A Clockwork Orange - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

A Clockwork Orange Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ January 4, 2015
Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Anthony Burgess' novella lives up to the term "controversial". Violent, explicit & troubling to say the least. It's ruthless tone and insightful portrayal of its dystopian-landscape & devious antagonist makes A Clockwork Orange cult-like and iconic. 4.5/5
Daniel Mumby
Super Reviewer
March 19, 2012
Picking Stanley Kubrick's greatest film is like trying to choose between a series of perfectly formed diamonds. Every time you revisit one of his films, in whatever order or context, you gravitate towards that offering as his masterpiece - only to swiftly change your mind having seen the next one. Such is the master's skill in almost every genre that it is hard to pick one which either epitomises said skill or accurately represents his oeuvre.

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.
Super Reviewer
September 15, 2011
Classic, I know....but I was skeptical going into this especially after hearing how it was a great movie while being different and "weird" at the same time. I can see why it has a cult following and why it is widely considered one of the greatest films of all time. For me, the film was strange and disturbing at points, but overall the message and themes were amazing. Not a film that has shot up into my favorites, but definitely a film that I have alot of respect for now.
Super Reviewer
February 28, 2013
A Clockwork Orange is a strange and disturbing film, but its performances and themes make it a very memorable and cerebral movie.
Super Reviewer
½ October 23, 2012
Often brutal and inhuman, A Clockwork Orange is a powerful entry in the dystopian film genre. Its use of humor is both disturbing yet enticing, and as it may be too much for a normal person to all in all stomach at first, its message nonetheless is too unforgettable for anyone to set aside.
Super Reviewer
October 6, 2012
'A Clockwork Orange'. Dystopia done right through the unapologetic, searing vision of Stanley Kubrick and Malcolm McDowell's eccentric, ultra-violent, in and out, Beethoven-loving portrayal of Alex.

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.
Super Reviewer
August 26, 2012
As brilliant and as artistic as a film can get. It is a marvelous experience that is thrilling to watch. From the eye candy the modern art direction provides to the haunting performance of McDowell, Clockwork Orange is a masterpiece through and through with no flaws.
Super Reviewer
August 12, 2012
Few films are as sensational or infamous as A Clockwork Orange. It's impossible to sit through this film and not have a reaction -- whether it be shock, disgust or amazement. The savage tale of a brutal young droog and his subsequent "reformation" by the government is as shocking and thought-provoking as ever.

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?
Super Reviewer
June 10, 2007
A sociopathic young street thug is subjected to behaviour modification therapy after a series of brutal crimes to find himself at the tender mercies of those he wronged in his previous life. A Clockwork Orange is a bleak and affecting study of violence and it's consequences that struck too powerful a chord with a certain demographic; after the film spawned several copycat cases of real-life "ultra-violence", Kubrick himself censored it for 25 years. This gave the film a kind of underground chic and a certain mysticism that extends beyond the quality of the actual film itself which made it acquire a cult following of those who would proclaim it a masterpiece. It does have moments of power and certainly makes an impact, but I can't help feeling that it is based more on lurid exploitation than any kind of moral or political message making. The morality of the tale is very blurred indeed; is Alex meant to be a victim of state-sanctioned "rehabilitation" or the product of exactly the kind of media exploitation of sex and violence we see here? It seemed more like right wing fear-mongering thinly veiled by faux irony to me. The fact is, I found it rather misogynistic in its use of sexual imagery and violence and there are no sympathetic characters whatsoever, which is all mired in tasteless and horribly dated production design and ugly, sterile photography. It has its moments but I hardly found it to be the film of import its reputation suggested.
Super Reviewer
March 25, 2012
A question of morality, will and existence, there a few sights that truly disturb your innards, and this one does it while taking you to places in your mind that you never thought existed at all, in a suspenseful gradual manner; all this from the great power of the film.
Directors Cat
Super Reviewer
March 8, 2012
Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange is one of the most ultimate mind f*cks in the history of World cinema. At times it is so political that I started to wonder whether it actually exists for anything more than that. This very film is the proof that Kubrick's direction is mesmerising and absolutely masterful. It's very very sadistic with it's humour and that ultimately works to drag down the fact it takes itself too seriously. It's aim is to be disturbing and it without any doubts is very much that. The script, acting and as an adaption is tremendously remarkable. It's a very entertaining story of karma, control and human nature but I cant help but wonder whether or not it wanted to do anything else and could have broadened itself further too be a film with more than just a political subtext as it's primary purpose. But everything it does, it does idealistictly well.
Super Reviewer
June 24, 2007
An intensely disturbing, phenomenally unique social satire of a dystopian society in which a young man (Malcolm McDowell) and his three best friends wreak havoc amongst a nihilistic society desperate for authority. I saw this film when I was a sophomore in high school, and I did not appreciate it as much the first time around. Now, seeing it again as a senior in college, I believe it to be an utter masterpiece. Originally I missed a lot of the subversive darkly comical elements it possesses, but seeing it once again, the sheer balls and audacity director Stanley Kubrick displays here is simply incredible. McDowell's creepy, sadistic performance is the stuff of legends, and Kubrick's use of classical music to a demonizing effect is unlike anything done in cinema before. It is definitely a tough view, the rape scenes that hit within the first 20 minutes are particularly frightening, but there is a point to the madness. Definitely controversial, but without question educational and thought-provoking. Sex and violence have their largely negative parts, but to strip all elements away from these particular things is emotionally devastating. One of many Kubrick masterpieces.
Super Reviewer
January 13, 2011
Alex: What we were after now was the old surprise visit. That was a real kick and good for laughs and lashings of the old ultraviolent. 

