With the international nuclear fear during the Cold War, the culture was politicized. Stanley Kubrick in his movie Dr. Strangelove and Norman Jewison in his movie The Russians Are Coming used comedy genre for expressing their criticism of the nuclear strategies, showing the absurdity of the irrational fear of the Soviet people in general and releasing the social tension by making people laugh and think.
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The comic effect was successfully implemented by Stanley Kubrick, the director of Dr. Strangelove and Norman Jewison, the director of The Russians Are Coming for not only criticizing the nuclear strategies of superpowers, but also releasing the tension of international nuclear fear to certain extent. It is significant that Kubrick decided on anti-American criticism for his picture and demonstrated to the audience the US ideology was far beyond the defense of the state freedom along with the absurdity of the arms race in general. “The movie critic for the conservative National Review expressed the hope that, after Dr. Strangelove, Kubrick would make a film criticizing Stalinism” (Whitfield 223).
It is possible that the humorous key chosen by Kubrick was the most appropriate approach for expressing his concerns and criticizing the US policies. As to Jewison, caricaturing the soldiers from a Russian submarine in his movie The Russians Are Coming, he does not restrict his view to making fun of Russians only, but rather demonstrates the absurdity of irrational fear of people whom they have never met before in common citizens of both countries. Achieving the comic effect by creating funny situations, Kubrick and Jewison criticize the nuclear strategies of both countries for depicting the absurdity of the international fear during the Cold War and releasing the tension.
For the purpose of making the audience not only laugh but also think and even change some of their views, Kubrick and Jewison satirized the nuclear scare. Thus, the strategic plans of General Ripper in Dr. Strangelove can be interpreted as his paranoid belief that Communists have a conspiracy aimed at contaminating the waters in America. Depicting Ripper as an unstable individual driven with his ideas who involves the other officers into the useless training, the director shows the condition of the largest part of the American society living in irrational nuclear fear during the Cold War.
Moreover, certain details, such as the choice of Peter Sellers for performing the role of Dr. Strangelove, allow creating links between the movie plot and the American society of 1960s. “[Seller’s] dark wavy hair, eyeglasses, and German accent conjure up Henry Kissinger, the Harvard political scientist who was then best known as a theorist of nuclear strategy” (Whitfield 222). Thus, the spectators could not only laugh at the main characters, but also recognize their own fears in the words of these fictional heroes. For example, the General Ripper insists that the nuclear strategy cannot be left to politicians and he feels that he has to make his contribution to the strategic thought.
“I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids” (Dr. Strangelove). Actually, this phrase and the repetition of the word Communist in it reflect the level of the public tension and the fear of the Soviet Union among the common American citizens. Jewison in his turn used exaggeration as his main strategy for creating a comic effect in The Russians Are Coming.
His characters say obvious things, still in the context of the public tension. Still, these phrases reflect the inner state of people who try to express their feelings concerning the nuclear threat. “I just think it would be a whole lot pleasanter if a lot of people didn’t get killed” (The Russians Are Coming). These words of Walt Whittaker, a playwright express the main concern of the author and the whole American society. Analyzing the two films under consideration, the spectators were expected not only laugh and enjoy humor, but also think the absurdity of the international situation over.
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In general, it can be concluded that the use of the comedy genre by Kubrick and Jewison allowed them to express their criticism of the nuclear strategies by showing the effects of national pride and the absurdity of irrational fear in some citizens.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Perf. Peter Sellers, George Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn and Slim Pickens. Columbia Pictures, 1964. Film.
The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming. Dir. Norman Jewison. Perf. Alan Arkin, Carl reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Brian Keith, Jonathan Winters,Theodore Bikel and Paul Ford. The Mirisch Corporation, 1966. Film.
Whitfield, Stephen. The Culture of the Cold War. 2nd ed. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1996.