Study Guide

Dr. Strangelove Kong (Slim Pickens)

Kong (Slim Pickens)

King Kong

Played by veteran Western actor and real-deal cowboy Slim Pickens, Major T. J. "King" Kong is the heart of the movie. We can't help but root for him and his intrepid B-52 crew as they struggle against all odds to achieve their mission. Too bad their mission is to drop the nuclear bomb that will destroy the world. In any other circumstance, Major Kong would be the real hero of the film. But since he's unwittingly carrying out the misguided orders of General Ripper, Kong ends up being the most destructive antagonist in the movie.

Kong's no dummy. He knows about Plan R and can't believe it's actually being put into effect. At first, he refuses to believe the order:

KONG: Well I've been to one world fair a picnic and a rodeo and that's the stupidest thing I ever heard come over a set of earphones. You sure you got today's code?

GOLDIE: Yes sir, it is.

KONG: Ah, there's just gotta be something wrong. Wait just a second, I'm comin' back.

Once he's confirmed the orders, though, he does what any good soldier would do: he carries them out and rallies the troops.

Always speaking in his Texan drawl, Kong is like the good guy cowboy from every Western ever. He's brave, determined, and will do anything to fulfill his duty. With "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" blaring in the background, he addresses his crew with a pep talk of a type you've seen in a zillion films. It's the same can-do attitude that's a popular movie trope for an American hero.

KONG: Now look boys, I ain't much of a hand at makin' speeches. But I got a pretty fair idea that something doggoned important's going on back there. And I got a fair idea of the kind of personal emotions that some of you fella's may be thinking. […]But I want you to remember one thing, the folks back home is a countin' on ya, and by golly we ain't about to let 'em down.

When the bomber gets shot by a Soviet missile, Kong heroically maintains control of the aircraft and flies low to avoid radar detection. When a fuel leak won't allow his crew to reach their original target, he finds another. And when the bomb doors won't open, he sacrifices his own life, manually opening the doors and gleefully riding the bomb like a bull as it plummets toward oblivion, waving his Stetson like a rodeo rider.

What point is the movie trying to make with a character like Kong? On the one hand, he's a cowboy, a character type that's an American hero, and Kubrick exaggerates that for comic effect. He sure thinks he's a hero. So are we supposed to think that (in the film's opinion) many Americans are easily manipulated and...well...kinda dumb?

Maybe.

You could also see Kong as an homage to the American soldier. He follows orders, improvises when problems arise, and the gets the job done. It seems like ultimately, the film lays the senseless death of everyday heroes like Kong at the feet of his superiors.

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