Kubrick’s perfectionism combines perfectly with Peter Sellers’s improvisations to create a pitch-black satire filled with huge political statements.


Dr. Strangelove is a film I have seen many times and rewatch often. It is film that is so crammed with jokes that every time you watch it there is something new to find. Every scene has moments that are both laugh out loud funny and also make huge statements about a variety of subjects including communism, beaucracy, ineptitude, ridiculousness of the government and much more.

However these things have been covered countless time in other blogs and reviews so in this post I would rather explore something less talked about and that being the use of names in the film.


There are two types of character within the film which I will discuss those being the alpha-males who are pro-war, sexually provocative, violent and insane. And the beta-males who are (more) pacifistic, effeminate, logical and almost exclusively played by Peter Sellers. The contrast of these characters types is what allows the film to create a tense atmosphere and also comic moments. It is also interested that the star of the film Peter Sellers, a man who made his name playing ridiculous over-the-top characters, plays in this film the most toned-down ones (discounting Dr. Strangelove of-course).

So where do names come into this? Well every character is aptly named for their place in the story and their characters traits are summed up in sexual references.


We’ll begin with the alpha-males of the film and George C. Scott’s ‘Buck Turgidson’. Turgid is obviously a phallic references with its dictionary definition reading ‘swollen or congested’. This is an obvious reference to Turgidsons sexual drive and his want to be on top. Throughout the movie his character is shown as someone with quite the sex drive  -we are introduced to him through his bikini-clad secretary with whom he’s having an affair and he also recieves several sexual related phone calls. He is also the most war hungry man on the council, with his anger becoming visibly congested. The name Buck also signifies the male gender and the want to be at the top. It has connotations with rashness, a characteristic that Scott’s character has by the folds. Buck is also a name that is easily associated with teenagers and although Scott is clearly not a teenager he has many traits of a typical teen with his wanton attitude to authority and his quickness to start a fight with the Russian ambassador showcasing this.

Another similarly male character in the film is General Jack D. Ripper (played by Sterling Hayden) a man who is named after the infamous London rapist and murderer. Ripper is the driving force behind the plot of the film as he is the one who orders the planes to be sent out. He is also the craziest character in the film with his conspiracy theories about water and communists serving as one of the films most memorable parts. Jack the Ripper of course in reality is a murderer whose identity has never been revealed (which has led to hundreds of conspiracy theories). Also the fact that this character, whose actions in essence cause the end of mankind, is named after one of the most famous murderers in history is extremely ironic and fits perfectly.


In contrast to these strongly named men two of Peter Seller’s characters have much weaker names that help show their qualities. The first of these characters being the President Merkin Muffley, who is the only person within the war room who attempts to keep the peace. Comparing the President to a vagina is a huge statement on its own, especially when that President is as weak and pacifistic as in this portrayal. He is perhaps the only character who understands the horror that start of a nuclear war could lead to and does his best to prevent this through several different means including an incredibly awkward to watch phone call with the Russian President Kissov (another male named character). This conversation particularly shows his character as being the female in the relationship with Russia as he defends himself from accusations in a way that a stereotypical woman would to her partner.


The other Sellers character to discuss to Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, and whilst his name isn’t as overtly sexual as most of the others, it has several connotations that fit the character. A mandrake is a type of root that is thought to have aphrodisiac properties so to give a name to the character who is the biggest stickler to the rules makes perfect sense. Mandrake is a man who follows the rules, no matter what and could be seen as a sexually repressed character. When however he discovers what’s really happening however he does all in his power to step up and fix his actions. Much like a person who is having sexual problems could turn to a mandrake root in search of a cure.

The final character to discuss is the titular one, Dr. Strangelove. Now it is interesting that a film should be titled after a character who only appears in one brief scene and also that this name should be followed by ‘or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’. The name Strangelove for me symbolises that Dr. Strangelove is the only character who will openly admit his motives (remember its mentioned that he chose the name himself). He in essence exudes no gender bias has just one ‘strange’ obessession – or ‘love’, war.

The entirety of the Dr. Strangelove and its major focus on the chaos of war can be summed up by this characters name… the entire film is staring the audience in the face right from when they see the title.