A Clockwork Orange (1971) Review

23 12 2011

Copyright 1971 Warner Brothers Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

I recently watched this film for the third time.  The first screening I had was when I was about 15, then I had to watch it for a class in college and, this time, I was fulfilling my duty as a cinephile in getting my girlfriend, Maddie, to watch the film in its entirety.  Unlike my experience with Goldeneye recently, this film has aged like a fine wine to me over the various screenings at different times in my life.  I think upon my first viewing, I was too young to fully understand and enjoy the subtleties of the film; my second viewing, being for a class, was somewhat diminished, but this viewing was just right.

Though I’m sure most of you have seen this film before, here’s a quick synopsis to refresh your memories.  Young Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is in a sort of near future gang with three other youths known as Droogs; they spend many an evening terrorizing innocents, raping young women and performing other lewd and obscene acts towards society.  One night, while on one of their joy outings soliciting a bit of the old ultra violence, they come to the country home of an author and his wife.  They proceed to rape the wife and brutally beat up the author and make him watch as they ravage his spouse while hauntingly reciting “Singin’ in the Rain”.  Shortly thereafter, one of his Droogs gets the idea of challenging his authority; for that, he pays a hefty price.  However, little does Alex know, that this authoritative beating of his colleague will eventually get them to turn their backs on him and leave him to the police one night when his haunting of an older woman ends up killing her.  He is sentenced to prison, where he is sought after by the other inmates for his youthful looks and delegated to the hardships of prison life.  He strikes a bond with the prison chaplain, and eventually is chosen to be part of a new experiment.  This experiment will get him out of prison early and is supposed to “cure” his evil ways.  Known as the Ludivico Technique, Alex is subjected to various chemicals that create a general unwell feeling in his body as he watches hours upon hours of movie footage that shows women getting raped, people beaten and other atrocities.  They even include his beloved music in the technique by coincidence, killing his ability to enjoy Ludwig van Beethoven and get a nice, warm vibraty feeling all through his gutiiwuts.  Upon release, Alex is found to no longer have a home, is beaten by his former friends who are now with the police and he even makes a wrong turn into the author’s house from years prior for which he pays dearly.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, this film still elicits a strong response even in our present day and age.  Many scenes are still shocking in their violence and depiction of moral abuse.  However, what hit me the most with this screening was the theme of the film; I think before, it had eluded me to some degree.  Upon my first viewing, I enjoyed the film, but don’t think that I truly understood the theme in its entirety, my second viewing was of course filled with the nagging over analysis of the film, but this time I felt I truly got the message Kubrick wanted to deliver.  Is the overriding of the freedom of personal choice something we are willing to let be decided by the powers that be in society?  Is the need for order, even by overriding a person’s natural behaviors, a moral or immoral gesture?  What are the consequences of such a decision and how will they play out in that person’s subsequent life?

The atmospheric lighting by John Alcott, precise (as always) directing by Kubrick and general mood of the film creates a reality that is scary to imagine.  The mood is further exemplified by the amazing electronic rendition of Henry Purcell’s “Requiem: Funeral for Queen Mary II” by Wendy Carlos, not to mention the wonderful performance by McDowell in the lead.  Few films are stylized as meticulously as this one, and though difficult to watch on a basic level, the thoughts and questions it provokes are rewarding in the end.


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