Welcome to the third installment in my examination of legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick's 1964 "nightmare comedy" Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. During the first installment in this series I addressed several of the popular conspiracy theories surrounding Kubrick as well the background of Dr. Strangelove, including an incident that occurred during the Cuban missile crisis that may have partly inspired the film. During the second installment I did an analysis of the film's major characters, with a special emphasis on their symbolism and the historical figures who may have inspired them. It is highly recommended that those of you just joining me read the first two installments (especially the second one) before delving in. It is also strongly recommended that one already have a familiarity with Strangelove's plot line as this series is spoiler heavy.
With those disclaimers out of the way let us move along to the matter at hand. This installment will be concerned with Strangelove's plot line, so let's get to it.
The film opens (after a short disclaimer added by Columbia Pictures) with images of the fog-shrouded Zhokov Mountains (a fictions location) with a voice over narrator warning of the Soviet Union crafting a Doomsday Machine in this isolated location. From there Kubrick cuts to images of nuclear-armed B-52s refilling in mid-air to the strands of "Try a Little Tenderness" over an opening credits sequence. This marks the first of what are an endless series of sexual innuendos and symbols that appear throughout the film. Of course sex is hardly the only thing being alluded in Strangelove --political, philosophical and occult references abound as well.
|a B-52 being "penetrated" by another plane over the title
"... The most ancient mysteries were of a physical, not a metaphysical nature. There was an esoteric and an exoteric version of them, but corresponding to the written and oral Law of the Jews. But, contrary to what is usually supposed, the metaphysical was the exoteric version, not vice versa. This is proved conclusively by the seventeenth chapter of The Book of the Dead, which is certainly the oldest body of written teachings known to man. Here, side by side with the text which was intended for general use, appears the interpolated gloss of the initiated priest, explaining the text after the manner of the Gnosis, or Magical Tradition. The secret oral, hidden wisdom embodied in the gloss, refers to the physical origins of the abstract concepts which appear in the text; spiritual matters are explained in terms of physical, more precisely, a physiological, phenomena. These explanations were usually reserved for initiates, and the reason for their concealment was due to the physical nature of the Gnosis, which became, in truth, the forbidden wisdom of later ages. The ancient may not have been acquainted with psychology, sexology and endocrinology as known today, but they most certainly were acquainted with the occult uses of the sexual current, the improper handling of which leads to disaster; and they were infinitely more knowledgeable concerning sexual sciences than our Western psychologist today."
(The Magical Revival, Kenneth Grant, pgs. 2-3)As was noted in part one of this series, Kubrick hints throughout the film that sexual repression lurks at the heart of the psychosis displayed on the screen. But there are also indications that Kubrick was aware of the physical aspect of these occult traditions mentioned above. As was also noted in part one, the character of Major Kong (Slim Pickens) is associated with the Egyptian god Set through both his role as a destroyer as well as the sexual taboos (transsexuality and homosexuality) the character symbolically breaks during his quest to deliver his "payload."
|Kong straddles, and ultimately rides, a bomb with "Hi There!" (a popular homosexual come on during the era) written on the rear
"Survival kit contents check. In them you'll find: one forty-five caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days' concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings. Shoot, a fella' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff."Besides being issued some good drugs, the men are also inexplicably given three pairs each of lipsticks and nylon stockings (but only one prophylactic...). The appearance of two threes could of course be a reference to the number thirty-three, a number with numerous occult and Masonic associations. Of it thirty-third degree Freemason Manly P. Hall writes:
"... Consider the number 33. The first temple of Solomon stood for thirty-three years in its pristine splendor. At the end of that time it was pillaged by the Egyptian King Shishak, and finally (588 B.C.). It was completely destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the people of Jerusalem were led into captivity to Babylon... Also, King David ruled for thirty-three years in Jerusalem; the Masonic Order is divided into thirty-three symbolic degrees; there are thirty-three segments in the human spinal column; and Jesus was crucified in the thirty-third year of his life."
(The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Manly P. Hall, pgs. 238-239)
Even more curious is the fact that original city mentioned in the final line of the above monologue was Dallas and not Las Vegas. "Vegas" was overdubbed in the wake of the Kennedy assassination, though Vegas was surely a more practical city for a man to be in possession of lipstick and nylon stockings in 1964 than Dallas. Or so the general public would think.
The strange thing is, there have long been allegations than many of the figures involved in the Kennedy assassination were either gay or bisexual. What's more, Dallas was rumored to be the heart of this scene.
