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A Clockwork Orange - (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)

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message 1: by Phillip (last edited Dec 29, 2008 08:10PM) (new)

Phillip A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick, 1971)

This film seems to fit the sci-fi genre due to its futuristic vision of society and the element of "experimentation" with crime-prevention. I'm sure everyone on the list has seen it, so I'm aware that probably anything I might say here is passe and old news.

Nonetheless, I don't think we've discussed it, and it seems like a film worth ranting on. The first time I viddied this pic I was shocked by pretty much everything that went down on screen. I was a mere 19 year-old at the time and living in Humboldt County, not much gang-related activity going on there in those days. I walked out of the theater asking myself if films needed to be that violent, and I had no idea what point the film maker or the writer wanted to make.

30 years have passed (I first saw the movie in 1978), and the film not only reads prophetic, but the humor splashes on the screen in every scene. I never saw the humor when I was younger, it's taken quite a few viewings to find it. Now I see how scenes like the one where Alex's gang confronts Billy Boy's gang in the midst of raping a young woman in balletic movements to Rossini's "La Gazza Nadra" is damn funny.

The narrative that Kurbrick and Burgess are laying out for us seems to read like this:

England has become an empty void of a place. The streets are emtpy, and when they are not empty, they are meagrely populated with homeless aging drunkards and nasty boys out to tear up the town. The youth are disconnected to their families, the environments they inhabit are void of culture: the walls of the moloko milk bar are painted black - an absence of color or feeling permeates the room - the writing on the wall is merely there to sell product, which gushes out of the nipples of ivory-white mannequins....women are reduced to their biological functions in the culture of this "community center".

With no apparent vibrancy of culture, and no visible law enforcement on the streets, young people do what they please: commit rape, murder, robbery and the like. Sex is reduced to maximum-stimulus, minimum-emotional contact, brilliantly presented in fast-forward, high-speed photography, and sonically narrated by Wendy Carlos' electronic realization of The William Tell Overture. This scene, had it been handled by the majority of directors out there, would have read as lurid and labored, but in Kubrick's hands, it's laugh out loud funny. Make that howl-out-loud funny.

Loyalty is examined and destroyed. The boys fight among each other as leadership is questioned, Alex goes one step over the line in measuring out his authority, and his drougs (Russian for "friends") decide to set him up.

It's interesting to notice in the final scene of "ultraviolence" when Alex murderrs a yoga instructor, that all the paintings in the yoga studio reveal highly-stylized, yet violent images of women. There is a painting on the wall that exhibits a woman with her nipples exposed in the same way that one of Alex's recent victims' breasts were exposed when he and his friends gang rape her. Art reflects life reflects art relfects life....

Alex is imprisoned, and of course life in prison is not terribly different from life on the streets, regardless of the barking-dog authority. It is implied that Alex is now the victim of other prisoners, who see him as little more than sex-toy entertainment. He longs to get out, and finds a way to do it with the help of a government plan to erase crime. Alex is admitted to a clinic where he is administered a Pavlovian treatment designed to render the subject with a deep sense of nausea and disorientation when confronted with violence or sexual advances. He is released to society a new man....

But he returns to his home only to find that his family has rented his room and has no place for him. Turned out on the street, he is beaten by a gang of old drunkards, led by one of Alex's victims from his early days of galavanting. The police that come to Alex's aid are none other than his old playmates, who have now joined the police force (a fine job for young men with brutal natures). They take him out to the country to give him one final ass-whipping, and nearly drown him while teaching him a lesson.

Beaten and homeless, Alex wanders unknowingly to a residence where he once committed violent acts on the residents. But now the tables are turned. Alex is treated to a plate of pasta, some red wine (laced with heavy sedatives) and a long sleep, only to be awakened by Beethoven's 9th Symphony (Ode to Joy - can the irony get any thicker in here?), which was used during Alex's "corrective treatment". Alex, with no other bright idea in his head, tries to commit suicide by jumping out a window. He falls, but he doesn't die.

Meanwhile citizens are trying to use Alex's unfair treatment as leverage to oust the current political party and in response, the politician who chose Alex for his corrective treatment comes around to reaasure him that the government is his friend and that they will take care of him. Alex, whose fall seems to have shaken loose the Pavlovian treatment, begins to fantasize with visions of ultraviolence...he is cured at last.


