The Devil's in the Details; Realism as Satirical Device in Stanley Kubrick's DR. STRANGELOVE

(Originally published in 2014) One can tell by the title alone that Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a satirical, even playful look at the nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia during the Cold War. While being comedic, the film is not whimsical or only ironic. Oscar Wilde once said that satire should be more frightening than comedic. With Strangelove, Kubrick achieves this effect, yet does so through a device not often used in satire. He not only shows a keen awareness of the subject matter at hand, and its inherent ironies, he also incorporates a hyper-realism which adds a haunting authenticity as well as a sense of gravity to the film's rich humor.

To begin with, Kubrick forgoes color and instead uses black and white film so as to utilize shadows more effectively. Many scenes have only a single source of light inside a large room which provides a dark and somber tone. Also, Kubrick's much discussed "War Room" has state of the art technology, as one would assume, yet also incorporates an odd combination of space and confinement. On one hand the room is cavernous; one literally can't tell how big it is as its walls are never seen. Yet in spite of this immense size, when the military officials are sitting at the table to discuss military strategy, the lights are placed just above their heads creating an enclosed and confined space. If this isn't claustrophobic enough, the "big board" looms over them letting them know exactly when total annihilation will occur.

Kubrick also pays close attention to detail during the scenes on the B52 bomber. The crew goes through the minutiae of setting, resetting, and checking codes. They each have Code R as in Romeo files that are kept in a safe, a survival kit is issued in case they have to evacuate by parachute, and each person carries out a distinct duty as they get closer to the bombing target. Just as in the War Room though, there is a confined sense of space which adds to the tension in the atmosphere. Everyone is wearing a bulky uniform and seems to have only about 18 inches of space around them in which to move.

The most realistic scenes in the entire film are when the military is attempting to take over the base that has been commandeered by the insane General Jack Ripper. As the military fires at the base, the camera angle is at ground level from a bunker, presenting an uncanny resemblance to stock footage from the Vietnam War.
I would argue that this attention to detail is just as important as the humor is to Kubrick's overall satirical statement about potential nuclear destruction. Before the viewer can accept Kubrick's suggestion that military leadership is inept (dangerously so), we first have to believe that we are in fact seeing the military in action. Once this appeal to realism has been met, Kubrick can get away with about any type of critiquing he wants. It is this realism and Kubrick's convincing presentation that a catastrophe of this proportion could happen, that moves this movie from merely being a comedy to effective social satire.