As part of my creative studies, we recently discussed story structure in class and its importance.
If, for example, we take any movie, we stipulate we can map its structure to a “template” such as John Yorke’s 3-D roadmap of change from his book “Into the woods” (see below).
How can we then map “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964) to this structure? If you haven’t seen that movie, I can recommend you do, so you can stop worrying about not having seen it. Stop reading now, watch the movie then come back and discuss, or read on if you don’t mind getting all the spoilers.
The film was directed by Stanley Kubrick, stars Peter Sellers in three roles and is considered a masterpiece, remarkably fresh and undated. A satirical black comedy on the Cold War fears of a nuclear conflict between two sovereign nations, here: the Soviet Union and the United States.
The New Yorker said this about it: Almost Everything in “Dr. Strangelove” Was True
The movie script is available here for educational purposes: Jan 27, 1963 revision, final version.
NB: The final version of the script is a transcript and hence only has 55 pages. For the sake of the “page moments” terminology, the scan of the 1963 version was used since it retains the original formatting, albeit has undergone substantial changes in its final version, which no doubt warrants careful study.
Dr. Strangelove’s Roadmap of Change
[Page 3 Moment, page 3]
No knowledge: VO about secret Doomsday device developed by the Soviets.
Inciting Incident: (00:05 min) General Jack Ripper, gone insane, orders Plan R, a nuclear strike on Soviet Russia, commanding Officer Mandrake (Sellers) to execute said plan.
Growing knowledge: B52 Pilot Major King Kong (Slim Pickens) receives the Plan R code and verifies General Turgidson gets the phone call about Plan R, Officer Mandrake suspects General Ripper has gone crazy.
[Page 10 Moment, page 32]
Awakening: (00:19 min) Mandrake finds a radio, General Turgidson briefs the President in the War Room.
Act 2 (00:20 min)
Doubt: Mandrake listens to the radio playing music, indicating no Soviet attack. Russian Ambassador Alexi is invited to the War Room, and together they contact Premier Dimitri.
“One of our Generals went a little funny in the head and went and did a silly thing…”
[Page 30 Moment, page 44]
Acceptance: Initial reluctance but eventual acceptance of what needs to be done since they can’t recall the planes. Work together to shoot them down. President: “I’ll accept that.”
Act 3 (00:45 min)
Experiment with knowledge: Go all in, nuke the Soviet completely, and hope to minimize losses on the US side. No. Try to reach mad General, sending in troops to take the base and contact Premier Dimitri with help of Ambassador Alexi.
[Page 45 Moment, page 94]
Midpoint: DOOMSDAY DEVICE revealed.
Experimenting with knowledge: The base is attacked and taken, General Ripper rants about a Commie plot “Fluoridation” of water and starts shooting back with MG from inside his office.
Experimenting post-knowledge: Ripper: “I deny them my essence” / shoots himself. Mandrake needs to find the recall code on his own.
Act 4 (01:01 min)
Doubt: Mandrake tries to figure out the recall code, hindered by Col. ‘Bat’ Guano. Meanwhile, the plane is damaged by a missile but not shot down, bomb doors won’t open.
Growing Reluctance: The pilot tries everything to open bomb doors, and Mandrake tries to phone the White House to give OPE recall code (phone booth scene, doesn’t have the coins…)
Regression: All planes were recalled, four were shot down by Soviet missiles, and the crisis was averted.
Act 5 (01:14 min)
Reawakening: One plane not shot down! (The B52 piloted by Kong); Plane crew faces accelerated fuel loss.
[Page 60 Moment, page 117]
Re-acceptance: With the remaining plane only damaged, the President (Sellers) convinces Premier Dimitri that they need to shoot down the rogue plane, the plane crew chooses a new target of opportunity due to the rate of loss of fuel.
Total mastery: (01:27 min) Major Kong manages to open the damaged doors and rides the bomb in this iconic scene:
The Americans decide – as advised by Nazi scientist Dr Strangelove (Sellers) – to go down to the mines for 100 years. However, mind the “mine gap” (missile gap reference), “Russkies” may take over their mine shaft space.
Moral: Mankind has learned nothing.
Consequence: (01:34 min) The Doomsday device goes off, followed by a multitude of nuclear explosions to the iconic WWII song “We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn (1943).
Disclaimer: During the mapping to the Yorke roadmap, I did not have the “page moments” in mind as it was done prior to the class session, after which I went back and assigned the five moments and correlated them with Yorke. Anyone who is using this “page moment” terminology, I would love to hear from you.