Sunday, September 5, 2010

Day Sixty-Five: A Clockwork Orange

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #48
Year: 1971
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Malcolm McDowell and Patrick Magee

One of my favorite things about doing this blog has been revisiting movies that I haven't seen in a while that I remember really liking and seeing how much I still do. A Clockwork Orange is one such movie. I bought it on VHS (!) because it came packaged with the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas tape that I actually wanted and watched it for the first time simply to satisfy my curiosity. I very quickly realized that I was watching a classic, and watched the tape several more times. Eventually, that tape became lost, and in the post-VHS era, I hadn't actually watched A Clockwork Orange until tonight. I re-bought the film on DVD several months ago, fondly remembering the days when I would push it into the VCR every now and again when I wanted a bit of the old ultraviolence. Tonight, I sat down to watch it in order to jog my memory for this blog post, and, perhaps it's needless to say, I still love this movie.

Stanley Kubrick had his work cut out for him when he set out to adapt Anthony Burgess' classic dystopian novel for the screen. A screenplay that would maintain the anarchic spirit of the book – right down to the fake "Nadsat" dialect Burgess created for Alex and his droogs to speak in – while still appealing to a wide cinematic audience was the first and most formidable challenge. Next, Kubrick had to treat the book's excessive sex and violence in such a way that could be shown in theaters but wouldn't pull any punches in portraying Alex's world as Burgess intended it. Of course, despite it having the most impressive legacy of all his works, Burgess considered A Clockwork Orange to be among his worst novels, and hated the movie even more, saying it "seemed to glorify sex and violence." Authors can be curmudgeons about their work, though, and what Kubrick actually managed to do with A Clockwork Orange is one of the great triumphs in the history of film adaptation, and indeed, in the history of film.

To offer a little bit of plot summary, the film follows Alex DeLarge, a troublemaker whose mischief goes beyond the usual graffiti and vandalism of misspent youth and extends to heinous acts of rape and murder. When he's caught by the police after killing a woman with a giant penis statue, he's sent to prison for fourteen years. Seeking any way to get out, he becomes the first patient of the experimental Ludovico technique, a new rehabilitation method designed to make its patients physically sick at the thought of sex or violence. The treatment works, but it makes Alex suicidal, and after a jump from a second story window, he's "cured" a second time – this time, to make him no longer sick at the prospect of his old monkeyshines. Kubrick handles the entire plot with ease, pacing and staging every scene masterfully, and getting brilliant performances out of Malcolm McDowell and the enormous supporting cast. It's not his best movie – that's The Shining – or his most innovative – that's 2001: A Space Odyssey – but A Clockwork Orange is an absolute masterpiece by one of the greatest directors of all time, and it's a member of my top dozen or so movies of all time.

The Good: God, where to begin? The long opening shot where the camera pulls out from Alex to show the setting of the milk bar has always given me chills, but every scene is composed so perfectly by Kubrick that the best answer to this question is simply "the direction" or "everything that Kubrick does."

The Bad: Nothing comes to mind. This is absolutely one of the greatest movies ever made.

The Skinny: #48? Hell, make it #10. It deserves it.


  1. My favorite from Kubrick. It's great as a story, it's great as a piece of art. Alex is one of the greatest characters ever to live on the screen.
    And I definetly agree with your "skinny".

  2. While 2001 is, in my opinion, the best over all of Kubrick's films Clockwork Orange holds a very dear space in my heart.