Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay by: Stanley Kubrick. Based on the novel by Anthony Burgess
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick McGee, Michael Bates, Warren Clark, John Clive
Run Time: 2 Hours and 16 Minutes
Availability: Not Streaming. Available for Digital Rental and Purchase from Amazon, iTunes, Google+ and Vudu. Out on DVD & Blu-Ray
Is someone born bad, or do outside influences make him/her that way? Can a person with violent tendencies be cured? These are some of the questions posed in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film “A Clockwork Orange.” His adaptation of the 1962 Anthony Burgess novel of the same name remains a visually-stunning, disturbing, yet highly subversive film. It is one of his most controversial, yet celebrated films, and for good reason.
Britain in the not too distant future has become a place where, according to an old drunk, “there’s no law and order anymore!” Groups of young thugs rule the street. Malcolm McDowell plays Alex, the leader of one of these street gangs, and they spend their time beating up drunks and other gangs, driving like maniacs down backroads, breaking into peoples houses and committing rape. After one particular home invasion goes awry, Alex is arrested and thrown into jail. He learns about an experimental new treatment being conducted, which promises an early release from prison as well as a cure of any violent tendencies. Wanting to get out of prison ASAP, Alex volunteers for the treatment. During a demonstration, Alex appears to be cured; but is he really?
I would say that “A Clockwork Orange” is just as relevant today as it was 1971. In fact, in a post-Columbine world, it could be argued the film is even more relevant. Whenever a school shooting or a massive act of violence happens, we always ask the same questions: Why did the perpetrators do it? Were they born that way or was it their environment that made them? Did the media influence them to do so? Was it lack of God?
At one point in the film Alex’s “post-corrective advisor” says to him: “We study the problem and we’ve been studying it for damn well near a century, yes, but we get no farther with our studies. You’ve got a good home here, good loving parents, you’ve got not too bad of a brain. Is it some devil that crawls inside you?” Why Alex does what he does, we have no idea, just like we can never truly know why any perpetrator of mass violence does what they do. All we can do is speculate and ask questions.
The film also poses an interesting philosophical discussion. Even if you could “cure” someone of being evil, would it be worth it? If a person does not make the change from within themselves, does it truly matter that they appears to be cured. There is a great scene where this question is perfectly expressed. After being “cured,” the prison chaplain says to the crowd that is there to witness the transformation: “Goodness is something to be chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.”
Upon initial release, “A Clockwork Orange” received an X-rating due to its violent content and many critics despised the film for its content, which as mentioned earlier includes beatings, home invasions and sexual assaults. While not as violent as many contemporary horror films, it still has the power to disturb. However, this violence is necessary. Simply being told that Alex does these horrible things would not have made the film as effective. By showing us how demented the character is it makes the narrative stronger and we realize just how sociopathic and demented he is.
In addition to the subversive nature of the story, there are plenty of great artistic flourishes that really make the film stand out. One of the most notable aspects is the dialogue. Alex and the gang speak in a unique form of slang. You will hear phrases such as “droogs” “rassoodocks” and “yarbles.” This form of speech is called “Nadsat” and it’s a carry-over from the Burgess novel. It is an amalgamation of Slavic, English and Cockney. It may take a while to get used to this but it really draws the viewer into the world.
Malcolm McDowell absolutely owns the film. His performance is one of a life time and he perfectly captures the cocky, sociopathic being that is Alex. The other actors in the film are fine but the characters aren’t really fleshed out and we only know them by their existence to Alex. Even his fellow gang members aren’t particularly memorable. McDowell essentially carries the whole movie by himself and he does so extremely well.
The unique art direction is stunning, containing great use of colors and interesting design layouts. Cinematography and editing are immaculate. Kubrick worked as a photographer before he began his career in film and his ability to frame a scene shows. Look at how he shoots the fight sequences for instance. There is a great use of classical music in the film, which is often used to offset the violent content. My favorite use of the classical music is a sex sequence set to the William Tell Overture. In addition the classical music there is a nice, electronic score by Walter (now Wendy) Carlos.
Since its release “A Clockwork Orange” has gone on to be something of a cult classic and deservedly so. It brings up a lot of interesting question in regards to what makes someone bad and how do we help them, but it does so very cool, unique and interesting style. Kubrick found that perfect blend of style and substance with this film. Highly recommend film from one of the great American filmmakers.
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