Dr. Strangelove and Auteur Theory

Firstly, Dr. Strangelove is one of my favorite Kubrick films – it is expertly shot, written and performed. Each time I watch, I pick up something new. Kubrick is no stranger to brilliance… Paths of Glory, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Barry Lyndon, 2001 to name a few establish him as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. But is Kubrick an auteur filmmaker?

Perhaps the answer to that question is based on personal opinion. Honestly, if we are looking at the classic definition of auteur filmmakers, where there is an overlapping theme, element, or motif that appears throughout the auteur’s life work, ┬áthen Kubrick might not fall into the classically defined category. But let’s avoid definitions… The man does bring a common theme to his films… they just don’t glare at us like Hitchcock’s films might.

Obviously, Paths of Glory is quite unlike A Clock Work Orange which is very different from 2001 which does not even come close to the Shining. But what Kubrick does so masterfully is create stories that are character driven, playing off against a strange, yet recognizable world around them. He also begs each of his protagonists (or Anti-heroes) to question their own morality, question the world they live in, and bask in the unique alternative cinematic reality they have found themselves in. Perhaps that is why Kubrick is an auteur. The absurdity of the punishment in Paths… or the lunacy of the War Room in Strangelove does go hand in hand with the dystopia London Alex De Large resides in during Clockwork or the spaceship Dave calls home in 2001. None of these characters react to the world they live in. That satirical approach to the absurd, often masked in not only beautiful images, but hyper violence, intense sexuality, and aggressive language only forces the illusion to go further. His characters stand out even more given their vast backdrops.

Thus, I would argue Kubrick is an auteur. He made 13 films in his career, nearly all of which are critically acclaimed. Whether we look at the opening 40 minutes of Full Metal Jacket or the final scene of Spartacus, Kubrick’s common theme throughout his films is how his characters (often larger than life) respond to the world around them (often so riddled with troubling absurdity) that we can’t help but see the point glaring us in the face. Coming back to Strangelove, the satirical characters allow us to see the scary absurdity of nuclear war or even war in general! Kubrick basically asks us to look at these people and say “Really? What the hell is the point?”

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