In 1964 the world seemed like a crazy place. A dangerously crazy place. In 2017 that insane world seems positively reassuring. The nuclear balance might have threatened total destruction but at least the Cold War was vaguely comprehensible. We could see how it had happened and why it was going to be difficult to sort out. Can anyone explain the bizarre foreign policy machinations of 2017? Can anyone explain why we still live under the threat of nuclear Armageddon?
In Dr Stangelove Kubrick had to come up with an extraordinary circumstance to make his nuclear crisis convincing, because he knew that even though the nuclear standoff was dangerous in normal circumstances no sane person was going to push that button. He could make the President of the United States in the film a muddle-headed buffoon but even in fiction, even in black comedy, it would have stretched credibility too far to have the President deliberately and intentionally launching a nuclear war out of the blue. Even the crazy general played by George C. Scott only comes around to the idea of war when it seems like it’s going to happen anyway. To spark the crisis Kubrick had to imagine a middle-ranking officer becoming clinically insane and by a series of accidents being in a position to light the fuse.
Today we have political leaders in the West who really seem to think that nuclear confrontations are a pretty good idea, and who think it’s an extremely good idea to provoke nuclear powers. And having provoked them, to go on provoking them.
Luckily non-western political leaders are on the whole a good deal more sensible so disaster has been averted so far.
And that’s just the foreign policy madness of today. Domestic policy is even crazier.
Kubrick’s bold decision to treat the subject of nuclear war as comedy paid off because that’s really the best way to treat such objects - pointing out the lunacy of the situation. You couldn’t do such a movie as a comedy today because today’s reality is more outrageously insane than fiction could ever be. Our world is beyond mockery.