Michael Hansen November 3, 2005
Film Literacy Class
A Clockwork Orange: A Review
Produced in 1971, A Clockwork Orange is a harsh character study masquerading as a prophetic period piece. Directed by Stanley Kubrick (2001: A space Oddyssey, Dr. Strangelove), and starring Malcom McDowell(the Raging Moon), is the on-screen adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ celebrated novel of the same title.
The tagline for the movie exclaims, “being the adventures of a young man whose principle interests are: rape, ultra-violence, and Beethoven,” and is often referred to as the most controversial mainstream film of all time by AFI and other film institutes. The story revolves around fifteen year-old Alex in retro-future England. He and his “droogs” wade through culture ranging from 17th century classical music to flying cars. They speak a language Burgess called “Nadsat”, which is a mix of English, Russian, and slang. They hibernate for most of the day and only emerge at night for amusement at the exspense of the public. In uniforms they parade the derelict landscapes raping, killing, stealing, and roughing with rival gangs all to pass the time. Eventually, as most lifes of crime go, Alex finally got caught for murder and was immediately jailed. While in jail, after kissing the boots of his superiors, one officer mentions an experimental brain procedure that could have him out of his sentence in no time...
This is the only film in which my opinion has differed from that of my favorite reviewer, Roger Ebert. For, while Ebert makes valid points and takes the right procedures to attack what he believes is the films message, the actual message may have escaped him. The resonating final word that Ebert got from the film, along with most of the people who saw it, was ‘in a world of governmental madness, the citizens must use any means necessary to prevail.’
Certain technical aspects and camera styles probably lead Ebert to this conclusion. In the movie Kubrick uses a slight fish eye lens for long periods of time in the movie. Its almost sublinimal, but one typical goal of the fish eye lens is to make you see whats happening supposedly through the eyes of the character. This could lead to viewers sympathizing with the dangerous protagonist. Kubrick also makes Alex seem helpless and victimized by intentionally fumbling the continuity of the film in order to convey disorientation. Hand positions on clocks are changed between shots, wine glasses are filled to diferent heights in a seconds time, and when Alex attempts suicide by jumping, a camera was literally thrown out of a second story window to simulate the perspective. Having Alex like classical music among his violent hobbies seems like a rather hollow dimension to his character that Kubrick most likely just hoped his viewers wouldn’t look too far into.
I believe, however, that the sympathy the movie evokes is an entirely diferent form than pity. Viewers simply grow to love Alex. Kubrick intentionally left out adapting the last chapter of the book in which Alex regrets his past, and ends the story with Alex in the upper hand. The long close-up shots of Alex’s menacing grin seem to pull at the most primal strings in your body no matter how hard you’ve managed to bury them. Kubrick wants his audience to grin back at the television screen.
The only other character in the movie not there simply to progress Alex’s story is the minister in the jail who follows with Alex to the experiment. When Alex is given a pill that causes extreme physical discomfort, and is forced to watch videos of violence and sex simultaneous with the pain, it creates a link. Whenever he tries to commit an act of violence or sex his brain recreates the pain he felt during the treatment, and he is unable to continue. Everyone else is pleased blind, but the preist sulks in digust. “A man who cannot choose what is right and what is wrong ceases to be a man, Alex is only behaving out of self interest not to feel pain.” When everything seems gone to hell Kubrick introduces this character as a maestro to conduct the beeps on the ekg. A little bit of sanity is there for us to juxtapose with the other characters. Eventually they stop administiring the treatment and release Alex, who soon enough becomes immune to it and continues to trod the streets with his malicious interests.
You end the movie feeling like a dirty person dressed up in a clean suit. Alex’s demonic persona is juxtaposed with his slick fashion and soft poetic way of talking. The source material was written in response to Burgess’ wife being beaten and raped by four Americans during his stay in Malysaia. I think the message Burgess carves into Alex is that far too many of us indulge in our primal side and if we don’t look an exagurrated representation, such as Alex, we end up like the four men from Malasia. Kubricks extreme glamourization of Alex’s crimes sucks the viewer into befriending his character, learning to love him, and then hopefully being able to look in the mirror and feel ashamed for doing so. For the unmistakable originality, sharp production on a low budget, the millions of messages to extract, and unmatched controversy, I highly reccomend Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, though not for the faint of heart.