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Stanley Kubrick Explains Why People Don’t Understand Nuclear Threats in ‘Dr. Strangelove’ Documentary

In a new documentary accompanying a re-release for the film, the filmmaker's words are timelier than ever.

Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick

Everett Collection / Rex

Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 satire “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” was released at the height of a nuclear arms race, as paranoia about the apocalypse reached an all-time high. Decades later, as nuclear threats continue to ripple across the globe, the idea of an atomic bomb threatening life in America continues to be seen as a fantasy. That makes Kubrick’s loopy cautionary tale more timely than ever, and a new short documentary exhumes the filmmaker’s assessment of his movie to remind people that there is plenty of cause for concern.

In “Stanley Kubrick Considers the Bomb,” director Matthew Wells explores the movie’s outlook in Kubrick’s own words. “The atomic bomb is as much of an abstraction as you can possibly have,” Kubrick says in an archival interview, which runs alongside images of mushroom bombs similar to the ones that close out his film. “It’s as abstract as that you know that someday you’ll die, and you do an excellent job of denying it, psychologically. I would say, in the minds of most people, it’s less interesting than city government.”

The documentary has been produced in tandem with plans for a new 4K restoration of “Dr. Strangelove” that will be released in UK cinemas on May 17. Contemporary voices in the documentary include author and journalist Eric Schlosser, who points out that a lot of the immediate coverage of “Dr. Strangelove” failed to recognize its accurate portrayal of the current nuclear threat, viewing the film’s cataclysmic “Doomsday Machine” as a fantasy. In fact, Kubrick had interviewed government officials, which informed his portrayal of a dysfunctional war room where poor tactical decisions could have destructive results.

Kubrick himself coped with plenty of anxiety about the potential for nuclear war, according to his daughter, Katharina Kubrick, who also appears in the documentary. “He didn’t want to frighten us,” she says, noting that her father didn’t bring it up at home, and instead channeled his fears directly into his film. “He was terrified like everybody was, which was why he chose to make a movie about this very terrifying subject which is a threat still,” she says.

Watch the trailer for the release of “Dr. Strangelove” below.

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