Audiences looking for a hero in this film will likely come up short. There are no heroes, only lost youth trying to survive in a soul-less society stripped of culture and trust in your neighbors or family. There are politicians placing their faith in scientific experimentation, desperately trying to return law and order to a culture of emptiness. In the end, there is little more than our animal nature to navigate the politics of fear.

Anyone interested in a lesson on irony should view this film. Heroic music like Beethoven's 9th Symphony is used to narrate nightmarish scenes. Rossini's music, perky as music can get, is used for similar purposes.

Kubrick's vision, as I stated above, was prophetic. Less than ten years after this film was released, the Punk Explosion went down in England and the society that Burgess predicted in his book seemed to follow like a well-laid plan. The economic crises and high rate of unemployment that came about in the Regan-Thatcher era brought about the kind of cultural emptiness that this film examines and created the perfect environment for the angry rebellion that came in resonse to "Just Say No" politics.

Kubrick received death threats after the film was made, and the press jumped on the bandwagon and blamed him for recent rises in streetcrime. He asked Warner Brothers to pull the film from England, which they did (how many directors have that kind of power today?). But the film was wildly popular world-wide, and grossed millions for the WB. Like many of Kurbrick's movies, the film was deeply influential on a generation of filmmakers that came up in the 70's and 80's.

message 2: by Becky (new)

Becky (beckyofthe19and9) Phillip, you have given me something to think about here. I've seen this a couple times, and can't really say that I was a big fan, but I think that I was viewing it as you did when you were younger and focusing too much on the violence and less on the subtle undertones.

I will definitely see this movie in a new light. Thank you!

message 3: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 342 comments Mod
Thank you my droug....I really can't add much more to your insightful review! What makes Alex so damn interesting is that it is difficult to really hate him; Kubrick makes him a victim of something larger and more corrupt than a mere hooligan...the Government. Malcom McDowell's performance is exceptional and he imbues Alex with a youthfull zeal and angst, and makes the audience connect with him on some primal level. The question of free will underlines the philosophical narrative though Kubrick ends the film on Burgess's 20th chapter. In the novel, Alex begins to reform or at least change though he doesn't show much remorse over the harm he caused in his past. And Wendy Carlos's score is one of my all-time faves along with THE SHINING.

message 4: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 342 comments Mod
I agree with you Rob, Kubrick made the right decision for the film. If he would have inlucluded the final chapter, which begins just like the first chapter, it would have seemed like a sell-out. But I do think it works for the novel since Alex actually excercises his free will instead of being forced to change.
I wonder which version of Alex I am?

message 5: by Tom (new)

Tom | 166 comments As I remember, the novel was inspired by a real-life attack on Anthony Burgess' wife, who was attacked and raped by some drunken soldiers rather as Mrs. Alexander was.

Accounts seem to differ as to exactly why the final chapter was removed. Burgess seems to have considered it essential, apparently, as it was the 21st chapter in the novel, symbolizing Alex's rise to maturity (21 chapters = 21 years, I seem to remember).

I also seem to remember that Kubrick himself wasn't aware of the 21st chapter when he wrote the script and made the film, but I can't seem to find any backup on that at the moment.

A fascinating film, all around.

message 6: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 144 comments Its been years since Ive seen it. Im surprised at how much I had forgotten after reading Phillip's review.

To be honest,
Im not sure I ever want to see it again.

message 7: by Phillip (last edited Dec 27, 2008 01:24AM) (new)

Phillip kd and alex: thanks for the kind words.

this is a top drawer film. totally unforgettable, completely original, and as rob points out: not a false note in the entire symphony. it should go without saying that the film couldn't have worked without malcolm mac dowell's performance, which sells this rather unsavory tale better than a first-rate used-car salesman.

i can't imagine kubrick ending that film any other way. he reveals just enough information to let the viewer know that alex is back in the saddle.....

and what else needs to be said at that point? (simply because that ending renders the government's "best intentions" totally useless)

i left out the innovative language construct that burgess uses, which he borrowed from joyce. this practice is also used in the film's voice-over narration. i read burgess' book "Re:Joyce", and the chapters he writes on Finnegans Wake discuss how he was inspired by Joyce's linguistic innovations: which involved using phonemes from many different words (in different languages) and combining them in a kind of meta-language that reveals lots of puns (if you can speak 14 languages fluently, as Joyce could).

