A Clockwork Orange was a movie I never had any intention of seeing. I’d always heard that this movie was really violent (ultra-violent, as Alex would say) and disturbing, so it just wasn’t at all my type of thing. But then we decided to watch the 1998 AFI 100 Movies List (see this post) and it became the movie I was looking forward to the least. But, we finally have made it to number 46, and so it was time. It actually didn’t even sit on the coffee table for much more than a week; I think we both just wanted to get it out of the way. And, well, now it is. And you know what? It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
Alex (Malcolm McDowall) is a young man (“malchick”) living in a dystopian society. Along with his buddies (“droogs”), he roams the streets at night, causing mayhem of various kinds. Boys will be boys? They beat up old, homeless, drunks, get into fights with rival gangs, engage in rape and home invasion, all while picking up whatever loot they can find through their activities. The trouble really begins when Alex’s followers decide they’ve had enough of his leadership, and set him up to take a fall. Next thing he knows, he’s in jail as a convicted murderer. He leaps at the chance, therefore, to be part of an experimental government reform program that will make him a free man in about two weeks. Essentially, he is conditioned, by drugs and constant exposure, to become violently ill when confronted with sex and/or violence. And, sadly, Beethoven, which he loves. Reformed, he finds life to be extremely difficult as he is kicked out by his parents, beaten up by his former buddies, and victimized by his former victims. He is eventually imprisoned by a group of subversives who want to use his tale of woe as a weapon against the government. They drive him to attempt suicide, and when he is unsuccessful, the government steps in, “cures” him, and makes him their poster child instead. In the end we are lead to believe that he will again get up to his old tricks.
I would not go so far as to say that I liked this movie, but I didn’t hate it, either. A couple of years ago I actually read the book, and that I really liked. This adaptation stays pretty true to the novel, and through Kubrick’s weird vision becomes a really stylish and visually arresting piece of work. As the main character, Alex, Malcolm McDowall is at once creepy and charismatic. He’s not at all a stupid boy … it’s just that his tastes run to blood and guts. His sensitivity shines through in his love of music, and it’s truly moving when he begs his reformers not to take that love from him. It is the connection of Beethoven to the horrors he witnesses that seems to get through to him the message that violence is bad and unfair. The film is certainly disturbing at times, particularly in its treatment of women. There’s a lot of nudity, and women are, for the most part, clearly second-class citizens in Alex’s world.
The artistry and the visual aspects are what makes this film worth watching, and are the means by which Kubrick interprets the themes of the novel. The costumes, the sets, even the violence exhibited is bright, flashy, and garish. I felt that Alex’s world is/was distinctly cartoonish. One of the main themes is that of youth vs. age, and I think that this is depicted very clearly through the bright colors and over-sexualized decor of the homes and establishments we see. Youth is king. Alex goes through a lot, but through it all he maintains his swagger, the carelessness of a young man who doesn’t actually believe he will ever grow up, grow old, and die. Age is something to be mocked and laughed at rather than respected. Even when his two “droogs” come of age and are given “grown-up” jobs as police officers, they’re still exactly the same. They’re playing at being adults.
Did I say this movie was worth watching? It’s very weird, and often disturbing, but I think if you can stomach what goes on, it’s kind of fascinating. The slang (called nadsat by Burgess, the author of the book) is a little hard to keep up with in this medium, but mostly the context comes through. It’s not a short film, and it gets a little bogged down in the middle, but you kind of need the break after the violence and whatnot, most of which occurs in the first half.
I guess I’d only recommend this if you were really interested in seeing it, but I have to say that I was pretty surprised. Maybe all this watching of movies I wouldn’t normally be interested in really has expanded my horizons, eh?