Review: A Clockwork Orange (1971)


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?

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12 responses to “Review: A Clockwork Orange (1971)

  1. Most of the slang is just Russian. Droog is friend, malchik means boy.
    The most memorable thing for me about this moving proves it’s point about he relationship between music and what you see when listening to it. For me, “Singing in the Rain” does not spring happy images Gene Kelly dancing.

    • Yeah, the only word I can think of that’s sort of a Russian/English hybrid is “horrorshow,” right? It means what it means in the Russian, but that’s not actually how it’s spelled.

      That is very sad. It will take more than Stanley Kubrick to ruin Singin’ in the Rain for me. Probably because I’ve seen THAT movie more times than I can count. 🙂

  2. I saw this a while ago, and posted my own short review. For me i was ready to give up about midway, but when Alex got reformed it got really interesting for me. Overall, while it didn’t manage to knock out Eyes Wide Shut as my favorite Kubrick film, i liked it better than 2001 which is still my least fav Kubrick film(I didn’t hate it, but near the end it kind of lost me)

    • Yes, in discussing it with my husband, I think I’ve come to the determination that having read the book gave me a bit more enjoyment of the movie than I would have otherwise had. That said, I think the only Kubrick I’ve seen so far is A.I. (yes, I’d agree it doesn’t exactly count), so I don’t have much to compare it to. 2001 is higher up on the list, and is now the one I’m least looking forward to, because evil robots/computers frighten me. 🙂

      • I actually had high expectations for 2001, but i just didn’t find it lived up to then I didn’t hate it, and i am certainly glad i watched it, but the ending just lost me. I haven’t seen every Kubrick film, but I’ve seen a few and Eyes Wide Shut is still my favorite

        But then again, maybe i’m just not artsy enough to understand it 😛

      • I’m sure I’m not artsy enough, either. 🙂

  3. AFter watching all of Kubricks film i want to do a blog post on his movies. Not sure exactly when that will happen though

  4. You all have your comments but the fact is you all liked the movie. One fact is certain. The move came out in 1971 (I believe) and we are still discussing it in 2011. It was a good movie and it was ahead of it time in 1971. Just post you enjoyed it and stop trying to act like some movie intellectual genius.

    • First of all, I didn’t “like” the movie so much as appreciate it. Second of all, where would the fun be in just posting that I enjoyed something? I guess I just like to think about the whys and wherefores too much. 🙂

    • Stop posting your movie blog in your, y’know…movie blog…yeah.

      One fact is certain : One poster here is definitely no intellectual genius.

  5. christopher karl robinson

    Now now boy,s lets not fall out eh, ya don’t want to let the movie get to you too much, do you. After all it’s only a movie if ya ken what I mean! ha ha
    Ya, the movie’s brill, but a wee word of advice always try ta read the book before watching the directors interpretation of it , it give’s you a much clearier idea of the director, ya Kubrick was blinking good there’s na dou’t about it, you’s only have ta see Dr Stranglove ta ken that , but what with him having an ego the size of a wee planet put a slight stain on a lot of his stuff. Burgess ( the writer) an Kubrick, who had been good mate’s before an during the early making of orange fell out big time once it was released an Malcolm McDowwell, a much underated actor ( check out IF) In my humble opinion. Promised to never work for him again, an kept to it. I wounder why/ Finally, bananaoilmovies it’s more then clear that you did’nt read the real tick tock orange because the last chapters always missing( thanks ta the blinking Yanks– oh um) which puts atotally different spin on the whole flipping show.
    .

  6. Pingback: Internet challenge: Top 10 Movie Directors « Radu presents: The Movie-Photo Blog

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