"I was told several years ago by my high-level source in Dallas, 'George Healey,' (a former FBI man) that there was a common link between many of the conspirators. I was a little leery because at first I thought his job was fielding out-of-towners and other assorted greenhorns and giving them a few bum steers, then send them on their way. But I came to have great trust and a personal liking for 'Healey,' as he evidently had for me.
"He told me that the circle of conspirators were homosexual or bisexual and had their own network and coded language and communications, which made it easier for them to plan without anyone knowing what was going on...
"Rose Cheramie told doctors and police in a hospital that Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald slept together.
"Ruby was known to be a homosexual, and many said that he had slept with Lee Harvey Oswald. John Crawford (a.k.a. 'Larry Crafard'), who was very close to Ruby, was also a homosexual. Crafard suggested during his testimony to the Warren commission that both Ruby and his roommate, George Senator were the same.
"So was Clint Murchison, Sr., and J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson, his assistant. So was General Edwin Walker, who was arrested more than once in compromising situations in a public men's rooms. Sid Richardson was long rumored to be Clint Murchison's secret lover. The closeness of Hoover and Murchison had to have been based to a great extent on their mutual sexual orientation...
"Gordon McLendon was one of Dallas's most famous transvestite. He showed up at many society parties in drag, and one might wonder about his sexual orientation. Merely being a cross dresser is not enough to convict, but McLendon certainly knew all of the key players in the plot who are well known as homosexuals, but we don't have evidence that he practiced this way of life.
"Walter Jenkins, a key aide to Lyndon Johnson when he was in the White House, was also arrested from homosexual activities, seriously embarrassing President Johnson. It is felt that Jenkins was one of those on the operational level of the conspiracy. A source told me the Jenkins was the connection between LBJ and Clay Shaw, also a homosexual, a CIA asset in New Orleans prosecuted for conspiring to kill John Kennedy. Jenkins was closely connected to Congressman Albert Thomas of Houston, who was a creature Brown & Root, the vast construction outfit that was a key backer of Lyndon Johnson and which benefited so greatly from the Vietnam War, and years later, the Iraq War...
"Tommy Cox was Clay Shaw's lover and was a frequent visitor in Dallas.
"Let us not forget David Ferrie, who was fired from flying planes for Eastern Airlines for his homosexual activities and arrests with young boys. Ferrie knew Oswald since he was a teenager, and worked from Marcello."
(The Radical Right and the Murder of John F. Kennedy, Harrison E. Livingstone, pgs. 133-134)
|the Dallas-based General Edwin Walker, one of the chief inspirations for the character of General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) in Strangelove, was long reputed to be a closet homosexual
After the film's opening credits finishes Kubrick cuts to Burpelson Air Force Base, where General Jack D. Ripper is planning on launching an assault on the Soviet Union with the planes under his command. He calls in the order to Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) from his office. As Ripper is sending the world on a course to Nuclear Armageddon the camera cuts back and forth between Ripper's office and what is presumably the base's command center. In both locations the Orwellian phrase "Peace Is Our Profession" is displayed. As the movie progresses it is eerily displayed throughout the base in the midst of various calamities. This is a form of inducing what the highly controversial revisionist historian (and fascist sympathizer) Michael A. Hoffman II referred to as the "double mind", a state of such blatant double standards and hypocrisy that it requires a near disassociative break to accept such contradictions.
The common soldiers Kubrick depicts largely perform the task of launching a nuclear assault with no real moral qualms or intellectual debate, all the while various slogans plastered across the base assure them of the "peaceful" purpose of their mission. The signs are especially humorous as the base is turned into a war zone after rank-and-file soldiers heed Ripper's warnings of Soviet forces coming dressed in US military uniforms and begin firing on an Army detachment sent to arrest the general. It would appear the propaganda the US began extensively subjecting its GIs to during WWII was having the intended anti-intellectual effect and then some. Of this propaganda, the great Peter Levenda wrote:
"By comparison, American propaganda films made during the war show a casual, wise-cracking, gum-chewing, sloppy, unshaven, and generally disheveled GI as the epitome of Allied resistance to the Nazi threat. That was supposed to make Americans feel better. The enemy was impeccably dressed, spoke fluent English with an exotic accent (our boys knew about four words in German, two of them being 'mach schnell'), and never had a hair out of place, and had Continental manners even when torturing spies. And, of course, scenes of the concentration camps and the mass murder of Jews virtually never appear in these films as it took years before the Allies would officially admit that the death factories even existed. The anti-intellectual, deliberately unsophisticated pose of the typical American GI – as depicted by Hollywood – was supposed to be somehow equivalent to moral superiority: a troubling perspective that exist to this day, in our entertainment media, and even among our politicians and religious leaders. Brilliant students are portrayed in television sit-coms as hopeless, socially maladjusted 'nerds' in vain competition with the handsome but brain-dead jocks who have become teen idols. Former vice president and convicted felon Spiro Agnew was famous for his attacks on what he called 'pseudo-intellectuals,' and a glance at former President George Bush's bedside reading would make a high school English teacher blush. Nixon himself, besieged on all sides by protesting college kids, had an abhorrence of the intelligensia, as revealed in his famous Watergate tapes...
