Hey, look, it's Peter Sellers…again.
Strangelove's sinister villain-in-a-wheelchair was drawn from a number of real-life and fictional characters. During the Cold War, many Germans defected or were recruited by the US for their scientific expertise, most notably Wernher von Braun, a rocket scientist who developed rockets and satellites for Germany and later, the U.S.
Kubrick mocks the idea of recruiting Germans (some of them former Nazis) to work on American missile systems by giving Strangelove a mechanical arm that either wants to choke himself or give a Nazi salute at all times. It gets us every time to see Strangelove try to deliver serious speeches about mass devastation while wrestling with his malicious arm. (Mel Brooks hilariously used the mechanical-arm gag in his classic Young Frankenstein.) It's easy to imagine that Strangelove's arm represents humanity's ultimate inability to control the technology it creates.
Plot-wise, Dr. Strangelove's contribution doesn't amount to much. Mostly, the Doc is an information tool, giving us a lecture on how a Doomsday Machine might actually work. Also, he lays out the plan for humanity's not-so-sunny, post-Armageddon future at the bottom of mine shafts. Strangelove really wins some brownie points with most of the men in the War Room with his mineshaft plan, since it'll be a ten-girls-for-every-boy situation.
Here's his plan for repopulating the earth:
TURGIDSON: Doctor, you mentioned the ration of ten women to each man. Now, wouldn't that necessitate the abandonment of the so-called monogamous sexual relationship, I mean, as far as men were concerned?
STRANGELOVE: Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious… service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.
Kubrick consulted with Wernher von Braun for the film, and the director was apparently totally freaked out by the way the guy could talk about world annihilation with little to no emotion. Sellers takes this and turns it into something like evil glee. The world might be ending, but it seems like Strangelove is having the best day of his life.
At the end of the film, billions of people are being incinerated all over the planet, but Strangelove is miraculously rejuvenated, standing up from his wheel chair, giving a Nazi salute, and famously crying out:
STRANGELOVE: Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!
Some smart people have debated the symbolism of this outburst—that it represents the resurrection of the Nazi ideal of the superior race, or that it's Dr. Strangelove's physical recovery from sexual impotence. Other equally smart folks think it's just plain hilarious, a brilliant improvisation (the line was ad-libbed by Sellers) that was a perfect absurd ending to this absurdist film.
Is Kubrick suggesting, by keeping this "Mein Fuhrer" line in the film, that German scientists really never abandoned their Nazi sympathies? Or is Sellers just a comic genius?