“The story functions, of course, on several levels, political, sociological, philosophical and, what’s most important, on a dreamlike psychological-symbolic level.”–Stanley Kubrick
FEATURING: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee
PLOT: Alex is the leader of a small gang of violent, thrill-seeking youths in England sometime in the indefinite near future. After a home invasion goes bad, his “droogs” betray him and his victim dies, and he is sent to prison. The government selects him to undergo experimental Pavlovian conditioning that makes him violently ill when he becomes aggressive, then releases him onto the streets as a “reformed” criminal, only to find he is helpless to defend himself when he encounters his vengeful former victims.
- A Clockwork Orange is an adaptation of the critically acclaimed 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess. Burgess was ultimately unhappy with this treatment of his novel, because in his intended ending for the story, Alex voluntarily reformed. This final chapter of redemption had been excluded from American prints of the novel—the version Kubrick worked worked from—at the request of the American publisher. Kubrick’s version ends with evil triumphant. Although Kubrick had not read the final chapter of the novel before beginning the film, he later stated in interviews that he would not have included the happy ending anyway because he thought it rang false.
- The title—which is not explained in the movie, only glimpsed briefly as a line of text on a typewritten page—comes from an expression Burgess overheard in a bar, “as queer as a clockwork orange.”
- Burgess created the elaborate fictional jargon Alex uses by mixing elements of Russian and Slavic languages with Cockney slang. Much of his original dialogue found its way into the movie.
- A Clockwork Orange was Stanley Kubrick’s next project after his previous weird masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). It was also young star Malcolm McDowell’s first feature role after starring in a 1968 weird film, Lindsay Anderson’s If…
- A Clockwork Orange was the first movie to use Dolby sound.
- The movie was released in the United States with an “X” rating, and was later cut slightly and re-released in 1973 with an “R” rating.
- The film was blamed for several copycat crimes in Britain and Europe, notably, a gang rape in which the rapists sang “Singin’ in the Rain” during the assualt. Kubrick, an American who lived in the United Kingdom, was also reportedly stalked by some deranged fans of the film. For these reasons, Kubrick withdrew A Clockwork Orange from distribution in Britain, both from live screenings and on video. The self-imposed ban lasted until Kubrick’s death.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: A Clockwork Orange filled with as many iconic images as any film of the last fifty years. Scenes like the one where Alex and his costumed droogs walk cockily through a deserted city in slow motion have consciously or unconsciously been copied many times (compare the similar slo-mo shot of the uniformed gangsters emerging from their breakfast meeting in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs). Probably the most instantly recognizable image is the opening closeup of Alex’s sneering face, wearing a huge false eyelash one one eye only. I selected another memorable Malcolm McDowell closeup, the one of Alex as he’s undergoing the Ludovico technique, with wires and transistors attached to his head and metal clamps forcibly holding his eyes open so he cannot look away from the violent images on the screen, because it works as a perfect ironic metaphor for a film we cannot tear our eyes away from.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Although the plot is simple, and realistic in its own speculative way, Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is so hyper-stylized with its bizarre poetic language, sets, costumes, music, broadly exaggerated performances, and the improbable karmic symmetry of the plot that it seems to take place in a dream world or a subconscious realm. The action, which takes the form of an ambiguous moral fable, occurs in an urban landscape that’s familiar, but fabulously twisted just beyond our expectations.
Original trailer for A Clockwork Orange
COMMENTS: A Clockwork Orange did not have to be weird. The story could have been Continue reading 30. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)