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A Clockwork Orange - Is it a cult classic?

Updated on February 19, 2014

Nationality: British and American

Genre: Satire / Science Fiction / Dystopia

Movie Title: A Clockwork Orange

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Writer: Stanley Kubrick (Screenplay) and Anthony Burgess (Novel)

Date of Release: December 19, 1971 (In the USA) and January 13, 1972 (In the UK)


Alex (Malcolm McDowell), is Stanley Kubrick's aesthetic adaptation of Anthony Burgess' "ultra-violent" late teen living in a dark and satiric near-future. Alex, the leader, and his "droogs" take the pleasure of committing numerous acts of murder and rape after getting high at the Korova Milkbar at night. Beginning with Mr. Alexander (Patrick McGee), a writer, by gang raping his wife which would eventually lead to her death and then Alex bludgeons the Cat Lady (Miriam Karlin), which results in his getting caught and imprisoned. During his stint in prison, he agrees to take part in a new government aversive therapy set to "cure" him of his aggressive impulses in exchange for his freedom. Alex's charisma, aided by his love of music, particularly Ludwig Van Beethoven, and his keen sense of art make the Ludovico behavior modification technique seem like a negative governmental experiment.


Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 adaptation of Stanley Burgess’ “ultra-violent” novel is a near perfect translation of language and stylistic themes to the big screen. A Clockwork Orange is high in its marginality. The main character, Alex, is a proto-punk teenager who enjoys listening to Ludwin Van Beethoven as a pleasurable reward for gang raping and eventually murdering women. Violence is the film’s central theme, which is morbidly glorified by its language as the old “in out, in out” by Alex and his “droogs”.

Naturally, Kubricks’ blunt images of rape and violence led him to withdraw the film’s release in Britain because there were several copycat attacks in the area at the time of the film’s release. A Clockwork Orange would eventually be released after Kubrick’s death in 1999. UK spent 27 years with little or no access to the film. Furthermore, the public’s reaction to Kubrick’s near future was divided, even though the film did predominantly receive rave reviews from major critics. Needless to say, the film falls high in the criterion of suppression.
Since its 1971 release, A Clockwork Orange has grossed a domestic $26 million, which is a huge profit in comparison to its $2.2 million budget. Thus, the film doesn’t fit the economics criterion.

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In the criterion of transgression, the film ranks extremely high. The old “ultra-violence” symbolizing a gangs’ habitual stint of attending the Korova Milkbar to do drugs and then gang rape women is the core of the film’s climax. Once Alex is betrayed by his “droogs” and imprisoned, he undergoes an aversive therapy treatment which results in making him sick every time he witnesses “ultra violence” or listens to his beloved Ludwin Van Beethoven. In the film’s ending, we learn that the therapy did not have a full “ultra-violence” rehabilitating effect. Through his drug use and violence, he ends up as a puppet for the government. He agrees to pretend to be cured in order to make the government look good, thus gaining protection and reinforcements from them.


A Clockwork Orange’s cult following has grown as the movie has gotten older. Many people became avid Malcolm McDowell fans, and many other groups such as punks and Goths have adopted the futuristic, yet simple all white with suspenders “ultra-violent” outfits Alex and his “droogs” wear. Thus, the cult following of the film is pretty good.
Due to the taboo, yet utterly realistic notion that gangs commit such horrendous crimes could exist, there were several copycat crimes committed after the release of the film. Some of the instances include a group of 16-year-old boys in Britain beating a homeless man just like in the film, and the other instance served a group of teenagers dressed in the same white outfits Alex and his “droogs” wear and stabbing a boy. Kubrick’s film created a community of people who thought they could identify like these fictional so much so that they imitated the crimes.


Laden in “nadsat”, the language used in the film (and book) is entirely unique. Burgess’ was a writer and linguist, so he created a special language in which words like “pooshka” mean pistol and “deng” is money. As a result, the film scores high in the quotations criteria; it has a language of its own.
In conclusion, with the last criterion, Iconography, A Clockwork Orange rates an astonishing seven out of eight in cult film status. The unsettling image of Malcolm McDowell as Alex wearing eerie eyeliner in one eye, a black hat, and his white shirt sustained by suspenders strikes as an icon of a generation fighting to stand on its own, freely, in spite of the consequences that ensue.


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