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A Clockwork Orange

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 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

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Brian Koller review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Jerry Saravia read the review ---
3.  Walter Frith read the review ---

Review by Brian Koller
3 stars out of 4

Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" had to stun its audiences upon release in 1971. Like his previous film, "2001: A Space Odyssey", Kubrick had violated enough taboos to stretch the envelope of cinema: what was previously unacceptable could now be done. The contribution of "Clockwork" wasn't just the explicit sexual violence and nudity, which had to be somewhat edited to avoid an 'X' rating, but the film's misanthropic attitude and bizarre sets. The film covers sadistic anarchy, black comedy, and deep cynicism of governmental power. The whole cast is irredeemable except for the prison chaplain (Godfrey Quigley), whose task in reforming hardened criminals is presented as hopeless.

The lead (Alex, played by Malcolm McDowell) brings new meaning to the term anti-hero. He is a vicious, sadistic monster who lives a nighttime fantasy life of beatings, robbery and rapings, in which he is always the one delivering the punishment. As in "2001", a classic score dominates, with Beethoven giving Alex the inspiration for his criminal activities, which are luridly and explicitly depicted. Alex's desire to control his fellow gang members backfires when he is betrayed by them after committing a murder. Alex is sentenced to prison, where he pretends to be a born-again Christian to facilitate his release. Alex's desire for freedom makes him a volunteer for a brainwashing experiment, which makes him physically nauseated when confronted with thoughts of sex or violence. Upon release, Alex can't escape his past, as his former victims delight in their revenge on their now-helpless past tormentor.

While I don't sympathize with Malcolm's character, I do feel sorry for Malcolm. Kubrick puts him through the works: those eyeball clamps look painful, and it couldn't have been much fun to lick shoes, get dunked underwater for who knows how many takes, be trussed up in a cast, plopped in spaghetti, etc. Did he have a stunt double?

Kubrick freely mixes the shocking and ironic with blatant black humor. The prison guard character (Michael Bates) seems out of a Monty Python sketch, while Malcolm's parents are stupid and maudlin. Alex has a sculpture depicting a Jesus chorus line, and commits a murder with a sculpture of a sexual organ. Kubrick skewers both conservative and liberal politics, with the cynical, manipulative Minister of the Interior (Anthony Sharp) no worse than the half-mad 'subversive' writer (Patrick Magee).

By the way, there is another film in the American Film Institute Top 100 that has even more nudity and violence: "Schindler's List". Presentation is everything.

Copyright 1997 Brian Koller

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