Posted in 5 Stars, Film Reviews

A Clockwork Orange – Review

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Coming fresh off 2001: A Space Odyssey, he followed it up with his coldest film to date. Adapting Anthony Burgess’s equally controversial novel of the same name, Kubrick formed a product that is still just as controversial today as it was back in its day. In all its coldness, it still remains one of the boldest satirical efforts of all time, not more than Dr. Strangelove but still just as fascinating. It was the first Kubrick that convinced me of his remarkable talent as a film director (I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey at the age of ten and my opinion on it now is much drastically different), and while it may not exactly be my favourite from the wonderful filmmaker’s body of work, it certainly has left a grand mark upon my own perception of film.

Malcolm McDowell as the slowly reforming Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange.

The film introduces us to our protagonist, the charismatic young criminal Alex DeLarge, and as we slowly zoom away from his face staring straight, we get an idea of his menacing personality. Portrayed magnificently by the young Malcolm McDowell, he is our protagonist, yet he is the sort of character whose actions give off very many detestable qualities. Yet with the manner in which Stanley Kubrick is presenting a character like he to us, a fascinating character study is left behind, for the development of his own psychological state within each stage of the film (the first depicting him moving on with his actions, the second being his imprisonment, and the third being his forced reformation) is a trial that even gives a clear understanding to the emotions of a sociopathic figure who gets himself into what he terms “ultraviolence” for the sake of his own amusement. It’s as if Kubrick evokes a sense of guilt for bringing us closer to the mind of a sociopathic individual much like Alex, and at that, he succeeds brilliantly.

What Kubrick also gives an image of is the extremes on both ends of the spectrum which he is presenting in A Clockwork Orange, adding more to the brilliance of the satire which he is leaving behind. On one end, you have a gang of youths who represent the worst in humanity, for they go out and perform all these acts of violence for they find pleasure inside of it, and then we have the dominating government who wants a perfect society, they will resort to having the most volatile of delinquents remove their free will by having these devilish thoughts make them physically sick, thus removing any sense of humanity in them. It’s right here where Kubrick establishes that in spite of the many horrible things in which we see Alex DeLarge is committing, there still is a sense of humanity to him, and sympathize with him or not (it is especially hard to when you think about what he does on a regular basis), the immediate classification as “the scum of the earth” just because we only see the worst of what he’s done, cannot fully be justified unless we truly get closer to him. As he is being treated through the disturbing process that is the Ludovico technique, though, there’s an aching pain we can feel for his loss of freedom.

The tonal shifts from each stage of the film also allow a form of effectiveness to rise, for they also give off the uncomfortable vibe completely contrasting what had been offered prior. Prior, as we witness Alex going out together with his droogs as he performs acts of violence then and there, the sudden shift in tone from the moment in which Alex’s droogs betray him and leave him to be caught by the police eliminates a sense of dark humour which was being given off from how we witness Alex’s demented psychology, which ultimately hid away the tragedy of what happened to Alex’s victims for it was all placed within the realm of an overwhelming excitement. The sudden shifts in tone from one act to the other only bring us closer to Alex’s pain, which in turn makes A Clockwork Orange an effectively brilliant picture of the human mind, especially in a peculiar individual like Alex.

The world building for this dystopian world which Stanley Kubrick created is another aspect to which creates the uncomfortable vibe in which we are feeling as A Clockwork Orange is progressing. We know already that this is not a story set in the present, but given how excellently it builds up this world which Alex inhabits, it is a sense that a search for power has corrupted humanity. Whether it be from the delinquents that are Alex and his gang or the government, Kubrick is attacking the radical ends on both ends of the political spectrum. What he shows us right here is how it is not these psychotic acts that are destroying humanity (they already are a picture of how it is destroyed), but a desire to be more capable over others.

A Clockwork Orange is a film that would not be as effective as it is had it not been as cold as it stands. It is a frightening picture of where humanity is going as time passes by. It raises questions in regards to morality and the nature of mankind. When one has all of this power in his hands, what happens to their well-being? When one is stripped of all free will, are they still human after all? Kubrick’s masterpiece goes down to the bare bones of what superimposes human psychology. From the strange dialogue all the way down to the amazing set pieces and the powerful leading performance from Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange truly is a feat that cannot be repeated.


Watch the trailer right here.

All images via Warner Bros.


Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick, from the novel by Anthony Burgess
Produced by Stanley Kubrick
Starring Malcolm McDowell
Release Year: 1971
Running Time: 136 minutes

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Author:

Jaime Rebanal writes film reviews regularly for Letterboxd and is also the founder of Jaime Rebanal's Film Thoughts, a blog dedicated to discussing the good and bad for the many films he views. He has written consistently for at least a year and continues to allow his content to roam free across the web, and is always open to discuss with fellow film fans.

2 thoughts on “A Clockwork Orange – Review

  1. When Burgess wrote the book he saw an England that would be heavily influenced by the Soviet Bloc. T Nadsat(words of Slavic origin)is incorporated into the world of everyday English just as tFrench was with the Norman Conquest and before that Germanic Saxon. ‘Viddy’ for example comes from the Slavic(Czech) vidim-to see. What’s interesting as well is the arcane use of ‘thou’ and ‘thee’ which makes it seems a last ditch effort of the ‘old England’ to stem the tide of the ‘new England.” This same point I feel is shown with the old beggar singing an old diddy. Burgess understands that England has forever been changing. It has assimilated for its own survival the dominant continental European power.

    The difference this time is, as you said, the loss of individuality. It’s interesting that Kubrick stayed pretty close to the book which shows a great amount of respect for the author and its content,(he did not do this for King’s “The Shining”) There is a cottage industry in Alex’s world where; former hoodlums ply their violent tendencies on the side of the lawm as there are no jobs for these malcontents. Even in the 70’s there were generations of English families who knew of no other life than of being on the dole. And the counter balance to all of this is Alex’s love for the glorious 9th,it is beautiful and powerful and while the Ode is meant to evoke glory to God it becomes Alex’s paen to violence. It reminds me of Coppola’s use of Wagner’s, ‘Ride of The Valkryies” in “Apocalypse Now.”

    Kubrick is my favorite modern director, Burgess is one my favorite authors, and I think the book is a masterpiece, as is the film. I thank Kubrick for his wonderful treatment of Burgess’s novel. I think that truly understand the movie a reading, or several readings needs to be done. (I am not saying you haven’t done so,just offering my opinion.) Although the violence is tame compared to today’s standards, the message of the film with its loss of individuality of civilization being attacked by barbarians at the gate is more frightening now that when the film was first introduced.

    Thanks for your review, and for anytime spend in reading what turned out to be a longer response than intended.

    Like

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