Dr. Strangelove Literary Elements

Dr. Strangelove Literary Elements


Stanley Kubrick

Leading Actors/Actresses

Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Slim Pickens, Sterling Hayden

Supporting Actors/Actresses

Keenan Wynn, James Earl Jones, Tracy Reed


Black Comedy, Nightmare Comedy, Political Satire




BAFTA: Best British Film, Best British Art Direction. New York Film Critics Circle Awards: Best Director. Writers Guild of America: Best Written American Comedy. AFI 100 Years 100 Laughs: 3rd Greatest American Film Comedy.

Date of Release

January 29, 1964


Stanley Kubrick

Setting and Context

Burpelson Air Force Base, the War Room of the Pres. of the United States, Interior of B-52 Bomber: America, 1964

Narrator and Point of View

A third-person narrator introduces the audience to the establishment the Strategic Air Command: the section of the U.S. Air Force that oversees the attack of a country with nuclear bombs fitted into the payloads of bomber plans and raises the possibility of the existence of a Doomsday Device. The narrator disappears fairly early on and is never heard again and the point of view settles into a semi-documentary objectivity.

Tone and Mood

Dr. Strangelove is an example of a “black comedy” in which the comedy in which the humor is stimulated by themes and concepts normally reserved for dramatic interpretation. In fact, the mood of the film is paradoxically sober and the tone is almost semi-documentary in its seriousness. Much of the comedy in the film derives from the fact that none of the actors perform as though trying to draw laughter from the audience.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonists: Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, Pres. Merkin Muffley. Antagonists: General Jack D. Ripper directly and Dr. Strangelove indirectly.

Major Conflict

Several major conflicts drive the narrative of Dr. Strangelove. Without the Cold War conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, there would no personal conflict between the insane desire to start World War III by Gen. Jack D. Ripper and the rational minds of first Group Captain Mandrake and then Pres. Merkin Muffley trying to stop him.


The Go-Code was the top secret, high security level instructions given to Strategic Air Command bombers to carry out the mission of delivering their payloads of nuclear missile into enemy territory. The Recall Code is the instruction to ignore the Go Code and return without dropping the bombs. The climax of Dr. Strangelove turns on the inability for a single B-52 to receive the Recall Code due to an in-flight incident. Without the ability to recall this one single rogue bomber, the bomb this plane drops has the power to set off the Doomsday Device, thus setting off global nuclear annihilation.


The very first words of the opening narration foreshadows a major turning point in the plot by informing the audience about rumors of a doomsday device; a theoretical (for now) ultimate defense against a first strike nuclear missile launch that the Russian will be revealed to actually possess. The Doomsday Device automatically launches missiles designed to result in full-out global annihilation when a first strike nuclear bomb detonates. The real deterrent value of a Doomsday Device lies in the enemy knowing that your country possesses it…a fact that becomes a major plot point in the movie.


The entire film is an exercise in understatement. Despite the nightmare scenario playing out, every one of the character holds their emotions in check. Despite the fact that the film is a comedy, none of the acting is overplayed. The humor of the film is constructed upon a solid foundation of underplaying...both the seriousness of the action and the comedic portrayal of that action.

Innovations in Filming or Lighting or Camera Techniques

The general rule in directing comedy is to shoot or edit for the joke. For example, when one character says something that the audience is supposed to find funny, they may be cued to react that way by a cut to another character's amused response. Dr. Strangelove is an innovative comedy in part because Stanley Kubrick never directs the audience to response to such cues. One way he achieves this is by limiting close-ups and even shots showing a single character in the frame. Instead, through a reliance on wide shots framing multiple characters, the humor depends on timing and Kubrick's confidence that the audience will get the irony of the situation and, hence, the joke.


The most important allusion that Dr. Strangelove from the perspective of forwarding the narrative (and a reference that may be completely unnoticed by contemporary audiences) is Gen. Jack D. Ripper's alluding to one of the strangest widely-believed communist conspiracies of the Red Scare. Adding fluoride to municipal water supplies was undertaken to reduce the incidence and rate of tooth decay. Starting in the late 1940s and reaching a peak in the late 50s and early 60s—and still a source of controversy even today—fluoridation for some bizarre reason became a subject of widespread fear and suspicion as part of an enormous communist plot to poison Americans. This allusion to a mostly forgotten real life concern is an essential plot point for the film.


Dr. Strangelove's comic message is intended to underline one of the most widely accepted paradoxes of the late 20th century: the only way to prevent a nuclear war is to keep building more.


One of the most artistically satisfying examples of parallelism in American film history is the seamless editing between the only three settings used in Dr. Strangelove. All of the action plays out within the corridors of Burpelson Air Force Base, the President's War Room and inside the tight confines of the rogue B-52 bomber unwittingly delivering a nuclear bomb strike order that has been recalled. Kubrick maintains the same tone and shoots the action taking place within each of the three settings in the exact same way, thus fulfilling the literary definition of parallelism through a visual means.

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