Monday, May 2, 2011

#269. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Directed By: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Warren Clarke

Tag line: "Being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven"

Trivia:  Alex's pet snake, Basil, was added to the script after director Stanley Kubrick discovered star Malcolm McDowell had a fear of reptiles

Our introduction to the world of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is a singularly unsettling one. We meet Alex (Malcolm McDowell), the leader of a violent gang of thugs, as he sits relaxing in the fetishistic Korova Milkbar, preparing himself for a night of "Ultra-Violence". 

The camera slowly tracks backwards, yet even as it pulls further away, Alex remains perfectly still, a devilish grin affixed to his face, staring at us with the kind of gaze that sends chills running down your spine.

As we will soon learn, Alex is a punk, a hoodlum who gets a charge out of causing chaos, and would tear the entire world out from under himself if he thought doing so would bring that same smile to his face.

Set in the near future, A Clockwork Orange follows Alex and his gang (which he refers to as his “droogs”) as they spend their evenings terrorizing innocent people, all for a good laugh. On one particularly eventful outing, Alex savagely beats an old beggar (Paul Farrell), then invades the home of a noted writer (Patrick Magee) and forces him to watch as he rapes the man's wife (Adrienne Corri). 

Despite the best efforts of his guidance counselor (Aubrey Morris), Alex remains incorrigible, so when the law finally catches up with him, he’s sentenced to hard time.

While in prison, Alex learns of a new, experimental treatment, one that, if successful, would completely remove his violent tendencies. With the promise of an immediate parole, Alex volunteers for the treatment, which, after several intense sessions, is declared a success. 

Once he's back on the streets, Alex finds himself growing physically ill at even the slightest hint of aggressive behavior, which proves a real bother when he meets up with the victims of his past "transgressions"!

At the heart of A Clockwork Orange is the issue of free will and the problems that arise when society interferes - for the "greater good" of the whole - with an individual’s autonomy. Of course, as one might expect from director Stanley Kubrick, the moral dilemma at play in A Clockwork Orange is far from cut and dry. After all, Alex is a scoundrel, a violent brute who proves time and again that he should not be allowed to roam the streets, let alone exercise free will of any kind. At one point, even his gang tires of his maniacal ways, and attempts to wrestle control away from him. Alex’s response to this mutinous turn of events is much the same as all of his responses; he hits back with violence, and even goes so far as to slash open the hand of Dim (Warren Clarke), a follower whose slow wits make him an easy target.

Yet A Clockwork Orange takes the ultimate position that Alex is best equipped to be the monster that nature intended him to be. Strip away the beast and you have an empty shell, a man lacking both spirit and purpose. By making his lead character so loathsome, Kubrick has taken the question of free will to its furthest extreme. We’re left wondering if freedom is an absolute, or are there times when society has the right - even the duty - to alter someone's personality for the good of the many. One course of events doesn't really work out well for Alex, but the alternative doesn’t work at all for the rest of us.

A deeply satiric film featuring a tremendous performance by Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange leaves us, in the final scheme of things, with plenty to think about.


Chris said...

I plan to review this film later in 2011

certainly raises some interesting questions, if you can no longer choose between good and evil in your life, are you still a human?

Also highly controversial, I think Kubrick maybe went too far with the violence, which is almost balletic, no wonder it was banned for some years! A tricky film to interpret and understand. As far as i remember, the reckless violence at the beginning is not explained, what is the cause do you think? boredom?

DVD Infatuation said...

It certainly was controversial...I think, despite it's London setting, the film was banned in England for a number of years!

One thing to remember: A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is, among other things, a satire. I always felt the violence, which is definitely overstated early on, was done so to further complicate the "free will vs. society" conflict presented later in the film. Most would agree that one of man's basic rights is free will, yet how could you possibly argue in favor of freedom for a monster such as Alex? Were he any less violent, less out-of-control, there would be no moral dilemma at all. By making him so terrible, the film has given us the most extreme case it could possibly build, then asks us to determine whether he deserves to live as a human being, or if the state did the right thing by taking away, to a certain extent anyway, his freedom.

As for why Alex did the things he did, I can't help but think of what Michael Caine said to Christian Bale in THE DARK KNIGHT: "Some men just want to watch the world burn".

When you do write up your piece on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, please be sure to post a link; I'd love to read it. Thanks, and have a good one.

Chris said...

Thanks a lot for your thoughtful feedback, I even used some of your comments in my own review, I just posted :

DVD Infatuation said...

@moviesandsongs365: I just read your piece on the film. Very well-done! I left you a comment there as well.

Thanks for sharing it, and have a great day!

Anonymous said...

The film wasn't banned from England -Kubrik just didn't want to show it there because his family lived there, and received death threats.

DVD Infatuation said...

@Anonymous: Thanks for the comment, and you're correct. Kubrick withdrew the film for the protection of his family. I now remember hearing about that in one of the DVD's featurettes, but had forgotten it when posting my comment.

Thanks for setting the record straight.

Unknown said...

I'm going down the list of "most disturbing" films to watch. This is on my agenda tonight as soon as my daughter falls asleep in 5...4...3...2...1. I'm excited for the movie.

Unknown said...

The problem with Kubricks film is that when adapting the film Kubrick only had the US version of the novel and so conveys a totally different ending to the one originally penned by Anthony Burgess the author. This lead to a huge fall out between Kubrick and Burgess as Burgess felt he had cut the final chapter and Alex trying to change his ways as he grows. Hes just 15 when the story starts in the book and becomes bored with violence and finds he is out of fashion and outdated with his clothes and uncool Nadsat language.
The scene with the writer wife being raped was semi autobiographical. When Burgess was serving overseas during WW2 his wife was gang raped by a group of GIs in London, after which she suffered a breakdown from which she never really recovered.
She died shortly after he returned and he was left to raise his (4 if I recall correctly)children. he was diagnosed with a brain tumor + given less tan a year to live. He feared his children would be destitute so he started to write so at least he might make enough to provide for them until they finished school after his death. He chose to examine the mindset of those who had caused his wife to die and wrote 'A Clockwork Orange' a phrase which is a shortening of the traditional 'Queer as a clockwork orange' to describe someone who was strange, weird, or bizarre (but not gay). He had no idea it was to be such a huge success and he also managed to live another two decades which brings us back to the movie.
The movie had many problems in the UK as it was released there was already a rise in rioting against the government, strikes and a rise in the british national party (Nazis) and an increase in racial violence. This reached a peak when two teenagers accused of rape said they had seen the movie and it made them do it in their defence statement. The press went wild with many sensational stories linking the film to the wave of violence and unrest and as a result Kubrick received several threats against himself and his family and immediately pulled the film from the UK. This self imposed ban on the movie in the UK lasted until his death.
Coincidentally did you notice 'Julian' the writers bodyguard and nurse is played by David Prowse who later went on to play Darth Vader and was 1st choice to play superman instead of Christopher Reeve. During his early career he also featured in 'The Benny Hill show' (Wishing well), Up Pompeii (Nude Gladiator in steam room) and was the 'Green Cross Code man' in the UK road safety campaign.
Hope this was helpful ;)