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A Clockwork Orange

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: A Clockwork Orange

Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Rated: R
RunTime: 137 Minutes
Release Date: February 1972
Genres: Classic, Cult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy


*Also starring: Adrienne Corri, Aubrey Morris, Steven Berkoff, David Prowse



Review by Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

"A Clockwork Orange" has created more diverse reactions in audiences and critics alike than in any other Stanley Kubrick film. Even Kubrick himself was outraged at how the film induced copycat incidents in Great Britain, causing him to ban the film until his death (now it has been re-released since Stanley died in March of 1999). Despite how others feel about the film, in my estimation, this is the greatest film ever made about the nature of violence, and the nature of behavior and moral choice in a clockwork society. It is as relevant and awe-inspiring and as intellectually charged today as any other film since on the subject.

Alex, the punk, the Droog, remains the most ironic, complex, and sympathetic antihero in the history of the cinema. As played by Malcolm McDowell, he is vicious, murderous but also a lover of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. He also has nude paintings in his bedroom, has masturbatory fantasies to the tune of Beethoven with images from the movies (and himself as Dracula). Alex loves his working-class parents, his boa constrictor, and supposedly goes to school - he seems like a delightful lad you would see in your neighborhood on an "azure sky of deepest summer." There is only one difference - Alex has a knack, a love, for sex and violence. He has a creative imagination but it is fueled by his violent-proned rages - he seems to take delight in killing people.

At the beginning of the film, in stunning close-up, we see Alex at the Korova Milkbar with his fellow Droogs drinking some milk substance that can "sharpen you up and get you ready for a bit of the old ultraviolence." Their nightly activities consist of beating up old winos in dark alleys, attacking people in their homes, driving like madmen on the roads, having sex with women they pick up in record stores, and it is usually all to the tune of Beethoven's lovely Ninth. These Droogs dress in white, have ripped-out eyeball ornamentations on their cuffs, and often wear masks with phallic, Pinocchio noses. Kubrick shows us quite a bit of violence in the first half-hour but he has more up his sleeve as the film continues.

Alex is eventually caught by the police after being betrayed by his fellow Droogs (he is hit in the nose with a milk bottle). Once in prison, he gets wind of a "Ludovico technique" where a prisoner is subjected to a rehabilitative process that results in getting out of prison in no time at all. Alex wants to do good or he says, "one act of goodness." The prison chaplain (Godfrey Quigley) tells Alex that the technique has not been tested much and is considered dangerous. As the chaplain explains, "Goodness comes from within - goodness, is chosen. When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man." Alex doesn't comprehend such ideas, and decides to take part in the technique at all costs. He gets his chance when the Minister of the Interior (Anthony Sharp), who is looking for criminals to participate in such a technique, chooses Alex whom he considers ruthless, smart, and enterprising.

In what remains surely the most perfectly realized scenes in the film, Alex is strapped to a chair with clamps that keeps his eyelids pried open as he is forced to watch violent film footage - at first, he enjoys it but slowly he becomes nauseous and sickly. Alex is becoming conditioned not just against violence but everything else he enjoys, including Beethoven's Ninth.

So what is Kubrick trying to say? That in a clockwork, mechanized society, we have no rights - we must remain aligned with what is expected? All people who rebel are killers? Alex does not fit into society, he is in fact a rebel, allowing himself to choose violence over nonviolence because that is what makes him tick. Removing his instinctive behavior is not human - it is the result of a dehumanizing society and Alex is as human, direct and joyous as anyone else in the film, including the victims.

Even in today's jaded world of ubiquitous sex and violence, "A Clockwork Orange" is still potent stuff - as disturbing now as it was in 1971. The reason is threefold: we, the audience, can't help but like Alex because he is so charming and ruthless despite his murderous ways. We are also asked to identify with him because we feel he is wronged by society and by the higher-ups who are abusing him and using him for political ambition. And yet Alex is not really cured, we sense he will go back to his violent self.

The violence is both stylized and realistic. It is shown in slow-motion, time-lapse motion, and sometimes "viddied with the red, red vino on tap." When Alex kills his victims, it is shown at a remove, a distance from which we become observers particularly the attack on Alex (Patrick Magee), the Leftist writer, and his wife (Adrienne Corri), to the tune of "Singin' in the Rain." When Alex is attacked by his own droogs (who ironically become policemen) or by other higher-ups, it is realistic and bloody, with none of the enjoyment of "action and performance" that Alex feels when he inflicts pain or kills.

Lastly, the film suggests that Alex cannot be changed by the Ludovico techniqu e - his survival instinct is violence, it is what makes him a person. A moral choice cannot be made, as the prison chaplain says, because you cannot change a person's behavior. A liberal view to be sure but a justifiable view nonetheless.

"A Clockwork Orange" is terrifying, scary, witty, exciting, funny, and exhausting. It is Kubrick's most cinematic odyssey: beautifully shot and choreographed with almost monochromatic tones, and occasionally bursting with some bright, vivid colors of red and black justaxposed with blue and white. Malcolm McDowell gives what may be the seminal performance of any Kubrick film - exuding charm, arrogance and cleverness in the face of a callow, youthful killer. What's disturbing and provoking even today about the film is that Alex wants to retain his moral right to be bad. And we can't help but feel he is right.

Copyright 2001 Jerry Saravia

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