"Somewhere along the line, somewhere between Joe Goebbels and Joe McCarthy, Americans began believing – and embracing – their own propaganda."
(Unholy Alliance, Peter Levenda, pg. 281)
Various scenes from Burpelson Air Force Base certainly echo the above sentiments while General Turgidson wedges stick after stick of chewing gum in his jaw while displaying little concern for the gravity of the situation he is in. But more on that later.
The inducement of the double mind continues in Kong's B-52 after the attack orders have come in. As the crew solemnly goes about their mission to begin a nuclear war Kong reassures them by saying:
"If this thing turns out to be half as important as it just might be, I'd say your all in line for some promotions and personal citations when that's over with. And that goes for everyone of you, regardless of your race, your color, or your creed..."Thus even when bringing about the end of the world the possibility of promotion is ever present in the military mind. During this sequence Kong has his crew employ the famed "CRM-114" to jam transmissions coming into the plane unless they are preceded by the proper code. This is not the only time Kubrick would use the numbers. In his later film, A Clockwork Orange, they appeared as "Serum 114", a kind of "truth drug" given to the film's narrator. Recluse suspects the number 114 in both cases is meant as a reference to the National Security Agency: The NSA was officially formed on November 4, 1952, by Truman.
From here Kubrick cuts to a luxurious hotel suite where General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) is located with his "secretary", Miss Scott (the only female character to appear on screen in the entire film). The general is in a restroom and seemingly constipated (did Miss Scott hint at wanting a monogamous relationship with him?) when a call comes in bearing tidings of Ripper's designs. Miss Scott serves as an intermediary until Turgidson becomes sufficiently alarmed to take the call himself. After hanging up he decides to head down to the War Room, but not before telling Miss Scott to start her "countdown."
|Turgidson and Miss Scott (Tracy Reed)
"He said war was too important to be left to the generals. When he said that, 50 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. I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids."
"The central part of the ritual now takes place, which involves the priestess raising Kundalini. According to Grant, this transpires as she is being sexually aroused by the magician who is performing certain mudras over her body, not necessarily touching her, but making passes directly over her erogenous zones (with a wand or with his hands) and raising her to a fever pitch. The goal of this process is to activate Kundalini, to raise it gradually to the higher chakras so that they may be 'burned' by the power of the Serpent Goddess and thus release their potencies into the bloodstream of the priestess. The chakras should have been previously opened by the priestess through Kundalini yoga or some other technique, otherwise opening them for the first time this way can be dangerous to her. The magician should bring the priestess to the point of orgasm, but stop just before orgasm is reached. The magician may have sexual intercourse with the priestess if it is considered necessary to bring the priestess to the desired pitch of excitement, but neither priest nor priestess should achieve orgasm at this point because it is premature to 'ground' or 'earth' the energy before it has been fully utilized. (This is in contradiction to much normative Tantra which requires the orgasms of both parties, and even the ejaculation of the male in order for the rite to be 'perfect.') It is necessary that there is a flow of secretions from the female genital outlet. These kalas will be collected by the magician – either orally, as in cunnilingus, if the intention is to increase the occult power of the magician or to bring him into contact with supermundane forces, etc.; or on a specially constructed talisman of metal or parchment, or on the leaf of a sacred plan, or some other way if the intention is to store it for future use. The magician will then energize them magically so that they become ojas."
(The Dark Lord, Peter Levenda, pg. 246)Bizarrely, Ripper's periodic discussions of the nation's bodily could be taken as references to sex magick. But more on that later.
From here the film cuts briefly to the Pentagon, a symbolically loaded structure if ever there was one. It of course contains the shape of the pentagram within the pentagonal structure.
