Strangelove's 'Erection': A Parody of Pal?

Alec Nevala-Lee: In 1951, George Pal, who had previously helmed the adequate space opera Destination Moon (which, along with Pal's The Conquest of Space, was cited as one of Kubrick's inspirations for 2001) and later The War of the Worlds, produced a movie entitled When Worlds Collide, directed by Rudolph Mate; the film, while pretty hokey, typifies the technical peak of pre-2001 science-fiction (which isn't saying much)....

The plot: scientists discover that the earth is on an irreversible collision-course with a dwarf star and its orbiting planetoid, dooming the planet to inevitable extinction. They decide that the only hope for humanity is for them to build an enormous Spruce Goose of a spaceship, load it with a microcosm of humanity's finest, and blast off to said planetoid, which conveniently boasts an "earth-like atmosphere." The movie climaxes with the destruction of the earth by fire. The survivors came to a happy end, of course (this being the fifties and all).....

Anyway, here's the point: the mission is financed by a vaguely sinister and Germanic billionaire, complete with monocle, who rants and raves from a wheelchair for most of the movie. In a shocking (gasp!) twist of fate, however, both he and the benevolent scientist who began the project are left behind on the doomed planet as the spaceship takes off without them. The next-to-last shot of the movie is of this wretch struggling out of his wheelchair and taking a few hesitant steps towards the ascending spacecraft, and the camera frames this in the exact shot that Kubrick used at the end of Dr. Strangelove (i.e. "Mein Furher! I can walk!").

Of course, this connection is strictly speculative; that is, I haven't read an interview with Kubrick in which he explicitly states that this was the shot he had in mind. But the coincidence would be extreme. I assume that Kubrick, while surveying the field of apocalyptic film prior to making Strangelove (after all, he obsessively viewed Japanese monster movies before beginning 2001) came upon this bit of end-o'-the-world doggerel (which actually was a major hit of its day) and decided to spoof it.

J. Kastorf: But can't we find more meaning in Dr. Strangelove's standing up and walking than just the parody of a film that most of us have not seen? Here's my own interpretation. It may be wrong, but it would be an interesting topic to discuss. Before the Cold War began, the US and Russia were allies in defeating the threat of world fascism posed by the Nazis. And now that that threat is gone, the two countries threaten to destroy each other and the rest of the world. And who is helping them to design their weapons? Scientists like Dr. Strangelove, who, we can infer, probably also designed weapons for the Nazis. Although in real life German scientists who ended up working for the US and the USSR may not have been very sympathetic to the Nazi cause, Dr. Strangelove obviously was. However, now he has come to the US, changed his name, and is working for the government. The fascist part of him that remains is embodied in his right half, which he is constantly trying to suppress, as his right hand tries to make the fascist salute. His stiff smile and nervous demeanour show that he is trying to suppress this part of himself, often making mistakes such as saying "Mein Fuhrer" instead of "Mr. President."

So here's what's happening in the last scene: The US and Russia have destroyed themselves, and Dr. Strangelove suggests a plan for preserving humanity. His plan is a realization of the Nazi's ideal world. A human breeding stock will be selected to live, while everyone else dies, to form a supreme race. Strict military discipline will be enforced in the caves. After the nuclear holocaust, the fascist ubermensch cave dwellers will rule the world.

Dr. Strangelove represents fascism: not dead, as the men in the war room assume, but merely confined to a wheelchair. When it seems that the cave plan will be adopted, fascism is re-released on the world and Dr. Strangelove can walk again. The last line, "Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!" is his cry of victory, as if he is telling the memory of Hitler that after the Third Reich seemed to have been destroyed, he survived to help develop weapons which would lead to the fall of the US and Russia and to the beginning of the fascist world.

So among many things, the film shows the irony in the fact that the US and Russia, after defeating fascism, built nuclear weapons which represented rule by military force and the possibility of mass holocaust to an even greater extent than the Nazis did.

Alec Nevala-Lee:I like your 'fascism' analysis of the final scene. I'd always interpreted it as something a little simpler: much talk is done regarding fertility and physical strength in the survivors selected to be in the mine shaft (e.g. "ten females to each male"), and I'd always assumed that Strangelove was rising from his wheelchair in a demonstration of his own physical prowess. Does that make sense? You can almost see Strangelove as one big phallic symbol; "impotently" trapped in a wheelchair for most of the movie (as fascism--supposedly--has been on the world scene), he rises triumphantly erect in the final moments, intent on penetrating the female-symbol of the mine shaft and impregnating the new world. Could Turgidson's fear of the Russians' hiding a big bomb in their shaft be cuckolding anxiety? But then, we always read too much into these things. A question, though: Strangelove's next-to-last line is "I have a plan!" Hm? What might this plan be?