A Clockwork Orange (1971) is a film written & directed by Stanley Kubrick, which is adapted from the novel of the same name written by Anthony Burgess. The film stars Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Warren Clarke, James Marcus, Michael Tarn, and Michael Bates. This controversial film by Kubrick is set in ‘futuristic’ Britain where a squad of misfits, or ‘droogs,’ led by Alex DeLarge (McDowell), wreck havoc in the streets of London.
This is my fifth attempt, the 5th being successful, watch of Kubrick’s classic film, A Clockwork Orange. My prior reasons for this: the film would be nothing more than a waste of time because one, it is a dated film and, two I had no interest in watching another film by Kubrick due to my being “forced” to watch the terrible film Eyes Wide Shut one weekend with a few college friends last year. The result of it prevented me from ever wanting to watch another film that starred Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
Unfamiliar with Burgess’s novella A Clockwork Orange from which the film is adapted; and since the movie is currently streaming on Netflix, I decided that I might as well watch for the sake of saying that ‘I’ve seen the film.’ Let’s just say that it was the trippiest 2+ hours of my life and totally worth it. Here’s why.
The narrator of the film is Alex DeLarge, leader of the ‘droogs.’ The foursome consists of him, Dim (Clarke), Georgie (Marcus), and Pete (Tarn). See the four of them like to go about the town causing mischief after drinking “milk-plus,” a drug-laced glass of milk to get in the mood for some “ultra-violence.” After that, you see the four of them beating an old drunk down a dark alley and have the a rumble with a rival gang. However, the central focus of the film is the film’s anti-hero, Alex. Alex lives in an average home with parents who look and act as if they are terrified of him. Other than his parents, he is visited by a probation officer who grabs his “crotch” and tells him in so many words that he had better behave. He later involves himself in a threesome, which is shown in a vivid hyper-speed manner. Here, I will now attempt to condense a film, that probably had millions of views, and thousands of reviews written:
Alex and the droogs break-in to the home of a writer (Patrick Magee) and his wife, who he rapes to the tune Singing In The Rain; beating and crippling the writer; has to reassert himself as leader of the “droogs” by attacking and shoving them in a nearby lake; murders a “cat lady” (Miriam Karlin) and kills her with a penis sculpture; is sent to prison for fourteen years for murder where he spends the first 2-years avoiding prison rape until he is enlisted in a rehabilitating program that would potentially grant his early release. The “plan” involved strapping him to a chair, pinning his eyes open to watch violent films to the tune of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, which causes him feel sick anytime an intense thought comes to his head. Eventually, he is ‘reformed’ and released back into society.
Then, he returns home to find that his parents rented out his room, winds up being beaten by his former droog buddies–who are now cops, and find himself back in the home of the crippled writer, and his now deceased wife lives. The writer (Patrick Magee), who didn’t recognize Alex straight away–not until he was in a bath and began ‘humming’ Singing In The Rain the same song he sang while raping his wife. Realizing this, Alex is then drugged and tortured via Beethoven’s 9th Ode to Joy symphony–which drives him insane and he attempts suicide by jumping from a window. He wakes up in a hospital bed, visited by the Minister of the Interior, who apologizes to Alex for their testing methods, even played Beethoven, got in a little bit of press to show that all is forgiven. Instead of becoming ill at the sound of his favorite composer, Alex envisions having a bit of the “in out, in out” with a woman and behind him, a cheering crowd.
A Clockwork Orange was a controversial film of its era–which isn’t much different from what many of us may watch today, at any given time in the movies. The film naturally draws viewers in luridly, challenging personal moral standards–or inciting deeply held wants and desires. Not emphasizing that some of the more ‘shocking’ scenes (i.e., rape, murder) were favorable to watch–only that many who may look at the film for the first time, may not understand what the movies’ intention to depict overall–morality being presented in a straight-forward manner. Confusing? Perhaps. The film is certainly an eye opener, and it encompasses the comedic and dramatic intentions of the movie, by listening to the narrator. It’s like getting into his head as a method for viewers to rationalize his behavior being depicted onscreen. Alex isn’t just some miscreant; he holds a belief in that everyone should be committed to what they believe. In this film, he has a purpose regardless of all his ill motivators and actions; like deciding to partake in the psychological experiment. He believed what the doctors were doing had a purpose–ridding him of boredom. Doesn’t have to be a good enough reason, but reason enough for him.
Nadsat, the language spoken in the film, Burgess, a linguist, invented the ‘slang’ originally featured in his book. The word seems foreign to hear initially–a blend of Russian and Cockney English, and perhaps was inspired by the superpowers of the time. The theme for a film is superbly evident: freedom of expression and freedom of choice. When Alex ‘enrolled’ in psychological conditioning–the result of the conditioning barred him of his human right of choice. Also, the film depicted the contradictory politics of Science and the intentions of the Church via the perception of morality. What was “good” for Alex was the debauchery he so loved, and when the Preacher scorned the Scientists for robbing him of his free will, thereby abandoned the Church’s fundamental obligation or divinity–even though Alex chose to live his life as a morally disruptive sinner.
A Clockwork Orange could be interpreted in many ways–as all viewpoints are subjective. There isn’t a right or wrong way to translate the film’s meaning. What is certain–the film seals itself as a cult classic featuring the cinematic brilliance of John Alcott, under the direction of Kubrick. Together, they brought to ‘life’ the imagery of the book, leaving viewers in a constant displacement of moral realism’s, and quite possibly, encourage some form of self-governance. Depending on what’s subjective to the viewer.