Stanley Kubrick certainly has established himself as the master of
'dehumanization' in the medium of film. His mechanics as a filmmaker
have made for better social commentary than almost any other attempt by
any director in the history of movies. Kubrick's films are scarce.
Since 1975, he has only made three of them. 'Barry Lyndon' in 1975,
'The Shining' in 1980 and his last film, 'Full Metal Jacket', was made
over a decade ago, in 1987. Scheduled for release sometime in 1998 is
his latest film, 'Eyes Wide Shut' with Tom Cruise. Cruise has worked
well with other legendary directors such as Martin Scorsese and Oliver
Stone, so it will be interesting seeing Cruise work with a director not
known for choosing big stars in his productions. I suppose Jack
Nicholson in 'The Shining' and Kirk Douglas in Kubrick's 1960 epic
'Spartacus' qualify as big stars but this is the exception rather than
the rule with Kubrick.
Kubrick had long been a director well ahead of his time. His theme of
technology running amok has been evident throughout his career. Look at
'Dr. Strangelove'. The nuclear arsenal of the United States is
compromised when an insane general uses a loophole in the launch
procedure to carry out his own attack. Thankfully, something like that
has never happened, but look at other examples. The malfunction of the
HAL 9000 computer in '2001: A Space Odyssey', a computer trusted
to run the entire mission if the astronauts could not, and presently, in
real life, the millennium bug is plaguing all institutions that the
population relies on for routine service. If it isn't fixed in less
than 2 years, the world could be in chaos. The author of 2001, Arthur
C. Clarke, deserves much credit for this idea as well as Kubrick but
somehow Kubrick's visual style of film presentation gives it greater
impact. What about the Challenger explosion in 1986? Another prophecy
from Kubrick or simple neglect on the part of the mission controllers?
Any way you look at it, Kubrick is probably more misunderstood in his
storytelling than any other director and you certainly can't accuse him
of copying any other director. In fact, I can't even think of one
director that Kubrick looks influenced by. If anything, Kubrick seems
to have a style all his own.
Kubrick adapted Anthony Burgess' novel 'A Clockwork Orange', and
released the film in 1971 to a stunned audience. Even more shocking to
many at the time was the film's claim to 4 Academy Award nominations
(Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing but
acting nominations). This angered many members of the motion picture
academy, particularly the older and more conservative ones who felt the
film was a deplorable exercise in showcasing violence and other ghastly
images of a graphic nature. As usual, many missed the point with the
release of a Kubrick film.
The message in this film was actually anti-violence. The story is set
in the future, after 1971. Perhaps in the late 70's the 80's, the 90's,
or the 21st century. We are not told. The opening shot focuses on Alex
(Malcolm McDowell). A slow pullback of the camera commences and we see
another three young men with him. This opening scene is accompanied by
eerie synthesized music and narration on the part of Alex. Next, the
four young men, we discover, are a violent gang who, in some of the
film's early scenes, assault an old man, mix it up with a rival gang and
rape a woman in her own home and cripple her husband. Alex is the
gang's self-proclaimed leader, a smart individual answering to the devil
on his shoulder rather than the angel. He lives with his parents but
lies to them about his activities and later has a run in with his
juvenile parole officer that the next time he gets caught by the law, it
will be the real prison and not juvenile detention, as was the case in
the past. His parole officer is a smarmy fellow. He knows Alex is up
to no good but he can't prove it. He teases Alex with the possible
consequences of Alex's actions but Alex pays him no mind.
Early in the film, Kubrick uses his camera as a metaphor to the human
experience. Alex meets two girls in a record shop and takes them home
for some carefree sex. As the scene begins, we hear the 'William Tell
Overture' and the camera speeds up to its maximum in rather comic
fashion to illustrate the quickness experienced in the joy of sex at the
peak of its most exciting moment. Later, after a run in with members of
his own gang, Alex shows them who is boss as they are walking on the
waterfront and this time the camera is using slow motion as Alex takes
his walking stick, which he uses as a weapon from time to time, and
smacks one of his own fellow thugs in the crotch. He then proceeds to
kick him, causing him to fall into the water and as Alex helps him out
of the drink, he cuts the back of his hand with a knife. The camera's
slow motion effect illustrates the long suffering effects of pain.
Francis Ford Coppola used the effect of slow and fast editing a year
later in 1972's 'The Godfather'. We see the picture slowly fade from
the movie producer's discovery of a horse's head in his bed to a rather
somber head shot of Don Vito Corleone sitting in his chair at home.
Later, Michael Corleone, acting as the godfather for his sister's son at
a baptism, is seen taking hypocritical vows in church as the editing is
faster, showcasing the murders of rival crime family members.
Alex is fond of classical music, particularly Beethoven. He is captured
and sent to prison for 14 years after causing the death of a woman in a
robbery. While he is in prison, he hears of a secret medical procedure
that can turn a person anti-violent. He volunteers for the experiment,
with catastrophic results. He is injected with a drug that will make
him immune to violent acts of any kind, and his persona changes as he is
forced to watch, with his eyelids propped up and in a straight jacket,
films of violent acts, both physically and sexually. This is the key
turning point in the film. Alex begs the doctors to stop but they say
it's for his own good and that he will be released shortly from prison.
One doctor notes to his colleagues that Alex's discomfort in watching
the films is the "punishment element" of the experiment. Punishment for
his crimes, no doubt.
When Alex is released from prison, he finds everything in his life has
changed and he runs into some old adversaries, bent on getting revenge
for Alex's past deeds. He finds that society is even more violent than
he could have imagined, and violence did increase dramatically in real
life society from 1971 on, and continued for many years. Another
Kubrick prophecy come true?
Kubrick keeps the film light at times with injections of dark humour,
particularly those involving a prison official (Michael Bates), a man
who is captain of the guards and enforces his discipline with military
style tactics. The scenes with him are among some of the film's most
As 'A Clockwork Orange' winds down, the political machinery involved in
Alex's attempted rehabilitation begins to unravel, forcing a deal
between Alex and the government to rectify any wrong doing. The final
scene is truthful, honest and a real satisfactory way to end a film that
at times is a lacerating satire on society, complete with all the red
hot ingredients to anger and at the same time amuse movie audiences.
Success doing that is rare.
Copyright © 1997 Walter Frith