Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)

   One big  psychedelic trip into the dystopian world of Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell), a teenager hellbent on a crime spree with his fellow gang members. They have no limits; honey badger just takes and rapes what it wants. However, there are severe consequences when a final criminal act that ends in murder lands Alex in prison. After serving two years out of his fourteen year sentence, Alex realizes that there is a way that can guarantee his release in no more than two weeks. The Ludovico technique is a radical new psychological experiment that promises to reform prisoners through various techniques (see picture above) and have them become harmless citizens of society. Alex becomes the first prisoner to successfully undergo the treatment, creating a mass media frenzy.Yet, with Alex now at the mercy of the society he once savaged, revenge appears to be the first welcome salute just as two differing political parties try to use him for their own devious purposes.

    About time I watched the film that's pretty much the basis for my rating system. I didn't know what I was in for with this film, but by God was it glorious. I watched it once yesterday and again today and am probably going to watch it again tomorrow. Forget the plot and its powerful themes for a second; it's the film's style that truly attracts me. The fashion in the film is amazing! I'm not the most fashionable guy (I've been known to rock a turtleneck with a sweater vest in my days) but I wish fashion like this could exist nowadays. It's perfectly eclectic. Sometimes, it matches the absurdity and excess of the environment the characters are in. Other times, it stands out in stark contrast to the bleak and desolate surroundings. Accompanying the film is the ever-faithful soundtrack featuring only classical music perfectly synchronized with scenes filled with absolute beauty and terror. This double dichotomy creates a sense of disorientation like some drug-filled nightmare where evil lurks and refuses to reveal itself, further increasing the suspense. There's also a scene in the film -- one of many infamous ones -- where Alex and his gang brutalize a couple in their own home while Alex sings the "I'm Singin' In The Rain" tune. This film is schizophrenic heaven.

  The acting style just adds to the film's peculiarity. Over acting at its best. You know how each character feels because not a moment goes by without them going into hysterics or exaggerations to showcase their inner turmoil. This over acting is additionally helped by the slang used in the film. The language is a mixture of several others (Russian, Slavic, English and Cockney). To be honest, some words flew right over my head. Years ago I tried to read the novel the film is based on but quit after the first chapter due to the oft-impenetrable dialogue. In the film such use of language helps. It helps drive the actors' performances into sheer insanity territory. Usually, I find overacting laughable and distasteful. In A Clockwork Orange, it is laughable, but then you question yourself for laughing when an especially gruesome scene starts playing out. Thus, the acting is not really distasteful so much as the scenes are and perhaps your own response to said scenes.This is just another of Kubrick's manipulation attempts to really centralize McDowell's character and make him -- gasp! -- relatable. He's a criminal and is repulsed by reformation. He's a fake and is just trying to use the government's misjudgment to his own advantage. Still, when the revenge spree against him starts, I actually found myself sympathizing with the poor bastard. Of course, I'm sure there are those that won't be affected by this approach. At the very least, I'd hope that if you did not pity the character, the events happening to him could open your eyes to the bigger issues at hand.

   I could continue talking about the film's themes --especially that of free will-- but I find no need to. Everybody will take what they will away from the film. Kubrick does not condemn either camps' ideologies or views. He does condemn the approaches the camps undertake to use Alex as a pawn in their political games. The ending basically crystallizes his take on it. Has Alex changed at all? Kubrick sides more with the camp that promotes free will, but he does let the other side at least voice their arguments. He does show that both camps have their pros and cons. In the end,despite the film containing a lot of substance --more than my mind can presently grasp or choose a side on-- it is the film's style that appeals to me more. The slow-motion sequences, the music, the brutality, the visuals, the excess. It's hard to imagine that this film came out less than a decade after Marilyn Monroe's death (which I use as a symbol for the death of Old Hollywood proper). It seems like A Clockwork Orange is the result of decades worth of an era's repression of several societal crises that could not find the light of day during the studio system.  They could not find a voice. They boiled under the surface until finally reaching their zenith and exploding onto the screen with this movie. They singe and sing through the very celluloid that they occupy to finally reach their destination: our minds. Akin to Moses and his 40-year trek through the desert, for the Hays Code did formally take root in the early 30s. Unlike Moses however, these commentaries about human nature do not die. They continue to live and be relevant even today; even more so in our modern-day society with its progressive technology that brings us ever closer to inhabit a world similar to Alex's. A Clockwork Orange is a masterpiece, weaved from the worst and best that cinema has given, the worst and the best that the world has to offer. As I age, I'm sure I will find more to discover from the film. Whether this will diminish the film's value in my eyes remains to be seen. For now, A Clockwork Orange is one of cinema's greatest treasures, for me still being unearthed.

Ludovico Rating


  1. He IS relatable, isn't he? This is probably one of the things that makes this movie stand out so much. You actually relate to a... well, pervert? psychopath? A weirdo at any rate.
    I really need to rewatch this one, it's one of my favorite Kubrick movies by far. But I guess you need to be in the right mood, otherwise it can be a depressing experience.

    1. Scary, scary thought. Kubrick used the Ludovico technique on us to brainwash us! You just can't look way, can you?
      Funny thing is a lot of people say it's depressing, yet I actually had fun with it. Then again, it's more of a reflection on me and how sick I may be...

  2. Great review here, my friend. Your passion for Kubrick's masterpiece really bleeds through, and I love that.

    This is one of my all time favorite films. All of its themes still resonate today, which is kind of terrifying.

  3. It's already my favorite Kubrick!