Stanley Kubrick’s outrageously funny treatment of the subject of nuclear war has gone down in cinematic history as one of the greatest war films of all time. A fantastic satirical interpretation of Cold War paranoia, Dr. Strangelove painted a compelling portrait of the military-industrial complex, which sinisterly sells fear to people and then supplies them with an illusory sense of apocalyptic security.
I started work on the screenplay with every intention of making the film a serious treatment of the problem of accidental nuclear war,” Kubrick said. “As I kept trying to imagine the way in which things would really happen, ideas kept coming to me which I would discard because they were so ludicrous. I kept saying to myself: ‘I can’t do this. People will laugh.’ But after a month or so I began to realise that all the things I was throwing out were the things which were most truthful.”
Kubrick’s artistic vision remains unparalleled to this day, and a major part of that legacy can be attributed to the impeccable set designs used in his films. Dr. Strangelove is certainly no exception since its iconic war room is still remembered as a pioneering example of effective mise en scène. The war room provides the physical as well as the psychological framework for the film’s investigations, acting as a space within which the manifestation of paranoia took place.
The war room’s design is so influential that real organisations have tried to copy the film’s vision, not realising that Kubrick was actually making fun of such an ominous spectacle. One notable example of this phenomenon is the FIFA boardroom which famously modelled itself after the war room from Dr. Strangelove. It seems appropriate in retrospect since the football organisation is also a collective of some of the most corrupt people in the world.
Sir Ken Adam, the designer of the war room, was one of the most respected artists in his field. Known for his work on gems like Dr. No and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Adams revealed that the war room came straight from his own imagination. In an interview with QZ, he famously said: “The vision of the war room was something that I purely invented because I didn’t have any real reference.”
His creation was so real and iconic that some of the top administrators in the country fervently believed that they had seen it somewhere or the other. One such person was none other than US President Ronald Reagan who actually thought that the war room was real. Adams said: “When Ronald Reagan became president of the United States he asked the chief of staff to show him the war room of Dr. Strangelove… He believed it was in the Pentagon.”