Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb vs. Melancholia
Today we wrap up Kubrick Week with a bang – Dr. Strangelove vs. Melancholia.
Both films are about an unstoppable object bringing all life closer to total annihilation. With Dr. Strangelove, it’s an Airforce bomber speeding toward its target in Soviet Russia. In Melancholia, the rogue planet of the title approaches Earth. The bomber crew in Strangelove receives an order to nuke a strategic Soviet military target. What they are unaware of is that the order was sent by the rogue, mentally unbalanced General Jack D. Ripper. On top of that, the Soviets have built a doomsday device which will render the Earth uninhabitable for 93 years if a nuclear weapon is dropped on their soil. The purpose of the device is for nuclear deterrence, but Russia failed to inform the United States that they were in possession of such a thing. General Ripper is the only person who knows the code to stop the bombing attack, but has cut off his base from outside contact.
The first part of Melancholia deals with the character Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and her lavish wedding. Justine, suffering from depression, is indifferent to the opulence. As the evening progresses, she withdraws more and more, even rejecting her husband. The second part focuses on Justine’s sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and her increasing anxiety over the approaching planet. Justine is just as unmoved by the impending danger as she was by her wedding. Claire’s husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland), insists that Melancholia will pass by Earth and is harmless.
The President of the United States (Peter Sellers) orders an assault on Ripper’s Air Force base so they can force him to give up the code. Ripper’s executive officer, Lionel Mandrake (also Peter Sellers) realizes that his commanding officer has lost his mind. Mandrake attempts to reason with Ripper to no avail. Ripper shoots himself when the invading force fights their way onto the base without revealing the code. Undeterred, Mandrake manages to figure what the code is. The bombing crew, however, cannot be reached.
Melancholia draws closer. John kills himself when he can no longer deny the impending doom. Claire panics at first, attempting to drive off with her son in a golf cart. Earlier in the film, Claire takes care of Justine when she experiences severe depression, but Justine becomes the most level-headed of the two once death is imminent. To ease the fears of her nephew, Justine constructs a “Magic Cave” out of sticks. The three hold hands and await Earth’s destruction.
The bombing mission is successful, which triggers the doomsday device. Dr. Strangelove (again, Peter Sellers) explains to the President that a handpicked selection of survivors can live in underground mines until it’s safe to come out. The film ends with a montage of nuclear explosions set to the song “We’ll Meet Again”. (NOTE: Dr. Strangelove is quite clearly a former Nazi. His plan to repopulate the Earth with a selected few sounds frighteningly as though he intends to carry on where the National Socialists left off. That is, if his plan works.)