Dr. Strangelove and the Psychology of Comic Distance

in Projections
Author:
Marc Hye-KnudsenGraduate, Aarhus University marchyeknudsen@gmail.com

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Abstract

In 1964, near the height of Cold War nuclear anxiety, millions of Americans flocked to movie theatres to see their own nuclear annihilation hilariously enacted for them in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. How did Kubrick transform one of his time's most pressing causes of psychological distress into a source of humorous pleasure? To answer this question, I offer a cognitive account of how comic distance works on film, building on research indicating humor to be an evolved response to benign violations. I show that Kubrick consistently optimized for psychological distance in Dr. Strangelove, comparing his narrative and stylistic choices to those of Sidney Lumet in Fail Safe, a contemporaneous film that plays the same essential story for drama instead of laughs.

Contributor Notes

Marc Hye-Knudsen is a graduate of English from Aarhus University. His research focuses on the cognitive and evolutionary underpinnings of humor and its various manifestations in film, television, and literature. E-mail: marchyeknudsen@gmail.com.

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