A Clockwork Orange Reviews
But when push comes to shove for this reviewer, it isn't such a tough decision. For all the undeniable brilliance of Dr. Strangelove or Full Metal Jacket, the out-and-out winner is A Clockwork Orange. Kubrick's adaptation of Anthony Burgess' novel is unparalleled in its time and ours, as a literary adaptation and in science fiction. It's been called everything from the first punk movie (Steven Spielberg) to right-wing propaganda (Roger Ebert), and it's still as shocking, disturbing and satirically sharp as it was more than 40 years ago. Above all, it's a masterpiece of storytelling, substance and pure filmmaking, with Kubrick at the very peak of his powers.
If asked to sum up A Clockwork Orange in one word, the only one that would suffice is mesmerising. Watching Kubrick's film is a truly hypnotic experience: from the first haunting chord in the opening titles, we are pulled into the film as if in a trance, forgetting about any world that may exist outside of it. The iconic first shot of Malcolm McDowell, staring at us with his head slightly down, is akin to that of a hypnotist as he sends his patient into a state of complete submission. Once under Kubrick's spell, it is physically impossible to look away.
The first key ingredient to this mesmerism is the soundtrack. Written by Walter (later Wendy) Carlos, who worked with Kubrick again on The Shining, it blends classical and electronic music to stunning effect. The dark, haunting synthesisers at the beginning serve as a murky counterpoint to the jolly and uplifting renditions of Beethoven, both in traditional orchestral recordings and the jazzy re-workings on harpsichord. The score riffs ironically on various military themes, which works particularly well during the Ludovico sequences.
Much like Blade Runner more than a decade later, the visual world of A Clockwork Orange is conceived as the future that might result if certain aspects of our present are extrapolated. With Ridley Scott's film, it is the threat of overpopulation, the environmental problems that would result, the intensification of social hierarchies, and the loss of humanity in a world dominated by machines. With Kubrick, it is the alienation of youth, the dehumanisation of mankind, and most chillingly the acceptance of the latter as a form of punishment or control.
Like all great dystopian science fiction, what matters is not the surface resemblance, but the reflection of underlying moral and social problems. It doesn't matter that young thugs now wear tracksuits and Burberry rather than jockstraps and bowler hats, just as Blade Runner isn't suddenly rendered irrelevant by the current absence of flying cars. The moral questions raised in this film are still controversial, and our society is no more enlightened or mature in its conceptions of justice, freedom or possible punishments.
While Kubrick's films have always been open to multiple interpretations, there are three general perspectives on A Clockwork Orange. The first sees it as a conservative work about youth, rebellion and the counter-culture. The film is either a reaction to the empowerment of young people, depicting them in entirely negative ways, or a call to arms of said young people which is darker, edgier and nastier than its hippie predecessors. Both views accuse the film of glorifying violence, with Roger Ebert calling it "a paranoid right-wing fantasy masquerading as an Orwellian warning". Whatever the knee-jerk appeal of this view, it is, like Ebert, well wide of the mark.
The second interpretation, which carries more weight, sees the film is a warning against state power, and how the use of reconditioning can undermine individual freedom to such a point that the whole notion becomes irrelevant. The prominence of socialist architecture in the film, such as concrete tunnels and high-rise flats, indicate a society emerging from failed social engineering, with a rise in "the old ultra-violence" being part of the fallout. This theory is consolidated in the use of nadsat, the slang language invented by Burgess which is a mixture of English and Russian, which in turn gives the film an even more unique and timeless feel.
Throughout his career Kubrick was fascinated by the social and political mechanisms which conspired to dehumanise and imprison individuals. Dr. Strangelove explored the absurdity of Mutually Assured Destruction, in which nuclear deterrents put at greater risk the very people they were designed to protect. In Full Metal Jacket he explored the techniques by which humans are turned into killing machines, and how said machines can so often turn on their masters. A Clockwork Orange is the most subversive of these examinations, using a guilty, twisted and depraved protagonist to reinforce the importance of choice and free will.
Having undergone the Ludovico Technique, Alex becomes the clockwork orange of Burgess' title: fleshy on the outside, but fatally mechanical on the inside. He is incapable of crime, but also incapable of other human actions such as self-defence and the appreciation of music. In order to prevent him from threatening society, the state have destroyed Alex's very self. He contemplates suicide for the simple reason that he cannot choose whether to be good or bad.
This brings us on the third and most radical interpretation. Where both the previous views argue over which party is the moral one, this school holds that morality has nothing to do with it. In this relativistic, almost Foucauldian interpretation, all of the relationships within the film are expressions of power, in which notions of right and wrong are invoked only to show who holds power over whom. The prison service, the Catholic priests, the doctors and Alex's droogs are all sources of discourse, wrestling endlessly for the right to set the rules.
The force which Alex exerts (beating up gangs and beggars) is counterpointed by the mental and psychological forces exerted on him, from being spat on in custody to near-drowning by his former droogs. Kubrick went on record as saying that the Minister and the radical writer differ "only in their dogma", with both wanting to exert power over Alex and through him control the opinions and actions of the public. The film explores how certain human acts, such as sex, have incurred double standards in favour of the rich and intellectual. Where Alex's conception of sex as "a bit of the old in-out" is criminalised, the powers-that-be have no problem with doctors having it off in hospital, or the cat-lady's phallic sculptures.
Whichever interpretation one leans towards, there is no denying A Clockwork Orange's power as a black comedy. The 'Singing In The Rain' sequence is perfectly executed, so that it shocks the first time round but then draws you in on the joke. Whether it's Alex's deranged social worker, the fraught dinner table talk with Patrick Magee, or Alex's ramblings in the hospital, it is damned impossible not to erupt into laughter. But like Dr. Strangelove, it is laughter laced with fear and deep discomfort, lest any part of what we see become reality.
