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Film Review: A Clockwork Orange

Updated on January 12, 2018
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Review written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.


In 1972, Stanley Kubrick released A Clockwork Orange, based on the1962 novella of the same name by Anthony Burgess. Starring Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri, and Miriam Karlin, the film grossed $26.6 million at the box office.



In a dystopic future with rampant street crime and out of control youths, Alex DeLarge and his gang wander the night reaping terror. But when the gang betrays him, he is sentenced to prison and becomes a guinea pig in an experimental treatment in order to return to freedom sooner.


Though it's certainly a strange film dealing with a very heavy subject matter, A Clockwork Orange is a great film, especially considering that the central character is a complete sociopath. His name is Alex and he'll do anything that suits him if it means someone else is being terrorized. With his gang, he beats up a drunk homeless man and breaks into a couple’s home only to incapacitate the husband while he rapes the wife. But it’s clear he’s only in it for the sheer glee of doing all, rather than making money as his gang starts to want to do, which leads to them betraying him. And while in prison, Alex just wants to get out so he can continue committing crimes, leading to the whole experimental treatment.

But it's through all of this that the film's main theme about choice and morality comes into play. It seems that Kubrick is exploring if a man can truly be good if the choice to do evil is unavailable. The government in their experimental treatment makes it so that whenever he has any inkling of violence or rape, or when he hears Beethoven’s Ninth, that he becomes violently ill and incapacitated. But that doesn’t necessarily make him a good person. All it really does is make it so he has the desire for evil, but can’t carry out those desires.

However, what they do to him also make it so he can’t even fight back to defend himself. The homeless drunk he beats up gathers his friends and retaliates and when the police disperse them, the policemen are old members of the gang and continue beating him up and try to drown him. So not only is his capacity for choice taken away, his capacity to actually choose to be a person and survive are taken away. And he is manipulated by the man, Mr. Alexander whose wife Alex raped early on in the film for the sole purpose of going against the government.

While in the end, the conditioning placed upon Alex is removed, it’s shown he never actually changed as a person, cementing just how amoral and sociopathic he is. At the mercy of the homeless, police and Mr. Alexander, he becomes just how helpless he made his victims. But that doesn’t do anything for him as the first thing he thinks about once he’s “cured” is having the chance to rape and commit crimes once again.

So what Kubrick seems to be trying to say is that choice, no matter how bad of a choice, and the capacity to make that choice, shouldn’t be taken away. Humanity should be able to make their choices, but still be held accountable for those choices. Those who commit crimes and do wrong should be given the chance to be rehabilitated. But whether or not they actually want to change is completely up to them and forcing them to not have the choice of doing the wrong thing is not the way to go.

None of this is going into the stylistic choices throughout the film either. The first frame of the film, pulling back on Alex and the gang in the milk bar presents the first inkling of who Alex is. He stares straight at the camera, sneering and drinks his narcotic laced milk, showing how devoid and sociopathic he really is. McDowell also provided an adlib to further show how distanced from a normal human being Alex is. Kubrick didn’t like the rape scene with the Alexanders at first because it just didn’t feel right. So McDowell started singing, providing the disconnect of how the character found joy in doing things that joy should not be a part of.

5 stars for A Clockwork Orange

Awards & Recognitions

bold indicates reception of award/recognition

Academy Awards

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
  • Best Film Editing

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA - Saturn Awards

  • Best DVD collection (Stanley Kubrick: The Essential Collection)

BAFTA Awards

  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Direction
  • Best Film
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Screenplay
  • Best Sound Track

Directors Guild of America, USA Awards

  • Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures

Golden Globe Awards

  • Best Motion Picture - Drama
  • Best Director - Motion Picture
  • Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama (Malcolm McDowell)

Hugo Awards

  • Best Dramatic Presentation

Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Awards

  • Silver Ribbon - Best Foreign Director

Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Film

National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA

  • Second Place - Best Actor (Malcolm McDowell)
  • Third Place - Best Film
  • Third Place - Best Director

New York Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Film
  • Best Director
  • Third Place - Best Director (Malcolm McDowell)

Online Film & Television Association

  • OFTA Film Hall of Fame for Motion Picture

Satellite Awards

  • Best Classic DVD (40th Anniversary Edition)

Venice Film Festival Pasinetti Awards

  • Best Foreign Film

Writers Guild of America, USA Awards

  • Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium


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