Study Guide

Dr. Strangelove Power

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RIPPER: You don't think I'd ask if you recognized my voice unless it was pretty damned important do you, Mandrake?

From the very first moment that Gen. Ripper starts talking to Mandrake, the General is asserting his power over him. He's one of those male characters in the movie who confuses bullying with power. The rest of this scene shows what a psycho clown Ripper really is.

VOICEOVER: Each B-52 can deliver a nuclear bomb load of 50 megatons, equal to 16 times the total explosive force of all the bombs and shells used by all the armies in World War Two.

Just take a sec to really think about the amount of destructive power we're talking about here. On the other hand, don't. We're gonna go cry in a corner.

MANDRAKE: Sir, as an officer in Her Majesty's Air Force, it is my clear duty, under the present circumstances, to issue the recall code, upon my own authority, and bring back the wing. If you'll excuse me sir.

We have to hand it to Mandrake; he stands up to Gen. Ripper pretty quickly, pulling rank on his commanding officer as soon as he figures out Ripper's gone nuts. Of course, Mandrake's power play doesn't last too long after Ripper locks him in the room and pulls a gun on him.

RIPPER: He said war was too important to be left to the Generals. When he said that, fifty years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought.

Ripper's quoting Clemenceau, the political leader of the French during WWI. Clemenceau was talking about the importance of civilian control of the military. The way Ripper figures it, the President and the rest of the politicians are totally screwing up the Cold War. In Ripper's mind, the only thing to do when the powerful aren't using their power properly is to take it from them and make it yours.

MUFFLEY: General Turgidson, I find this very difficult to understand. I was under the impression that I was the only one in authority to order the use of nuclear weapons.

From the first time we meet the President, his power is being challenged. He struggles the whole time to get his power back, but ultimately the situation is beyond his control. So much for being the Leader of the Free World.

DESADESKI: You would never have found him through his office, Mr. President. Our Premier is a man of the people, but he is also... a man, if you follow my meaning.

Apparently the Premier's a slave to his sexual urges. He's with a mistress while he should be discussing the possible annihilation of his country. That's the kind of power women have in this film.

RIPPER: I first became aware of it, Mandrake, during the physical act of love. Yes a profound sense of fatigue, a feeling of emptiness followed. Luckily I was able to interpret these feelings correctly: loss of essence.

So it seems like this whole thing might've started because Ripper was having a midlife sexual crisis. He felt a loss of power after sex and totally couldn't deal with it. If he can't get "it" up, at least he can get the bombers up. Did you ever see a film of missiles rising up and getting ready to launch?

MANDRAKE: I don't want to talk to him, Colonel; I've got to talk to him. And I can assure you, if you don't put that gun away and stop this stupid nonsense, the court of inquiry on this'll give you such a pranging, you'll be lucky if you end up wearing the uniform of a bloody toilet attendant!

Mandrake gets his groove back when he's dealing with Col. Guano. By asserting his power over the Colonel, Mandrake actually manages to get the recall code to the president. In the end, of course, it still doesn't save the world, so ultimately Mandrake ends up as powerless as everybody else. Points for trying, though.

GUANO: Ok. I'm gonna get your money for you. But if you don't get the President of the United States on that phone, you know what's going to happen to you? You're going to have to answer to the Coca-Cola Company.

There's that juxtaposition again: this line is pretty funny given that the fate of every human on Earth is hanging in the balance. Still, it's never a good idea to underestimate the power of corporate America. Some would argue that corporations can have more power than the President. They'd have a point.

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.

The guys in the War Room seem all to ready to make this supreme sacrifice. Is there a version of this that doesn't turn into women being totally controlled by men? Kubrick is spot-on in his satirical depiction of how women are often viewed as sex objects and passive recipients of men's "power." You can practically see Buck Turgidson salivating in this scene, though he's trying to appear just interested.

KONG: Stay on the bomb run boys. I'm goin' to get them doors open if it harelips everybody on Bear Creek.

The ultimate destructive power in the film is given to this down-home good ol' cowboy, who seems like an honest soldier who just does what he's told. He actually enjoys the ride down with the bomb—making the supreme sacrifice for his country and driving home Kubrick's point about the absurdity of the whole business.

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