"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. 
Super Reviewer
September 25, 2010
Honestly, I must first begin by saying that this film begins with a very hard to watch first half hour; However, after he is caught and thrown in prison, the film switches gears and seems to become a little more natural and flowing. The conversion from helplessly awful to a mental stabilization, has never been more effective. From a hard to watch premise, an amazing script, jaw-dropping lead performances, and an outcome that will have you think twice for believing this film to be any less than perfect. This is one of the finest pieces of film that I have ever laid eyes on. This picture is pure horrific genius!
Super Reviewer
September 8, 2010
Another one of Kubrick's films that I liked, but at the same time I didn't. There certainly are many classic elements in this film that are well worth while, but I was still left with that same sense that I felt upon watching other Kubrick classics (2001 and The Shining)...why am I supposed to care? I understand what the film is about, but I don't get the point of the film. After I watched this film the only thing I could think was... "okay."

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.
Joel K.
Super Reviewer
October 27, 2011
Stanley Kubrick's controversial adaptation of Anthony Burgess 1962 novel of the same name, A Clockwork Orange is a visually stunning, brilliantly acted, and refreshingly disturbing piece of cinema, with a great soundtrack to boot. It follows the exploits of the teenage thug Alex DeLarge, who enjoys rape, ultra-violence, and Beethoven. But he's soon enough sent to prison, and there he applies for a special new treatment which conditions people against violence. Banned (withdrawn?) by its director on its UK release, and lambasted by the British press for apparently inspiring copycat crimes, A Clockwork Orange has a bad name that it doesn't deserve. It's an intelligent, satirical, and sublime film.
Super Reviewer
½ October 27, 2011
Thought provoking and highly disturbing, Kubrick turns Burgess' novel into a extremely dark, futuristic nightmare.
Super Reviewer
September 10, 2011
A Clockwork Orange launches the iconic eyeliner and the war of science against the violent, criminal mind from an Anthony Burgess novel of the same name. Sinisterly brilliant, comical, satirical, and metaphorical. Dark, lingering musical score. An artistic cult classic. Most bold and daring.
Super Reviewer
August 10, 2011
A Clockwork Orange is not only Kubricks greatest masterpiece, it is one of the greatest films in the history of movie making. Alex (Malcolm Mcdowell) is a charismatic, sociopathic, teenager who spends his time with his "droogies" wreaking havoc like beating and raping. When murdering a woman and being betrayed by his droogies, Alex is taken to prison. After two years Alex signs up for a treatment to get him out of jail early, but what this will do to him will change who he is completely, a law abiding citizen. The plot of A Clockwork Orange is not a screenplay, it is a poem of genius with many themes and great meanings and a story that will shake the very fabric of our minds, and even after weeks the twistedness still is making my brain spin. Malcolm Mcdowell plays my second most favorite role of all time (Anthony Hopkins Hannibal Lector being the first), he is so mezmorizing, so memorable, and so evil it is hard to believe an actor can be this perfect, what a perfect role. The direction of the film is amazing, I love almost all of Kubricks work but this is by far his best in my opinion, it truly has so many meanings and truths about evil. The score of the film is amazing, it took some of the greatest composed scores ever and put it into one masterpiece. A Clockwork Orange should be seen by all once in their life, but not kids, if you've seen the film you know what im talking about, haha.
Super Reviewer
August 29, 2011
I've always been intrigued with the concept of this movie, the dehumanizing of a sociopath. Through it all, I never felt Alex got all that he deserved. This movie was directed perfectly by Stanley Kubrick, and Malcolm McDowell's performance is top notch. That said, as classic as this movie is, it's never been one of my favorites. I've always found the dialogue and scenery to be too over-the-top, and at times, just irritating. Still, the positives outweigh the bad.
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