The quintessence of madness is embodied in Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. Strangelove came to symbolize the madness of nuclear war, that nuclear war was evidence of insanity. The point that seemed to prevail in Strangelove was that only a species that had gone mad would engage in a war that would destroy itself. This was one of the psychological aspects of the Cold War in that it was a factor in preventing nuclear war.
When the pilots in the B-52 bomber received instructions to bomb primary targets in Russia, their first reaction was of utter disbelief. They even went as far as to think it was a test, only to check the loyalty of the pilots. But when they realized it was an order, loyalty to the United Stated had priority over sanity and moral standards.
But there were some who could care less about sanity or moral standards. Doctor Strangelove was mad in a characteristic nuclear age way. He spoke very rationally and intelligently about mass murder and global suicide. He was confused in his allegiances. Was he serving democracy, or Hitler? Even his physical body was split, with a “paralyzed” arm that when he was about to commit the ultimate insanity, tried to choke him. “Buck” Turgidson was mad in a sense that casualties of 20-40 million were seen as possible “victories” for the United States.
The tough thing about making Dr. Strangelove was probably creating it to be so ludicrous as to not portray it as complete reality. People during the 60’s actually worried about things that seem crazy to us in modern times. Fluoride as a soviet plot to contaminate the water supply of the United States is laughable today, but was actually considered a possibility during the cold war. General Jack D. Ripper was the mad general who issued out the order for nuclear war to protect his “precious bodily fluids.”
In one scene he speaks openly about the fluoride contamination problem, and how it will weaken the armed forces of the Americans. Ripper seems obviously mad to us now, but was he really that far-fetched a character? People like Gen. Ripper were actually based off of real people with the same rationalizations. General Powers, a real general, once said that if there are three people left alive after a nuclear war and two are American, it means we won. This way of nuclear rationalization could have been the trigger that started a nuclear holocaust in the 60’s.
The very nature of this film suggests the effects that the cold war had on the American population. An age of absurdity and black humor was born to combat the fear and utter helplessness found in that era. Dr. Strangelove may have well been viewed as a comedy rather than a serious drama during the time it came out for this reason: denial.
The denial that the total annihilation of a way of life was only a bomb drop away. The madness of nuclear war was being expressed and reinforced by jokes and cartoons which emphasized the absurdity, and by novels and television dramas which emphasized the horror. Dr. Strangelove successfully brought these two aspects together, and the sane realization that nuclear war was insane. In this light the movie may be seen as a serious drama, as there was not too much difference in real life as to the life portrayed in Strangelove.