Can You Explain the Sexual In-Jokes and Imagery of “Dr. Strangelove”?


When Stanley Kubrick was adapting the Peter George novel Red Alert, the rationale behind nuclear warfare couldn’t help but seem ridiculous, and it’s a stroke of genius that Kubrick not only transformed the material into the black comedy, Dr. Strangelove, but found a perfect representation for the insanity in the sexual imagery running throughout the film.

The opening image of a bomber refueling as “Try a Little Tenderness” brazenly plays over the soundtrack has been compared to copulation, and Dr. Strangelove’s rise from his wheelchair, immediately preceding a montage of mushroom clouds, as well as Slim Pickens’ iconic ride on the bomb, have also been compared to sexual climax. Many of the names have sexual overtones, and there’s rarely a moment where their activities or thought process isn’t sexualized in some way.

General Jack D. Ripper starts the bombing campaign against the Soviets after a moment of impotence leads him a paranoid obsession with “bodily fluids.” General Buck Turgidson is in the middle of a tryst with his secretary when he gets a phone call about the attack. Premier Dmitiri Kissof is off doing the same when they’re having a hard time tracking him down. Female genitalia is referenced in both the first and last names of the President of the United States. And when they go over the details of surviving in a world post-nuclear annihilation, one of the key elements is providing as many women as possible for each male survivor.

These allusions undermine any potential solemnness of the plot, tying most of the action to base primal motivations rather than any pure intellectual reasoning. War comes off as a surrogate for male sexual frustration.