Sunday, January 23, 2005

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
1971, rated R
4 stars

Stanley Kubrick has had an impressive filmmaking career. From 2001: A Space Odyssey, to Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick has created films that illustrate defining moments in society. Kubrick has made all kinds of films—crazily amusing political commentaries such as Dr. Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket, historical thrillers such as Sparticus, horror flicks, with The Shining, and even science fiction, as he formed the concept for A.I. Artificial Intelligence, which Steven Spielberg then took over. Kubrick’s films always stand out, sometimes for creative reasons, sometimes for pure shock value. His 1971 adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange is both extremely creative and extraordinarily shocking.

The story centers around the experiences of teenage hoodlum Alexander de Large (played by a very young, and extremely excellent Malcolm McDowell) who also serves as narrator. Alex and his gang of “droogies” have a nightly ritual of mischief and mayhem, which often includes robbery, rape, and the beating of unsuspecting citizens. Kubrick emphasizes the separation between Alex’s day and nightlife by placing the characters on strange sets in strange locations. The bar that Alex and his gang frequent, for example, looks as if it were taken out of the mind of Salvador Dali. He and his gang all dress in white, and carry walking canes, which they often use for violent purposes. Alex enjoys these nightly pursuits, and the power he has as the leader of his gang, immensely. As a whole, the character of Alex is portrayed as one without any sense of morality. In fact, he seems to be consciously rejecting the moral regulations established by society, openly mocking its rules and breaking down the proverbial walls that surrounds him.

On the surface, his actions may seem disgusting and repulsive, as the sex and violence is rather graphic, and this is exactly the reaction the audience is supposed to have. Although graphic sex and violence is often displayed in films, that represented here is a different type, and is horrible to watch not because it is explicit, but because of its nature. Some may be too appalled by this vulgarity to be able to see past it, and this too is another reaction that Alex’s character is meant to invoke. Kubrick also goes to great lengths to accentuate the absolute offensiveness of these actions. From costumes to sets to camera angles, nearly everything in Alex’s secret night life is made to be surreal, emphasizing the metaphor of the story. Everything is a constant battle between youth, represented by Alex, and the adult society which he must eventually become a part of. Even the language he uses is a direct defiance of his surrounding society. At times almost Shakespearian, his slang becomes almost like a completely separate language, where everyone is addressed as “oh, my brother” and even simple phrases or words become twisted and distorted—words such as “apologies,” which when spoken by Alex turns into “appy polly logies.”

While Alex’s disdain for civilized society is apparent in the offensiveness of his exploits, his character is made more complex with his love of beautiful music, namely Beethoven, which he listens to ceaselessly. This love of music gives another side to his character, by granting him the ability to appreciate beauty in some form. Alex’s endless battle against society, representative of youth’s battle against their elders, is heightened and extended when he is finally caught and placed in prison. When the reforms which prison attempts to instill in him fail to change his behavior, he is used as a test subject for a new program which “cures” the impulse for violence and sex by creating an overriding reaction of disgust. However, during this treatment, while the doctors are ridding Alex of his ability to “do evil,” they also accidentally rid him of his ability to appreciate beauty, in that they also apply this reaction of disgust to when he hears Beethoven. Alex as a person has now been destroyed by a society bent on “fixing” him, trying to force him to conform. He is left a helpless puppet, fully open and vulnerable to the inevitable abuse of his character.

As the film progresses the roles of reliance are constantly switched. At times, society seems to revolve around Alex and his world view, while at others the table is turned, and it is Alex who is now helpless and completely reliant on society and its rules. Kubrick’s artistic abilities have given the story a whole new dimension and meaning, and the impact and message have not diminished in the 33 years since the film’s production. And while it may be difficult to watch at times due to the graphic nature of the sex and violence, the overriding metaphor is timeless. So if you’re looking for a film that’s just completely different, and that will blow your mind, A Clockwork Orange would be an excellent choice…oh my brothers.


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