We’ll meet again

I watched Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb the other night for the umpteenth time, and I found myself wondering what the ending means. Vera Lynn singing her Second World War hit 'We'll meet again' over a montage of hydrogen bomb explosions (see above). I think the key has to be that -- at least according to popular mythology -- 'We'll meet again' was a favourite song for loved ones separated by war. Here are some thoughts I came up with (or across):

  • Contrast between WWII and WWIII. No one will be meeting again after this one is over.
  • Contrast between the Good War and the Cold War. Back then we fought to save the world from the Nazis, this time we'll be using Nazis to destroy it.
  • Yeah baby! The film has sexual metaphors and allusions all the way through it; the ending then depicts the orgasmic final embrace of the USA and USSR (i.e. what happens when couples 'meet again').

It's probably none of those, of course. Any ideas?

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9 thoughts on “We’ll meet again

  1. Ian Evans

    I thought it was irony. My father used to say that in 1945/6 a prime mantra in the officer's mess was "The troops are mutinying - quick, put a Vera Lynn record on the Tannoy"

  2. Post author

    Ian:

    Interesting. I forgot to mention that (according to Wikipedia), it was Peter Sellers who suggested 'We'll meet again', and he was a corporal in the RAF during the war and after, so he would have had an understanding of its meaning.

    Ricardo:

    Yes, that is indeed one interpretation :)

  3. Liam

    It fits perfectly with the film's sense of humour: it's bitterly, violently sarcastic. The reason Strangelove hasn't dated is because Kubrick didn't give in to sentimentalism.
    It's notable that of all of the music in the soundtrack, it's the only one with vocals. Try A Little Tenderness over the opening credits and When Johnny Comes Marching Home in the bomber are instrumental, and brassy. Why not have a joyful, uplifting song, when Major Kong was so happy riding the bomb?

  4. Lester

    I've always assumed it was just meant to finish the job of prodding people out of the usual assumption of thinking of the next war in terms of the last, which I think there was still a certain amount of in the early Cold War. The last of your ideas is... interesting... though!

    "I feel that if any songs are going to come out of World War III, we’d better start writing them now. I have one here. You might call it a bit of pre-nostalgia" - Tom Lehrer

  5. Ian Brown

    I used to have a great book called "STANLEY KUBRICK DIRECTS",it mentioned the use of WE'LL MEET AGAIN and said it was used to hark back to wartime cooperation between America and Britain,but did Americans even know the song?
    Kubrick was of course an American who spent half his life in Britain.

    But to me the reason for the use of the song is simple,the survivors will meet again but they don't know where or when because it will take many years to get back to where we were before the bomb.

  6. d pruitt

    I've always taken it to mean that once the nuclear device with Slim Pickins goes off it sets off the Doomsday Bomb (something the Soviets actually invented but as far as I know never deployed) hence the massive nuclear explosives. We'll meet again could be an allegory for 'see ya in heaven; whenever that will be'. Like all great movies the end is open to whatever interpretation one puts on it. I thought the demented Ripper and his fascination for body fluids stole the show and the short battle scenes are the most realistic I've ever seen, remember Vietnam was on at the time and war photographers were in the thick of it.

  7. Post author

    Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts!

    d pruitt:

    Yes, it's pretty clear what the explosions are meant to suggest, though I don't know that the Soviets can be said to have invented a doomsday bomb (the wikipedia page for the cobalt bomb only mentions Western scientists). Anyway, the doomsday bomb is only taking MAD to extremes -- for the purposes of satire it doesn't need to be real or even realistic. Interesting point about the combat scenes -- they do have a very documentary feel to them, don't they.

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