Death by Hanging is a phenomenally experimental work, a brilliantly conceived way to explore issues of capital punishment, Japanese identity, and the prejudices that create sociocultural barriers.
Having finished Lolita, a subversive Hollywood piece even by noirish standards, Kubrick returned to war. Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’s scope was more encompassing than the private torture of Paths of Glory, looking forward to the threat of apocalyptic destruction instead of a reflective portrait of immediate world wars. Instead of matching and multiplying the grave tone inherent in both his previous work and the source material, Red Alert by Peter George, Kubrick opted for a brand of blacker-than-pitch humor claiming “The only way to tell the story was as a black comedy or, better, a nightmare comedy, where the things you laugh at most are really the heart of the paradoxical postures that make a nuclear war possible…”. This does not deter from the omnipresent horror surrounding both the film and the historical environment that determined its existence. Beneath the antics and the (wonderfully) strained acting of Sellers and Scott lies the taut strains of nuclear holocaust with only these chummy actors in control. It’s dread at its purest, comfortably resting amongst the instantly quotable dialogue and perfectly composed images: an atmosphere of unspeakable horror-that-is-to-come.