It is equally impossible to talk about A Clockwork Orange without mentioning Malcolm McDowell. Having excelled in Lindsay Anderson's If...., he was the natural choice for the part, and even without his immense reputation he is simply perfect for every second he is on screen. His snarling, boyish looks, precocious posture and fabulous voice are all immaculate, and once you have seen him in that iconic costume, no-one else can ever carry it off.
Kubrick's direction in A Clockwork Orange is superb, both in its technical invention and its brilliant storytelling. He was often accused of being cold and clinical, being more interested in ideas than the human beings who embodied them. But so many of the film's high points are moments where the technical skill combines with deep connections to humanity. A good example comes in the lakeside scene, where Alex beats up his droogs in slow motion. This, coupled with dolly shots and close-ups, exaggerates the expressions of the characters and pulls you right into their pain, anguish and triumph.
A Clockwork Orange is the greatest film of the 1970s and the high point of Kubrick's illustrious career. It mesmerises from start to finish, flooding us with style and substance, and reinventing science fiction as it goes along. Malcolm McDowell is nothing short of stunning in the lead role, and the film is a good example of star and director working in harmony at the top of their respective games. In the end it is impossible to summarise all its glories in such a short space. Suffice to say, it ranks behind only Blade Runner as the greatest film of all time.
A cure for violence in two weeks sure sounds like a good idea. The cure being the complete dehumanising of a person, removing them of choice by causing a mechanical reaction, that, that is something the Minister does not care about when he can tout such a cure.
As much as it's grand old tale of one person getting what he deserves, the political motivations between the two parties, with Alex as their centrepiece, really comes to the fore in the last third of the film. Exaggerated it may be, but it really is grounded in a sense of realism that this can and does happen in this day and age; the war on terror and its returning soldiers a prime example.
The production and costume design create a unique, colourful world from the first frame, not to mention the confronting imagey, with Kubrick weaving the camera around majestically. The source material's quirky language is also done justice, and them some, by McDowell's voice and changes in tone, which is not something I usually pick up on and appreciate.
While the film's depictions of violence and sex are what it's most known for, A Clockwork Orange works on far deeper levels. The disturbing portrayal of youth and its satirical depiction of a government's attempts to create a better society are terrific, but the most fascinating aspect is the questions it poses about good and evil. While the crimes Alex commits at the beginning of the film are atrocious, what the government does to him is worse. The film presents the absolute worst aspects of man, but shows that even these are still favorable to a man without the choice. People can denounce the film because of its brutal content, but the importance of the questions it poses can't be denied.
Equally excellent to the film's content is the effort by the crew. Kubrick's perfectionism pays off well, as this is one of his most visually striking films. Malcolm MacDowell is nothing short of amazing as Alex. Kubrick's use of surreal imagery and set pieces, as well as the ingenious use of music to compliment the on-screen action, creates a world that perfectly reflects the protagonist's behavior and the government's policies.
All tales of redemption involve characters that we gradually come to appreciate, or like, or -- at the very least -- learn to tolerate. Not A Clockwork Orange. Our "humble narrator" remains the same throughout the movie, always an incarnation of everything wrong in today's modern world. He goes through no cleansing process and by the end of the film we like him less than we did at the beginning. That's bold and daring -- but would you expect anything less from Kubrick?
"Being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven."
A Clockwork Orange is the classic adaption of Anthony Burgess's question raising book. Stanley Kubrick doesn't quite go the same way that Burgess did, but both the book and the movie give different answers to the same question. Kubrick deciding to change the ending doesn't take away from how amazing the film is; that is unless you're Anthony Burgess(He didn't care for it one bit). Burgess wanted the reader to go away with the belief that a human beings are good, and can change their behavior. Kubrick decided to give us a much grimmer theme, that when given the choice, a bad person will choose bad over good every time.
With the character we are given, I think Kubrick's decision is a wise one. There are people in the world that will never change their behavior. Alex DeLarge is one of those people. Alex's behavior is sociopathic. He has no sympathy for what he does, but can lie his way out of things. He can con people. He isn't someone that if given the choice, would change his behavior. Kubrick knows there are people in the world like this and I assume that is why he made the decision to not include Burgess's more optimistic ending.
Alex and his droogs drink "milk plus," then go out and do what Alex loves so much. He gets to perform the old "in out, in out" and the "ultraviolence." They lie their way into a house and severely beat a married couple. It is an extremely brutal and disturbing scene, that is made all the more disturbing by Alex's singing of "Singin' In the Rain." He sings it as he beats the couple and also as he gets ready to rape the woman. The night after this attack, him and his friends again do the same thing at another house. This time Alex doesn't get away, and actually ends up killing the victim. He is sentenced to 14 years in prison for his crime. Once in prison, he volunteers for a new behavior changing experiment.
A Clockwork Orange isn't a film for the faint of heart. It's a movie filled with violence and disturbing imagery, including rapes. It is a portrait of deranged young man, that is played flawlessly by Malcolm McDowell. For some, it may be too much. It is a pretty misunderstood movie though, even by a lot of people who like it. It isn't so much about the man or the violence. Should a man be given the choice to choose between right and wrong? God thought so, so why should we think any differently? And can bad men ever change, or will they stay evil until they die?
The issue of whether Alex should have the choice between right and wrong is really well done. The argument is shown between the chaplain and the experiment leader. The chaplain argues that if Alex doesn't have a choice, but is forced to at a certain way, he isn't really a man. The counter argument isn't as though out. It's more along the line of, "Hey, who cares? It works."
Prison Chaplain: Goodness is something to be chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.
The concept of this film is interesting and it was certainly ahead of it's time and is still unlike anything I've seen. Malcolm McDowell is really good in this.