"Pentagrams take either pentagonal or star shape. Their symbolism is manifold, but is always based upon that of the number five, which expresses the conjunction of inequalities. The five points of the pentagram come together in fruitful marriage of three (the male principle) with two (the female principle). In this context, the pentagram symbolizes hermaphrodism. Pentagrams were used as recognition signs between members of the same group or society, as for example the followers of Pythagoras in classical antiquity. The pentagram united them: it was one of the keys to Higher Knowledge and opened the door to what was secret...
"In Europe the pentagram of Pythagoras became that of Hermes Trismegistus and was regarded, not simply as a symbol of knowledge, but as the means of casting spells and of attaining power... Sorcerers used representations of the pentagram to exercise their powers and there were pentagram specific to love, ill luck and so on."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pg. 747)
"All of these techniques --hallucinogenic drugs, hypnosis, acts of terrorism, disinformation --share an ontological purpose: to manipulate perceptions, to recreate reality. As we noted above, the German word for psychological warfare translates as 'worldview warfare': a battle of perceptions, of consensus realities... As the men of the OSS, CIA, and military intelligence developed from the armchair scholars and academics that most of them were before the war years into soldiers fighting the Cold War on fronts all over the world, they became --in a very real sense --magicians. As we will see, the CIA mind control projects themselves represented an assault on consciousness and reality that has not been seen in history since the age of the philosopher-kings and their court alchemists."
(Sinister Forces -Book One: The Nine, Peter Levenda, pg. 144)
The assault on consciousness via the military's propaganda is referenced throughout Dr. Strangelove (i.e. the absurd "Peace Is Our Profession" slogans plastered all over Burpelson Air Force Base). Characters frequently act upon psychotic orders in no small part due to the ruthless effectiveness of the indoctrination they've been put through. Virtually none of the rank-and-file soldiers seen in the film raise any real objectives to the insanity they are asked to carry out. This would seem to indicate that the sorcerers of the Pentagon are quite adept indeed.
After the quick shot of the Pentagon's exterior Kubrick cuts to the War Room, one of the most celebrated sets in cinematic history. It is also symbolically loaded and was designed by the legendary Ken Adam (who also worked on many of the equally symbolically loaded early James Bond films, which was very briefly addressed in part one). Apparently Kubrick insisted on changes to Adam's design at the last minute.
"To design the all-important War Room set, Adam began to do conceptual drawings to develop his ideas. His original notion was an amphitheater with a second level that had a glassed-in control room. Kubrick was very enthusiastic when he saw the drawings, telling Adam, 'Gee, Ken, it's great, great!' Thinking this constituted approval, Adam went forward and assigned his staff to create the necessary working drawings and models to design and build the set. After three or four weeks of mulling over the idea, Kubrick came into the design department, which by that time was far advanced on the amphitheater concept, and said, 'You know, Ken, that second level up there, I need at least sixty or seventy extras and they have to be sitting around all the time. What are they going to do? It could be costly. Come up with something else.'
"'It through me completely,' Ken Adam recalled. 'Then once I started calming down, my mind started ticking again, thank God. Stanley used to come and was practically standing behind me when I was drawing. Then this triangular concept evolved and he liked it. I had the answer when he said, "Yes, it's all very well with the triangle, what material do you think you're going to do it in?" and I said, "Concrete, like a bomb shelter".'
"The two men created a unique collaboration. Adam was an instinctual and imaginative designer with strong architectural training and a penchant for heightened reality. Kubrick was a director who questioned everything and demanded a rationale for every detail in his movie. Adam intuitively felt that the table that the President and his men set around should be large and round. When Kubrick saw the design for the table he asked Adam if it could be covered with green baize, even though the film was being shot in stark black and white. 'Sure,' Adam said and Kubrick replied, 'It should be like a poker table – the President, the Russian Ambassador, and the generals playing a game of poker for the fate of the world.'"
(Stanley Kubrick: A Biography, Vincent Lobrutto, pgs. 234-235)
|one of Adam's sketches of the War Room, which makes its triangular shape more obvious
"Here is represented the Great Pyramid of Gizah, composed of thirteen rows of masonry, showing seventy-two stones. The pyramid is without a capstone, and above its upper platform floats a triangle containing the All-Seeing-Eye surrounded by rays of light...
"If incapable of artistic treatment, the great seal is susceptible of profound interpretation. The Pyramid of Gizah was believed by the ancient Egyptians to be the shrine tomb of the god Hermes, or Thot, the personification of Universal Wisdom.
