The scene I chose to analyze for this weeks blog, from Stanley Kubrick’s Dr.Strangelove, is the first exchange between President Merkin Muffley and Gen. Buck Turgidson. This scene, which I expected to be tense and uncomfortable, was highlighted nicely with humour and a general lightheartedness. The actor I chose to analysis was Peter Sellers who plays President Merkin and the action I chose was “to maintain control.” This scene starts at 24 minutes 18 seconds.
This action is physically possible. Peter Seller is playing the President. To be President is to control. The actor can go into the scene with the knowledge and confidence that he is the President and therefore anything he says and does goes. This isn’t an entirely taxing action, but I can imagine the actor would enjoy doing it. Sellers can go into the scene knowing that whatever he does the scene will follow. And this knowledge of power is integral to the action. This is obviously not ideal for the rest of the cast or writer, but if Sellers decided to play this scene in hysterics, the result would have been much different. The responses from his peers, and power dynamic between Buck and the President would have changed and in some ways this may have been funnier, but in other ways it may deflate the scene and the severity of the situation, therefore convoluting the plot. By maintaining control and acting to do so, Sellers character keeps the plot moving forward, suspends the audiences disbelief while still adding a layer of dry, stoic humour.
This action is not very specific but the specificity lies in the word control. Sellers needs to go into the scene realizing the weight of the information that is being delivered to him and how a president would need to act in such a time. He also needs to keep in mind the environment he is in and what an appropriate response would be. He is in the “War Room” surrounded by a lot of people who look up to him. So he needs to maintain control over the room, and his temper. If Sellers decided to act hysterically the scene would have been a lot different.
In no way is Sellers ever manipulative. In fact, I believe this character would do anything to avoid controversy which is why I believe he allows the Russian ambassador into the War Room. And though he seems to be a bit of a push over, the President is persistent in his questioning of Buck and eventually see the “cap” to their scene at the line “I am becoming less and less interested in your estimates of what is possible and impossible.” This is when the contents of the War Room know that the President will not be made a mockery of and will get what he wants when he asks for it; that he intends on maintaining control over this situation and no one will contradict him.
And of coarse I don’t believe the action strays far from the intentions of the playwright.