Two Excerpts from Understanding The Enemy: The Dialogue of Fear In Fear And Desire And Dr. Strangelove by Elizabeth F. Cooke (The Philosophy Of Stanley Kubrick, Edited By Jerold J. Abrams)

1. Part of the problem with these deliberations between nations and among branches of the same government is that the participants, rather than being individuals discussing a problem, are representatives of those larger entities. In all cases, these men are not individuals; they are their respective institutions, and they let those institutions determine their actions. Sartre refers to this pretending to be determined rather than free as “bad faith.” A person acts in bad faith when, for example, he allows his social role, such as his job, to dictate his actions, as if he were not free to quit that social role, as if that social role were something other than what he decided to make of it. In Dr. Strangelove, the procedures of international diplomacy are set up so that individuals represent their institutions, and those institutions are designed to engineer bad faith. Individuals are no longer free but are merely representations of their institutions. And the more an individual represents an institution, the less of an individual he is. This is exactly Camus’ own fear (for philosophy): that ideas take on a life of their own (as in Hegel), and people follow them as if they, as individuals, were not in control. Here Camus reminds us of the complexity of his view and that there are other ways to commit suicide-namely, forgetfulness of self. This is also Kubrick’s point: that institutions actually plan on forgetting the self and are, in fact, structured for exactly that purpose.

2. Kubrick shares the absurdist and existential philosophers’ view that we are ultimately alone, and we alone bear ultimate responsibility for our own lives. No universal truth can spare us this burden. And no shared cause or collective can offer a place to hide. Perhaps this is the contribution that Kubrick’s films have made to absurdist thought. Kubrick gives us nothing to hope for and nothing to escape into, but he helps us to recognize our condition and pushes us to be lucid about it. Whether we are up to the task is, or course, up to each of us alone.

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