Retro Movie Review: A Clockwork Orange
"I've suffered the tortures of the damned, Sir."
I almost had the same sentiments after watching Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film, A Clockwork Orange. Based on the 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange stars Malcom McDowell as violent teen misfit Alex DeLarge.
Overview (Spoiler Alert)
The film is set in a dystopian Britain, in the not so distant future with Alex providing voice-over narration throughout. The narration is done in a fictional slang dialect called Nadsat that is a semi-rhyming blend of Cockney and Russian.
Alex DeLarge is a charming, intelligent but yet psychpathic young man with only a few passions in life: Beethoven, rape and what he calls ultra-violence. He leads a youth gang of 4 that he calls his droogs. They get high by drinking a drug laced milk concoction called milk-plus and proceed with running the streets, committing opportunistic acts of violence.
On one such night, the gang beats a drunken homeless man, fight another gang and steal a sports car. They drive the car to the country and invade the home of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander. The droogs retstrain Mrs. Alexander. he is forced to watch as Alex rapes his wife while singing "Singin' In the Rain."
The following day, a probation officer, Mr. Deltoid, visits Alex at home, as he was truant from school. Mr. Deltoid advises Alex that he is aware of his misdeeds and warns him to stop. He punches Alex in the groin and leaves. That evening, the droogs question Alex's behavior. Alex responds by assaulting one and throwing him into a body of water.
With Alex's authority reaffirmed, the group goes to the home of a middle-aged woman with a bizarre pornographic art collection and a house filled with cats. After she refuses to open the door, Alex instructs his droogs to wait by the door as he finds his way in. He gets into the house through a window and severely assaults her with a phallic statue. Trying to escape through the front door, the droogs attack him. He is captured by the police. Mr. Deltic informs him that the "cat lady" has died making him a murderer. He is given a 14 year sentence.
While in prison, Alex reads the Bible and helps the Chaplain which is nothing more than a front to win good favor. After 2 years, the Minister of the Interior visits the prison seeking volunteers to participate in a program that uses the Ludovico Technique. Seeing the opportunity to be free in 2 weeks, Alex eagerly volunteers. In this procedure, Alex was bound to a chair with his eyelids mechanically held open. While under the influence of drugs causing painfully ill effects, Alex is forced to watch films that are both sexual and violent as a doctor stands by with an eye dropper. He then realizes that his beloved Beethoven is the score to these films and that he is being conditioned to have adverse reactions to the things he loved the most. He breaks down claiming to have been cured but is advised he must complete the program.
Once the treatment is completed, Alex is put on stage for a demonstration for various prison and government officials, to show the results of his conditioning. A man taunts and insults Alex but the thought of him retaliating makes him painfully ill. An attractive semi-nude lady then temps him but his conditioning again prevails. The Interior Minister declares a new era in social justice but the Chaplain argues that Alex's human nature to choose good from evil has been taken away. The Minister replies that the end result is all that matters and Alex is set free.
Alex returns home to have an awkward reunion with his parents who've rented his room to another man that is none too friendly. He leaves and begins to wander the streets. The old man that the gang beat before recognizes Alex and a group of homeless men begin to beat him. Two policemen intervene but they turn out to be Alex's former droogs. They take him to the country, beat him severely and near drown him.
Alex finds his way to a house which turns out to be Mr. Alexander's home. Mr. Alexander is permanently disabled from the gang's prior assault but has a body building man-servant, Julian, living with him. It is later revealed that Mrs. Alexander is dead. They initially do not recognize Alex; however they can tell he was subjected to the controversial Ludovico Technique and see an opportunity to exploit him as a political weapon against the government. While enjoying a bubble bath, Alex begins to sing "Singin' in the Rain," revealing his identity and drawing the ire of Mr. Alexander.
Julian and Mr. Alexander serve Alex food and wine that is drugged. Mr. Alexander talks about his wife being a vicitim of the modern age and tells Alex that he has help coming. A man and woman arrive and question Alex about his conditioning. Alex answers and then passes out, face down into his plate. He awakens to find himself locked in a 2nd floor bedroom with Beethovan's 9th Symphony being blasted into the room from below. It is too much for Alex and he throws himself out of the window, attempting suicide.
Alex awakens some time later bandaged up in a hospital. It is revealed by news reports that the government is under fire for its unethical human experimentation. This includes the Minister of the Interior that initially sought volunteers from prison. A psychiatrist performs testing on Alex and determines that his conditioning is no longer in effect.
Later the Interior Minister visits Alex insisting that the pair are friends and that friends always help each other. He tells Alex that Mr. Alexander has been put away and apologizes for what the government has done to him. While spoon feeding Alex, the Minister promises Alex a good future if he agrees to help the government. They reach an understanding and the Minister has flowers and a stereo brought in playing Beethovan's 9th. Alex's eyes roll back as he goes into a sexual fantasy. His voice-over states "I was cured all right."
A Clockwork Orange, though a popular cult film, has not been without controversy. It was initially given an X rating. The film was re-released in 1972 with an R rating. It was at one time condemned by the Catholic Church. There were allegations that the film inspired copycat crimes causing more controversy in Great Britain. Kubrick withdrew the film in Britain for some 27 years after he and his family recieved threats.
A Clockwork Orange explores very complex topical social and poitical issues and moral dilemnas. Some of the social issues include parenting, youth gang behavior and raises discussion on what is good and what is evil. It attacks political schemes such as a government using controversial psychological techniques to gain power and/or win public favor. It addresses the issue of the dangers of a government removing an individuals free will whether it be the adversion therapy in Alex's case or putting away Mr. Alexander, an outspoken government critic.
Although Alex is a violent criminal, is it okay for him to become a lab rat for social experiment? Is the Minister of the Interior and Mr. Alexander any more good or evil than anyone else for exploiting Alex for their own selfish reasons? These are the moral dilemnas that are presented to the viewer.
The film crosses over to different genres and would be difficult to pin down to just one. It's definitely dark and satirical. Some may call it a crime drama or psychological thriller. Others may call it horror or science fiction. It's become a favorite of horror movie fans. The labels really just depend on who you ask. I think it's all of the above.
A Clockwork Orange recieved numerous nominations with some wins in various organizations. It continues to garner recognition.
Well... What Do I Think?
Frankly put, I did not enjoy watching this movie. It is disturbing however I could not stop watching it. It sucks you in almost immediately and I find it analagous to touching a high voltage live wire. It will electrify you but you cannot let go. I am certain that this is what Stanley Kubrick intended.
I'm so much not a fan of horror, gore and violence but there are many layers to peel back and evaluate here. A Clockwork Orange will make you think and even debate these issues with yourself; then you may need to see it again and think about it some more. Alex was turned into such a clockwork orange: organic on the outside but mechanical on the inside.