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A Clockwork Orange (1971)

January 23rd, 2007 · 1 Comment


Decked out in a bowler hat, fake eyelash, and white combat suit, punk delinquent Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is introduced sitting with his “droogs,” Georgie, Dim and Pete. In an England of the near future, the boys lounge in a “milk bar,” sipping drug laced drinks and getting set for “a bit of the old ultra violence.”

Alex and the boys beat up a bum, brawl with a gang they encounter molesting a woman, then fly through the country in a stolen car. They arrive at the home of an elderly writer and his young wife. Alex tricks her into opening the door, and the boys burst in wearing bizarre masks. Alex launches into a song and dance of “Singin’ In The Rain,” kicking the writer and stripping the wife before he rapes her.

Skipping school to catch up on his sleep – and to have an orgy with two teenage girls he picks up at a music store – Alex is challenged by Georgie and Dim for leadership of the gang. They have an idea for a robbery, but Alex attacks them for their insolence. All is apparently forgiven, and Alex accepts their scheme to break into a farm.


Alex attacks the “Catlady” who lives at the farm, and is arrested. In prison, he entertains himself by perusing the Bible and imagining himself starring in the more lurid parts. Wanting out, he asks the prison chaplain about the “Ludovico Treatment Technique”. The chaplain reveals that this is a new state program that supposedly cures criminal behavior, but warns Alex not to volunteer because it would deprive him of free will.

Alex proves to be the perfect guinea pig, sized up as “young, bold, vicious.” He’s injected with an experimental serum, and is forced to watch graphic movies with his eyelids clamped open. The images begin to make him nauseous. Cured of his sociopathic behavior, Alex is released into society, where he encounters all those who knew him as a thug. Unlike Alex, they are free to react to him with hostility.

Director Stanley Kubrick was given a copy of Anthony Burgess’ 1962 social satire by his co-writer on Dr. Strangelove, Terry Southern. Adapting the book himself – and filming it with lightweight cameras, faster lenses and improved sound equipment that made location shooting easier – Kubrick’s cut was branded with an X-rating. It became the last of the few major studio films to be released with one.


After playing successfully for a year, a series of assaults in Western Europe were blamed on the movie. Kubrick and his family lived in England, and out of concern for their safety, the director petitioned Warner Bros. to remove the film from exhibition in the U.K., a ban he not only got, but remained in effect until Kubrick’s death in 1999.

My first reaction to A Clockwork Orange was that it was beyond tacky. The futuristic kitsch and the electronic music (by Wendy Carlos) are repellent to the point I not only wanted to turn away from the screen, but get up and run. The violence didn’t bother me, but the look and feel of the movie bothered me.

Kubrick locks you in this world – like Alex – and doesn’t give you room to breathe. I realized this when I watched it again, and while I don’t feel comfortable calling A Clockwork Orange a masterpiece, I respected it a lot more.



The pun-filled slang employed by Alex and the droogs is loaded with onomatopoeia, and Malcolm McDowell’s droll narration in this dialect is wildly creative and at times very funny. I chuckled at the idea that in the future, all artwork will be pornography. And the use of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie,” and “Singin’ In The Rain” are all strokes of genius.

But once Alex is sent to prison, the satirical wit and creativity that the movie starts off with seems to dissipate. As in Lolita, the script grows a beer gut and Kubrick becomes indulgent, padding the running time up to 136 minutes with scenes of Alex being processed, or reuniting with his hapless parents, scenes that seem to go nowhere.

The movie rebounds with a tremendous finale that suggests Alex hasn’t been returned his free will, but is more of a puppet than he was after his “treatment.” There’s a lot here that didn’t do enough for me, but Kubrick considered this his most skillfully made film to date, and I’m inclined to agree. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but lost in each category to The French Connection.


Tags: Black comedy · Rated X

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 bob ballard // Mar 19, 2008 at 4:19 am

    “The violence didn’t bother me, but the look and feel of the movie bothered me.”
    What does this say about the critic?

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