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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 Walter Frith
No Rating Supplied

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 surprisingly no 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 hilarious moments.

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

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