Millenium Movie: A Clockwork Orange (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1971)

Each weekend I will be bringing you my considered opinion on important films. This weekend’s Millenium Movie – a true cult classic, that is impossible to forget. 

I first saw this incredible film at Exeter Picturehouse in 2001, after it was finally considered fit for public consumption after a 25 year ban. Having read Antony Burgess’s original novel the previous year, I was delighted to see that Kubrick kept closely to the text, and had brought this horrific, disturbing, warning parable to life. In the current social climate, with paranoia about gangs, crime and state interference at an all time high, I can’t help but wonder if the reason it shocked people’s sensibilities was because far from being fantasy, too much of this film seems all too real. There are so many things that make this film mesmerising, that if I included them all I’d be here all night, but here are a few key points.

Essentially, the film is split into two halves, to show the behaviour Alex embarks on and the consequences it accrues.The opening scenes are arresting – solid frames of red and blue, with a harsh synthesiser soundtrack. It then opens to a lingering shot of the face of Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) barely suppressing a smirk. It then opens to encompass his three “droogs”, as Alex’s narration intones their intentions to leave the milk bar for a “bit of the old ultra-violence”. It begins with their violently beating a drunken tramp, assiting a rival gang in the rape of a young girl, then moving on to find a comfortable, bohemian home. The couple inside are gagged, then the husband is beaten and forced to watch the rape of his wife. All the time, Alex sings “Singing In The Rain”, leering over the line “I’m in the mood for love”, before exposing his genitalia. The camera does exactly what the audience does as the rape is about to be committed – it swings away. The real horror is left entirely to the audience’s imagination. All of this occurs in the first 16 minutes. The audience is bludgeoned with this, showing the escalation of violence and the dismissive contempt it incurs. The “droogs” reign of terror comes to an end one night, when a break-in at a health farm leads to unintended murder.

The second half of the film concentrates on Alex’s time in prison, in which he is volunteers for a new experiment in stopping violent behaviour – the imposing of pain in order to curb vicious tendencies. He informs the Chaplain that he doesn’t care about the dangers, he just “wants to be good.” What I loved about Burgess’ original novel is the theological/philosophical discussion about free will between Alex and the Chaplain, and though it is condensed in the film, the basic points are retained, with the Chaplain pointing out that choice is the ultimate freedom in regard to goodness. If a “man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.” Being good because otherwise it will hurt you is not the same as deliberately deciding not to misbehave out of respect for others. By being bombarded with continual scenes of rape and violence on a screen, Alex begins to suffer pain and nausea. He is particularly horrified when he discovers his beloved Beethoven is the soundtrack for the films they are showing him.

After discovering that pain and anguish occurs in reaction to all violence he wishes to commit, he is considered “cured” by the State. But as the Chaplain points out, it is a hollow victory. He is not a good man – only one who is in fear for his own well-being. Its the clash of state-sanctioned interference against human will. As the Prison Officer starkly informs the Chaplain, they are not concerned with ethics. All they care about “is cutting down crime.” Which leads in itself to disastrous consequences.

The film comes full circle, with Alex arriving back at the house he terrorised as the arrogant, confident leader of a gang. He returns a bloodied, frightened wreck.

The set designs for this are a twisted, futuristic nightmare. Decaying cityblocks are given a new sheen. Kubrick creates a world of glowing colour, in which the novel is brought vividly to life. From the silver lined living room of the DeLarge’s flat, to the electronic hum of the music store, to the glistening sterile white walls of the prison, every shot pushes the plot forward. There is tremendous use of phallic symbols, from a young girl sucking on a lolly in the music store to the hideous mask Alex wears in committing ultra-violence.

The dialogue fully utilises Burgess’ original text, incorporating the language that Alex and his droogs speak. The score encompasses the starkness of electronics to the thunderous crescendo of classical.

There have been complaints about the mysogyny of this film, from the female statues and furniture of the milk bar, to the girls Alex casually picks up for sex, to the rape scenes. Frankly, I feel this film is contemptuous of humanity in general. There is not a single sympathetic character in this film. Its a world of paranoia, suspicion, and control.

40  years ago, this film was considered shocking. It still is, mainly in the concepts it raises and how they can be dealt with. The questions of state control versus free will are more relevant than ever. This film does not need to be remade. Its timeless in its themes and always disturbing in its depictions.

See it.

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