Clockwork Orange, A (1971)
Release Date: December 19th, 1971 MPAA Rating: X
Director: Stanley Kubrick Actors: Malcolm McDowell, Warren Clarke, Adrienne Corri, Patrick Magee, Miriam Karlin, David Prowse
t’s one of the most shocking, revolting, outrageous, and yet wildly imaginative movies ever made. Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” brings to life Anthony Burgess’ fevered novella accurately and in such a visually arresting manner that this 1971 contemporary classic was nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award despite abrasive subject matter and a controversial “X” rating upon its initial U.S. release. The film houses polemically thought-provoking commentary on the government’s dominating utilization of behavioral psychology and conditioning, as well as an examination of immorality as freedom of expression – with unforgettable science-fiction verve.
It is a nearly indefinable (yet scarily not-too-distant) futuristic Britain, where local gangs rule the streets while gulping down vellocet (milk spiked with drugs) and seeking out maniacal entertainment. Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) is the leader of his gang of teenage “droogs,” who wile away the days trouncing bums, fighting with other hoodlums, and breaking into houses to steal and rape – an extracurricular activity known as “ultraviolence.” After one such session of anarchical mayhem, Alex’s droogs betray him, resulting in his capture by the police. He’s given the option to undergo a series of exploratory tests and a psychological corrective experiment (dubbed the Ludovico Treatment) to try and cure his wicked ways. Once he’s turned loose, the successful brainwashing effectively prevents him from making choices and using free will. This newly feeble condition leaves him at the mercy of those he previously wronged during his days of criminal terrorizing.
A jarring amount of nudity, savagery, and disturbing situations (though nothing unconscionable by today’s standards) makes “A Clockwork Orange” a difficult yet still highly rewarding film to watch. Arguably necessary to paint a vibrant picture of topical relevance, the aggressions are provided in a paralleling context to the tortures Alex must himself suffer for his misdeeds. He knowledgeably chooses violence as a rebellious act against conformism, favoring its evils to that of cultural inertia. Almost operatic in nature, a musical accompaniment of blaring Beethoven phenomenally augments nearly every action, creating a lighthearted Elizabethan tone to daringly intensify the vulgarity on display. The soundtrack is perfectly matched to every scene with instantly recognizable arrangements.
Another impressively translated aspect is the invented language of “Nadsat” used throughout by all of the youths. Though an odd blend of Russian, English, idioms, and Cockney rhyming slang and variations on that argot, Alex narrates using this verbiage and, despite the numerous unfamiliar and foreign phrases, audiences can still satisfactorily understand it. The dialect is a brilliant mix of double-edged words and humorous adjectives that, though far more complex in the book, are precisely utilized here.
Like many productions ahead of their time, “A Clockwork Orange” possesses a series of uniquely memorable, awe-inspiringly artistic moments: Alex confined to a chair with metal prongs prying his eyes open; a dolly shot toward the group of droogs reposefully imbibing; a feisty woman being bludgeoned by a phallic sculpture; and a slow-motion sequence in which Alex kicks Georgie (James Marcus) into a canal and gracefully replaces Dim’s (Warren Clarke) outstretched hand with a glistening knife. Adding to these scenes are makeup and costuming that made quite a cinematic impression (macabrely immortalizing the bowler hat), with codpieces, bloody eyeballs adorning the sleeves of crisp white uniforms, and thick false lashes on the lower lid of one socket only. The entire look of the film is so outlandish that words hardly do it justice.
“A Clockwork Orange” is an incredible journey into the fiery genius of Stanley Kubrick, masterfully interpreting a disputable yet significant work often considered unfilmable. As a morality play involving the freedom of choice and the state’s influence (or overreaching grasp) on civilian lives, the themes have remained just as applicable today and the characters and attitudes no less pointed. It may be sci-fi on the outside, but at its heart it’s biting satire and riveting filmmaking exquisiteness.
– Mike Massie