Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Opening Credit Refueling (symbol)

The opening credit sequence plays over footage of a bomber jet being refueled in mid-air during flight. The connection between the two planes is the first in a series of symbols that connect sexuality to the military mindset that continues to reproduce war around the globe.

Ripper's Cigar (symbol)

General Jack D. Ripper initiates global nuclear devastation as a result of his sexual dysfunction, which, in his paranoia, he blames on a communist conspiracy. The cigar is a traditional Freudian phallic symbol and angle from which the cigar is shown suggests an erect phallus, indicating Ripper's excitement at the prospect of nuclear war on the Russians, and his obsession with his sexual prowess.

Technology Leads to Primitivism (motif)

The film indicates that technological innovations designed to move humanity farther away from primitive means of securing essential needs has actually moved them closer to being forced to live in a primitive society. Technology ranging from telephones to soft drink vending machines to planes carrying nuclear warheads all break down at some point and reveal how human dependence upon them has made us ill-equipped to perform essential tasks in their absence. Further, the film ends with the suggestion of a reduction to an utterly primitive society in the mine shafts.

Major Kong's Wild Ride (symbol)

When Major Kong discovers that the mechanism for opening the bomb doors has broken down, he takes matters into his own hands by climbing astride the warhead and manually repairing the circuit to open the doors. Kong’s singular exhibition of prowess at using primitive measures to counteract the breakdown of machinery is another allusion to sexuality. Here, the sexual symbolism becomes obvious as the nuclear foreplay approaches a climax, with Major Kong yelling in delight as he rides the falling bomb, a giant erect phallus between his legs, down to its target.

Strangelove's Wheelchair (symbol)

The wheelchair to which Dr. Strangelove is confined has several symbolic implications. The wheelchair refers to the crippled state of Germany following World War II. By implication, the wheelchair also links Strangelove to Ripper as a symbol of sexual dysfunction among the warhawk crowd. The wheelchair also functions as a symbol of Strangelove's characterization as a sinister, mad scientist—Kubrick used a seated antagonist in an earlier film, Lolita, as the calmness of a seated position heightens the sinister quality of the character.