"No traces ever been found of the cap of the great Pyramid. A flat platform about thirty feet square gives no indication that this part of the structure was ever otherwise finished; and this is appropriate, as the Pyramid represented human society itself, imperfect and incomplete. The structure's ascending converging angles and faces represent the common aspiration of humankind; above floats the symbol of the esoteric orders, the radiant triangle with it's all-seeing-eye. The triangle itself is in the shape of the Greek letter D, the Delta, the letter of the name of God – the divine part of nature completing the works of men."
(The Secret Destiny of America, Manly P. Hall, pgs. 127-128)
|the back of the Great Seal of the United States
"It is reasonably certain that many legends regarding Charlemagne were later associated with Arthur, who is most famous for establishing the Order of the Round Table at Winchester. Reliable information is not to be had concerning the ceremonies and initiatory rituals of the 'Table Round.' In one story, the Table was endowed with the powers of expansion and contraction so that fifteen or fifteen hundred could be seated around it, according to whatever need might arise. The most common accounts fix the number of knights who could be seated at one time at the Round Table at either twelve or twenty-four. The twelve signified the signs of the signs of the zodiac and also the apostles of Jesus. The knights' names and also their heraldic arms were emblazoned upon their chairs. When twenty-four are shown seated at the table, each of the twelve signs of the zodiac is divided into two parts – a light and a dark half – to signify the nocturnal and diurnal phases of each sign. As each sign of the zodiac is ascending for two hours every day, so the twenty-four knights represented the hours, the twenty-four elders before the throne in Revelation, and twenty-four Persian deities who represented the spirits of the divisions of the day. In the center of the Table was the symbolic rose of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the symbol of resurrection in that He 'rose' from the dead. There was also a mysterious empty seat called the Siege Perilous in which none might sit, except he who was successful in his quest for the Holy Grail.
"In the personality of Arthur is to be found a new form of the ever-recurrent cosmic myth. The prince of Britain is the sun, his knights are the zodiac, and his flashing sword may be the sun's rays with which he fights and vanquishes the dragons of darkness or it may represent the earth's axis. Arthur's Round Table is the universe; the Siege Perilous the throne of the perfect man. In its terrestrial sense, Arthur was the Grand Master of a secret Christian-Masonic brotherhood of all philosophic mystics who termed themselves Knights. Arthur received the exalted position of Grand Master of these Knights because he had faithfully accomplished the withdrawal of the sword (spirit) from the anvil of the base metals (his lower nature)..."
(The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Manly P. Hall, pg. 590)
So in theory at least the men sitting around the Round Table of the War Room should be the warrior-monks or philosopher-kings of old, the Elect. In point of fact they're rather unstable bunch with some blatant evidence of psychosis. President Muffley (Peter Sellers) is a rational man, but an aloof one who at times is more concerned with his legacy than the reality of the situation. The Soviet ambassador (Peter Bull) is a walking double standard, insisting upon fresh pouched eggs and Cuban cigars from the terribly aristocratic staff and buffet that waits upon the War Room while refusing a Jamaican cigar because he doesn't support the work of "imperialist stooges." While seemingly helpful and concerned, he is later revealed to have been gathering intelligence the entire time he is in the War Room.
And then there's General Turgidson.
Upon hearing the ravings Ripper left with SAC headquarters Muffley denounces him as a psychotic to which Turgidson responds "We-he-ell, uh, I'd like to hold off judgement on a thing like that, sir, until all the facts are in." Shortly thereafter Turgidson advocates following Ripper's lead and launching a fulls scale nuclear assault upon the Soviet Union. It is during this sequence the audience gets its first glimpse of Dr. Strangelove (Sellers), and as a stand in for Nazism it is a most apt placement. Note that in this sequence he is little more than a marginal, anonymous member of the War Room gathering. That will soon change.
|Strangelove is the second man to the left of Turgidson's head
As was noted in part two, Turgidson's celebrated monologue in which he advocates a full scale nuclear attack on the Soviet Union was largely based upon General Lyman Lemnitzer's pitch in 1961 to JFK to launch a preemptive nuclear strike on the Soviets by 1963 (though without the imminent threat of nuclear war that the fictional Turgidson faces). Turgidson even cites a report that sounds remarkably similar to the one Lemnitzer championed on the percentage of Soviet nukes a US strike could knock out.
So while the occupants of the War Room may be many things, "enlightened" would not be a description used by many. In point of fact, it is something of a miracle that they are able to collaborate at all. But with the collaboration that does emerge Kubrick seems to be dropping some serious hints about national policy being pursued by Kennedy in opposition to the Deep State during this era. In the next installment we shall consider the collaboration between Muffley and the Soviet Union, among other things. Stay tuned.