Tuesday, 31 July 2007
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
A Clockwork Orange ((1971) dir. Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee
My mom hates “A Clockwork Orange” so much that watching it in our house was the equivalent of watching porn. If my brother and I heard my mom arriving home we would quickly shut the VCR off and hide the box. “A Clockwork Orange” is disturbing to say the least. It portrays as the hero a man who brutally rapes and assaults women, and someone we feel sorry for when his life turns to shambles during his rehabilitation. What makes the character of Alex Delarge and his droogie-droogs so appealing (to some)? Morbid fascination with the dark side of life, the filmmaking skills of Stanley Kubrick, our own subconscious carnal desires?
Alex Delarge is the prototypical anti-hero, like Paul Muni in “Scarface”, James Cagney in “White Heat”, Jake LaMotta, Travis Bickle etc. Alex lives in non-descript near-future London - a society in decrepit decline, where gangs run wild and terrorize local citizens largely unabated. In the impressive opening shot Kubrick frames Alex’s gang, the Droogs, drinking spiked milk in a milkbar adorned with lude images of naked women. We then see their night play out in a series of assaults, fights, rapes all for the joy of doing it for the sake of doing it – a lash of the “ultraviolence.”
Alex’s parents are completely oblivious to this behaviour even though he’s been in trouble before. He’s looked after by his parole officer Mr. Deltoid – a man who has grown sick and tired of Alex’s beligerant behaviour. But Alex trips up and is set up by his fellow droogs to be caught by the police during a home invasion. While in prison, hoping to get his sentence reduced, he volunteers for a new scientific technique to cleanse criminals of their need to commit crimes. Alex goes through the rigorous process and comes out a rehabilitated man. But the process backfires and results in near madness for Alex who can’t cope with the pain caused by the suppression of his desires. The film ends in the most ironic twist, vilifying the government for pushing Alex to suicide and canonizing Alex as the hero.
The film is a perfect adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ novella. In fact it’s the closest a book could come to its film version. Some of the dialogue is word for word as it is in the book. Part of the appeal of the film is the narrator, Alex himself, who tells his story from his point of view. Like Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho” we can learn to love Alex because we’re put inside his brain, however twisted. Malcolm McDowell portrays Alex as sincere, innocent and extremely likeable. His emotions are ours, and so when he’s beating up Mr. Alexander while his wife is being raped and singing “Singing in the Rain”, it’s actually humorous. My mom would differ of course.
This is Stanley Kubrick at the top of his game. The courage and skill to tackle this story and make it monetarily successful is a miracle. The film was one of the highest grossing films of 1971, and the highest grossing film for Warner Bros that year. Remarkable considering the graphic sex, rape and violence. Rumours abound that Stanley Kubrick banned the film from exhibition for years in Britain after a series of copycat criminal acts. In fact, Kubrick requested that Warners withdraw the film after threats were made to himself and his family. In any case, the UK ban latest the rest Kubrick’s life – 27 years.
Kubrick uses his familiar cinematic techniques to great effect once again. The opening shot is famous for gliding back from Alex’s close-up all the way to the back of the Corova Milkbar revealing the graphic images on the walls and the disaffected self-centered clientele. The music was ahead of its time as well. Wendy Carlos’ synthesized Beethoven score was the first of its kind for a mainstream film. The lighting and design of the film is sparse. Kubrick contrasts a mainly flat look with bright, punchy burst of colour. Sometimes a costume, or a wig, a chair or the brilliant opening and closing credit sequences.
Even though I’m 32 I feel guilty even writing this review. My mom would not approve. I hope she doesn’t read this. Several times I’ve tried to explain the artistic value of Kubrick’s masterpiece – after all “2001: A Space Odyssey” is one of her favourite films – but it always fell upon deaf ears. That’s the prophetic power of the art – to divide its audience into polar opposites. We miss you Stanley. Doobie doop.
Buy it here: A Clockwork Orange