A Clockwork Orange (1971)

“I was cured, all right.”

I was a little iffy on this one whilst watching it. I knew it was going to be violent and such but didn’t expect the main character to be that despicable. Well, he is. And I don’t think any other director besides Kubrick could have taken such a disturbing story and make it as thought provoking and beautiful as he did. Whereas 2001: A Space Odyssey makes you think in the way you  would casually strolling through a museum, A Clockwork Orange revolts you and sickens you even, but makes you want to watch it again to understand it further. 

The film is based off of the novel by the same name written by Anthony Burgess. It is set in futuristic Britain and follows a hoodlum, Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and his cronies who like to have a bit of “the old ultra-violence”. In other words, they like to beat people up, rape unsuspecting women, and pretty much destroy anything. On one of the escapades, Alex gets caught by the police and taken under arrest for murder. He is then sentenced to 14 years in prison. In a bargain to be released from his sentence early, Alex agrees to go through some sort of treatment which will “reform” him to never doing bad again. Alex, in a sense, becomes a clockwork orange (a clockwork man), for he can only do good and has no choice about it.

The first act of the movie is horrific. Not in a bad way, but in a way that makes you despise Alex. He seems to have no conscience about the terrible things he does, and may even regard them as normal….which is even more frightening. In one scene he saves a woman from being raped by setting his “droogs” on the attackers and in the very next he invades someone’e home, beats a man senseless, and rapes his wife, all while singing “Singin’ in the Rain”. It’s terrible to watch yet Kubrick does is masterfully. He shows us that Alex truly only cares about destroying and causing ruckus. He would have gone after those attackers even if they hadn’t been ready to rape a girl, just because they are a rival gang. And at the end of this successful night, Alex goes home and listens to the old Ludwig Van for the perfect ending to it. What makes him one of the most despicable villains in movie history is he has no regard for the things he does, they are just a part of his everyday life, they are a part of him even.

It takes a truly talented director (and actor) to have the audience go from hating a character to feeling sorry for him. Maybe not feeling sorry for him, but pitying him. Once Alex has the treatment done on him, ironically everyone doesn’t seem to care that he is “reformed” into a better person. His parents pretty much kick him out, one of his old victims comes across him and beats him up, and Alex even comes across a couple of his old droogs, who are now policeman, and they beat Alex as well, knowing he can’t defend himself. Even though Alex is a rapist and murderer, we can’t help but feel sad of the way society treats him…which is weird. Maybe because we know he is no longer a man that has the choice of doing good or doing wrong. He is programmed to never be violent again, and in a way this is worse than a man who chooses to be violent.

The thing about Kubrick’s films is they always have me thinking about them even hours after I finished watching it. This one was no exception as it gives you many things to think about. The violence in youth that can have control over society, the concept of the government being able to control the human mind, and the concept of free will in general. As I said before, I don’t think another director could have done the story justice as Kubrick did. Although very controversial, this film has become a classic and loved among Kubrick fans. However, I believe McDowell is just as much to be credited towards it’s success as Kubrick. He is Alex which is both scary and brilliant. We don’t just see the terrible things that he does, but we get to see him. Speaking in Nadsat (a made up language by the author of the book, it’s composed of mostly slang), and with a sort of enchanting accent, we get the feel that Alex is much like a child, which is an important fact to having us feel sorry for him later in the movie. McDowell’s performance was certainly a definitive example of great acting.

It’s easy for people to stray away from this movie with the well known amount of violence that there is in it, but I would urge you not to. With perfect directing and acting, although it may be hard to watch at first, will have your mind reeling afterward. Both disturbing and brilliant, Kubrick shows off his talent here of making his viewers actually think, which in my opinion is the best way of film making.

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One thought on “A Clockwork Orange (1971)

  1. Alex, indeed, was a child, a young teen. Burgess’ protagonists are each and all exceptional in being different from the reader’s initial assumptions of who they are, what they are. In one, we discover the main character is not an adult after all. In other, not a man, in another, of an uncertain or differentiating sexual persuasion. Reading the book (especially the last chapter, sadly now regularly excised from American editions but available on-line) explained and re-imagined a lot of what I had seen in the movie.

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