A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 16 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Written by: Stanley Kubrick

(based on the novel A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess)

Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates, Warren Clarke, John Clive, Adrienne Corri & Carl Duering

At one point in this film, ultra-violent droog leader Alex DeLarge describes Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as “bliss and heaven!” Those very same words can also be used to describe Stanley Kubrick’s disturbing masterpiece A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Based on the already controversial novel by Anthony Burgess and made even more notorious for its unabashedly dark content, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is a beautifully crafted tale of ultra-violence, twisted psychiatry, and corrupt politics. The film can be read any number of ways, but purely enjoyed for its brilliantly written storyline of crime and punishment, followed by more punishment.

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Set in futuristic London, CLOCKWORK ORANGE follows juvenile delinquent Alex DeLarge. He frequently skips school, hangs out with the wrong crowd, and commits nightly bursts of ultra-violence (sipping drugged milk, beating hobos, robbing unsuspecting rich folks, raping pretty women, etc.). After one of his already heinous crimes accidentally goes too far, our teenage thug finds himself facing a long stretch of prison time. In an effort to lessen his sentence, Alex becomes the subject of an experimental treatment that intends to “cure” him of all bad behavior. However, this “cure” comes with unintended consequences…

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A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is an understandably controversial piece of work. The film’s unflinching view of a dark dystopian-like future is grim and filled with all sorts of violence and corruption. The former comes from the nature of Alex himself, while the latter erupts in various forms during the film’s second half. Malcolm McDowell gives the best performance of his career as Alex DeLarge. He’s amazing to watch as the central antihero, becoming both frightening and fascinating in equal measure. McDowell’s Alex frequently addresses the audience through narration that makes the tale seem terrifyingly relatable and even borderline sympathetic (frequently addressing us as his “only friends”). Side characters (Alex’s parents, fellow droogs, authority figures, and victims) pop in and out, but only to drive certain plot points forward. Like it or not, Alex becomes our twisted protagonist to root for. It would probably be fair to say that stories like AMERICAN PSYCHO exist because of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

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CLOCKWORK’s world comes alive through elaborate set design, bringing creativity to every nook and cranny of the screen. Small touches include: cufflinks that resemble bloody eyeballs, sexually explicit artwork everywhere, colorful hair styles, gang-related eye-makeup, oddly shaped furniture, etc. One of the film’s most noticeable characteristics is the appropriately bleak atmosphere hovering over the whole damn thing. The attention to detail is staggering in that this doesn’t feel like a far-off future, but rather an alternate timeline that could easily exist within our world. There’s never a moment where the sun shines in this movie that I can recall, but this merely adds to the suffocatingly grim feeling that serves its subject matter so well.

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It should also be noted that, over four decades later, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE retains every bit of its shock value. There are valid reasons for this film being so controversial at the time of its release (receiving an X rating in the USA and being temporarily banned in the UK). This movie was a prime example of emerging levels of violence and sexuality on the big screen, which is a good thing as cinematic censorship was slowly dying off. There are a number of scenes that still manage to turn my stomach a bit (something that’s extremely hard to do). One particular moment (involving a depraved use of the song “Singin’ in the Rain”) actually caused a family of unprepared viewers to furiously walk out of the Cinemark Classic screening. You have to be slightly prepared to take this movie head on, but it’s absolutely worth it!

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The soundtrack and pacing round this film out as a masterpiece. Classical music combined with dark extremities make for an interesting (often entertaining) contrast. I would have a hard time believing that this film runs over two hours as well, because it moves so fast for me. The viewer gets lost in Alex’s plight-filled adventure and then has a lot to think about once they’ve left the theater or turned off their TV screen. Who is the actual villain of the story? One could easily argue that it’s not Alex. What message should one take away from the movie? There are plenty of possible, totally valid interpretations that are all equally interesting and fascinating. Though these questions may not have easy answers and will vary from person to person, one thing is certain: A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is unforgettable!

Grade: A+

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