A Clockwork Orange

Dir/Wri: Stanley Kubrick. 1971. Starring: M. McDowell, P. Magee, M. Bates, A. Morris, M. Gover. English. Science-Fiction.
A Clockwork Orange

A classic tale of boy loves violence, loses violence, and reunites with violence. Alex de Large (Malcolm McDowell) is a romantic hero for a decidedly unromantic age, represented here by a Moddish parallel universe. When all things, including humans, lose their intrinsic qualities, becoming place holders in the stimulus-response equations of a totally administered world, even the most barbarous of acts, if freely chosen, can take on a heroic hue. Not exactly a comforting thought, that one. Thus, Kubrick enhances audience identification with Alex’s creative acts of resistance via a first-person voice over, visualizing his sadistic reveries (as in a masturbatory sequence involving Beethoven’s 9th), and shooting his violent deeds through an extreme wide angle lens which tends to slightly distort everything around our humble narrator.

Alex’s fun comes to an end when he’s betrayed by his droogs after having killed a lady. After 2 years in prison, Alex charms his way into an experimental procedure at the Ludovico lab, which via behavior modification instills in him an aversion to sex and violence, as well as his beloved 9th, which happened to be the background music to one of the videos he was forced to watch. He can look, but he can no longer touch, his feelings now associated with a crippling nausea. Having been turned into a normal(-ized) citizen, Alex is released back into society. The violence he perpetrated in the first act is inflicted back on him by his former victims to which he can only respond with learned helplessness. Through the repercussions of the last creative act left to him, an attempt at suicide, the world is restored of violent personal meaning to the familiar tune of Ludwig van.

The film caused many heated and contradictory reactions upon its release (as is well covered in the excellent documentary that comes with the DVD). Kubrick doesn’t justify Alex’s behavior by having us closely identify with him, as some critics have claimed. That explanation is offered in the film by the writer Mr. Alexander (Patrick McGee), who in the third act, wants to use Alex to bring down the current dictatorial government. Alexander warms up to Alex as a poor lad not responsible for what he’s done, because of his traumatic environment; that is, until Alexander realizes who the masked Gene Kelly was doing the forced in-out in-out on his wife. No longer seeing him as a product, Alexander holds Alex accountable for what he is, an active agent. The film isn’t, therefore, a desensitizing excuse for violence based on a cynical view of society (although Kubrick was certainly a cynic). The violence demonstrates to the audience, like it does for Mr. Alexander, the need for free will in determining responsibility. Nor is the film a right-wing fantasy as other critics have maintained. When the government fails to contain the challenge Alex’s willfulness has proven to be to the ruling management theory, it does what managers do best, and makes a deal with him to maintain a semblance of control. If anything, the film is a civil libertarian parable warning of the dangers of our tendency towards bureaucracy, where treating every aspect of culture ( from people to morality to art) as mere means will ultimately serve to justify any choice, belief or action so long as it perpetuates the system itself.


A Clockwork Orange was nominated for 4 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Posted by:
Charles Reece
Jan 7, 2008 2:59pm
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