23. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Malcolm McDowell, James Marcus, Warren Clarke, Michael Tarn, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri, Carl Duering, Michael Bates, Anthony Sharp, David Prowse

Very rarely does a movie come around that manipulates me into rooting for the most despicable person in the entire story. “A Clockwork Orange” takes it one step further by playing around with the concept of free will. The protagonist, Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell), is a young hooligan guilty of assault, rape and murder. Should a man like this be conditioned to behave, or does he still deserve the right to choose whether to be good or evil? Is not genuine reform preferable to artificial reform? What if, as most things usually do, the answers to these questions hinge on political agendas? Everyday, politicians stand ready to pounce on any subject that fits the interests of their party. Their opposition is just as eager to find something to discredit them. Somewhere caught in the middle are the pawns of society, whose reputations change depending on whom you ask.

Beyond the political messages of “A Clockwork Orange,” there is also much to say about its technical aspects. As he does with all of his movies, Stanley Kubrick employs some truly magnificent camera techniques. There are many scenes where Kubrick will choose a wide shot, allowing us to be immersed in the atmosphere, able to examine the surroundings in detail as if standing alongside the actors. Consider the moment where Alex and his droogs attack a homeless old drunk. The shot is lit by moonlight in such a way as to display the actors’ shadows stretching far across the paved ground in front of them. Scenery tells us as much about the world Alex lives in as he does through his narration. Like himself, the places and people he encounters in his community are artistic and sexual in their nature. The woman whose death Alex is sent to prison for has among her possessions a rather phallic sculpture that is used as the murder weapon. For me, though, the best is the opening scene. You start with a close-up of Alex giving us what’s now referred to as the Kubrickian stare, and then we pan out to reveal the Korova Milk Bar, where Alex and his droogs hang out. In keeping with the artistic yet suggestive theme, the bar is filled with sculptures of the naked female form serving as tables and as drink machines (the milk pours out of the nipples, naturally).

Malcolm McDowell has gone on record as saying that the two directors he had the most pleasure in working with and learned the most from were Lindsay Anderson (“If….” and “O, Lucky Man!”) and Stanley Kubrick. Easily McDowell’s most iconic character is Alex DeLarge. He’s another one of those actors I caught on to much later in his career, so when I first saw “A Clockwork Orange,” it was quite a shock to the system to see him playing a much younger man. He does such an incredible job here that it’s one of those situations where there’s just no way anything else he ever did could possibly top it.

“A Clockwork Orange” was very much ahead of its time. Due to both the sexual and violent content, it created a great deal of controversy. The movie initially received an “X” rating, and although cuts were made to get an “R,” the version we watch on DVD today is the original uncut version. It was real-life violence which led to Kubrick asking Warner Brothers to remove the film from British distribution, and this remained in effect until after Kubrick’s passing in 1999.

Kubrick was very faithful to the novel, with the exception of the ending, but this is because Kubrick’s source was the US edition. Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel contains an uplifting ending in which Alex commits to becoming a model citizen. For me, it is less important for me to see him change his ways than it is to see that he has the ability to choose. It goes without saying that the actions of a man like Alex cannot go ignored or unpunished. As for the question of morality, I submit that such things are best left up to the individual, or else we risk losing our humanity. We risk all becoming clockwork oranges.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    This may be your best review yet. You were clearly very inspired and the best reviews, like this one, come to you naturally, seemingly effortlessly. I agree with your conclusions and opinions, and I’m proud to know you!

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