Burgess speaks Russian, so the hybrid words in Clockwork mainly come from Russian words (for example: Alex says "Horrorshow" a lot, which sounds like the word Horascho, which means "good" or "great" in Russian).

good work....(fanboy!)...i wish i had a clockwork poster with malcom's scribble on it...

message 8: by George (new)

George | 63 comments Well, Burgess intended to create a slang that wouldn't grow outdated to the reader of the then present or any future, so he melded Russian and English.

I wouldn't mind Malcolm's sig on a Clockwork Orange poster either. One of my all-time favorite movies.

message 9: by Meg (new)

Meg (megvt) This was one of my favorite movies in the past. With all this incite I will have to see it again, as I certainly don't remember all that you cited Phillip. Well done!

message 10: by Phillip (new)

Phillip thanks meg!

message 11: by Tracy (new)

Tracy (tracy_falbe) | 9 comments I don't think anyone can touch Kubrick's talent. A Clockwork Orange has given me things to think about the rest of my life. Nice review.

message 12: by Phillip (new)

Phillip thank you, tracy. i was thinking i'd review doctor strangelove next...but that's not sci-fi, so i will probably post it over at movies we just watched.

message 13: by Tracy (new)

Tracy (tracy_falbe) | 9 comments Oooo! Dr. Strangelove. I have to watch that one at least once a year. With the new TV I can put it up on the "Big Board."

message 14: by Phillip (new)

Phillip nice, but don't let the russian see the big board!!!!

message 15: by Kandice (new)

Kandice I don't see it being mentioned, but part of the reason Burgess uses slang we don't quite understand, is to distance us, the readers, from the violence. It enables us to continue reading without recoiling (too much!)from the page. It helps in the movie too. If oyu haven't read the book, you really have ot pay attention to what is being said, thus taking a bit of our attention away from the ultra violence.
This movie can be hard to take, and I feel a bit guilty that I find so much to laugh about, while watching, that just wasn't funny when I was younger.

message 16: by Ubik (new)

Ubik | 101 comments Mod
Just a note: On the sped up sex scene in the film. It wasnt really an artistic decision. It was to get by the censors from what Ive always known.

message 17: by Phillip (new)

Phillip nonetheless, it's works and it's damn funny. never mind the this case it's all about the execution.

message 18: by Daniel (new)

Daniel | 39 comments Phillip wrote: "thank you, tracy. i was thinking i'd review doctor strangelove next...but that's not sci-fi, so i will probably post it over at movies we just watched."

Of course "Dr. Strangelove" is SF. I use it in my SF film course. It's about a Doomsday Device that marks the end of the world. I love showing "Strangelove" and then following it up with "Colossus: The Forbin Project."

message 19: by Daniel (new)

Daniel | 39 comments Ubik wrote: "Just a note: On the sped up sex scene in the film. It wasnt really an artistic decision. It was to get by the censors from what Ive always known. "

Everything in a Kubrick film was an artistic decision. He was still fixing his films after they premiered.

The sped up sex scene did not help him with US censors. The film was originally rated X. (I know because I needed to borrow someone's ID to go see it.) And, of course, the scene had a point. The music was "The William Tell Overture" (a/k/a "The Lone Ranger Theme") and it was meant for comic and ironic effect. Sex was a recreational sport for Alex, nothing more.

message 20: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 342 comments Mod
DR. STRANGELOVE is such a great film, Daniel-glad to see you using it in your SF film course! My Philosophy Prof used STRANGELOVE and CLOCKWORK to question morality...I knew I would be friends with him after the first class.

message 21: by Sandi (new)

Sandi (sandikal) The sex scene was probably the biggest deviation from the book. In the book, the music was a piece of great classical music and the girls were only 10-11 years old. It was a rape, not a recreational romp. While the scene was an amusing interlude in the movie, it was probably the most horrifying scene in the book. I felt sick after reading it.

message 22: by Phillip (new)

Phillip i've always thought of strangelove as straight up comedy because it is, obviously, hysterically funny. the doomsday device always seemed like a device that was irrelevant (OK, the whole film hinges on it, but....).

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