meaning of the film, and I’m not going to try and recap all of it, but simply to comment on something that I realized for the first time yesterday. I’ve probably seen Dr. Strangelove three or four times since my first viewing in the late 70s. It’s always been a favorite, but with a little more training as a writer under my belt now, one new thing struck me this time: I noticed how wonderfully it turns a particular movie convention on its head.
That convention is the countdown or time bomb trope. Typically, you have the hero madly trying to defuse a bomb before it goes off and kills everyone. In Strangelove, Kubrick does a brilliant inversion of this. You have Major Kong and the B-52 crew flying over Soviet airspace trying to drop their load, but the bomb bay circuitry is fried, so they can’t release the payload. The co-pilot or navigator is counting down the miles to the target, and the Major is desperately trying to get the bomb bay doors open. What’s great about the Kubrick version is that 1) it’s a countdown where it appears the bomb is not going to go off, and 2) the audience is put in the position of both wanting the character to succeed in making the bomb go off and wanting the character to fail and thus avert total nuclear annihilation.