For October, I decided I would review only scary movies, or at least films with monstrous or otherwise Halloween-related themes. The problem is that I didn’t think of this until I’d already watched Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, a film that isn’t really about Dr. Strangelove, and that never explains how anyone learned to love any bombs. In a way, this is still fitting for a time focused on scary themes since the threat of being nuked was arguably the biggest scare of the twentieth century. For me, however, the most frightening element of the movie was knowing who directed it . . . Stanley Kubrick.
Kubrick and I have a history. Many years ago (actually it was about a year and a half ago, but that doesn’t sound as dramatic), I was taking a history of film class, when all of the sudden . . . Kubrick.
When I expected a thoughtful science fiction film that would make me re-think life, humanity, and the universe, what I received was a headache. I expect it’s only a matter of time before I put together some sort of video, article, or other presentation on what it is about 2001: A Space Odyssey that I find terrible, but I’ll try to express it briefly here: if a work of media tries to talk about ideas for the audience to consider, it should use complete sentences. In other words, it should explicate the ideas thoughtfully rather than gesturing towards potential ideas and interpretations that an audience member might project onto the work. After all, if an artist’s work is ambiguous enough, it’ll have all the depth that the individual viewer chooses to see in it, but if the work is detailed enough, its depth will be undeniable. While 2001 is certainly visually detailed, its story is deliberately vague in all of the areas where it should be most expository, making the “storytelling” resemble interpretive dance more than it does narrative. My brain was desperately trying to find meaning throughout where there was none, and since I am not the type to put my own thoughts into the storyteller’s mouth, I found myself bored to tears (not figuratively – literally) and forever terrified of the Dumbfounding Devil.
Then, on one fateful night not so long ago, I dared to watch another of Kubrick’s films – this time the famous comedy Dr. Strangelove – and to my shock I found . . . it was okay. Strangelove is certainly no Python or Brooks film, but it has its moments that really do delight. I was a bit disappointed that there are no noticeable jokes (not in any conventional sense, that is) for the first 35 minutes, but the movie can get away with it because it keeps the audience in suspense concerning what’s going to happen with the bomb. I could still see the Dumbfounding Devil up to his usual tricks again though, including a tedious story, ignorance of the audience’s investment (or lack thereof) in the characters, and a somewhat ambiguous, unsatisfying ending. This isn’t even mentioning that the movie is centered around a fear that is largely intangible to viewers who did not experience the cold war, or the politics of the 1960s, which limits the film’s appeal severely by keeping it from being timeless.
As much as all that bothers me, I think I had a generally good experience watching Dr. Strangelove, and because of a few good laughs and some strong performances by Peter Sellers, I’ll concede that this movie is good. However, I must remain alert, because while Krubrick and I may have had peace this time, we’ll meet again . . . don’t know where, don’t know when. *Maniacal laugh.*