Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove Imagery

Sex and Warfare

The film ripples with imagery linking sexual prowess (or lack thereof) and the military mindset. The opening credits feature images of jet refueling procedures in mid-air, with suggestive phallic imagery in the connection between the planes. Gen. Ripper’s limp cigar protruding through his lips underscores his paranoid explanation for his own declining sexual prowess, which leads to a psychotic plan to unleash nuclear annihilation. The film's climax occurs in an image portraying this recurring motif: the nuclear bomb sticking between Maj. Kong’s legs, the most potent phallus in the world, is the ultimate act of warfare and destroys the world.

The War Room

The set for the War Room is one of the most memorable in American film. The collective effect of its enormous video maps, a round table that would impress King Arthur, over which hangs an equally large halo of lights, and the sense of impenetrably solid architecture, all serve to create several impressions at various times and sometimes simultaneously: oppression, claustrophobia, solemnity. The overarching emotional tenor of the War Room, however, is one of narcissistic self-importance. The table is ridiculously oversized and the maps on the wall are monstrously out of proportion. The sheer impressiveness of the War Room ultimately becomes yet another ironic joke: so much effort to protect such unimpressive leaders.


The opulence of the leaders of the two superpowers is used to underscore the similarities between them, despite their opposing ideologies. Our first image of ambassador de Sadesky is almost a cartoon of a "fat cat" oligarch: he is a large man, wearing a fine, long coat, with his nose perpetually upturned. However, his own appearance matches the opulence of the War Room. Inexplicably the entrance to the war room contains an almost infinite table with an array of fine foods: cheeses, pastries, fish, etc. These images are in direct contrast to those in the bomber, where lower echelon personnel do the actual fighting, and are stuck in cramped quarters with few luxuries.

The military's machismo

A repeated motif throughout the film, brought about through several images of various military personnel, is that the military projects a macho attitude derived from the heartland of the US—obsessed with American Western images, masculinity, and competition. The most obvious examples of such imagery come from Major Kong: he switches into his stetson rodeo hat when going into battle, and he rides a nuclear warhead like a rodeo bull into its detonation. However, we are also shown Turgidson and Ripper in positions of sexual power or dominance, often shot from below (Turgidson in his bedroom and Ripper chomping on his cigar). In direct contrast, the images of Mandrake, the only non-American military officer we encounter, portray him as weak, ineffectual, and often submissive.