A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)
The films of Stanley Kubrick became the references of the modern day Cinema. He was the ultimate “auteur” within every genre he explored. Kubrick’s own particular vision and exploration of narratives characterizes his oeuvre. Subsequent viewings of all his films makes every experience richer and more meaningful to the spectator.
A Clockwork Orange may be the most famous film made by Stanley Kubrick, the ultra-violence depicted, the scandals, the banishments, and the aura around it makes it one of the most popular film of all-time. In this critics’ opinion, every Kubrick picture is a masterpiece. A Clockwork Orange is no less.
Alex (Malcolm McDowell) a young man lives by night getting high on “shakes”, violence, rape, and stealing. He dresses as a dandy by day and as some kind of punk with army boots and white clothes by night. As the leader of his droogs Alex fulfills their need in drugs, sex, and brawls. One day his lead of the gang needs to be reinforced, so he decides to give them a good lesson. Formed of three other droogs; his gang, evidently exasperated by Alex, plans a trick to be sure he will get in for good by a stronger authority than his mild mannered parents and the weird/pederast principal of his school to reform his behaviour. Later after ending up in prison, he’ll offer himself to get a treatment that cleans the brain from “bad” or “wrong” thoughts from his nature. He’ll then be able to get back into society with a normal/passive temperament. This treatment will dehumanize Alex and rehabilitate him to the society.
One part exposing Kubrick’s fear of America (he left New York for England because he was afraid of the violence and the nuclear menace in the USA) and one part the demonstration of the nature of humans that couldn’t be castrated or sedated. Humanity must have a choice of its actions and it should be moral. We can’t brainwash someone and erase his entire personality. Human nature is formed of good and evil and both must get into our minds to fully balance themselves. Sometimes in society we have to be clever and be better but other times we must fight and stand our guards. Be passive in some situations just makes us bland as sheep. The meanings of A Clockwork Orange are interesting and one must notice that this is a masterpiece as for its content so for its visuals.
Every frame of this film is composed of superb imagery and as a perfectionist as Kubrick was it shows how he took so much time working on a film refining a particular idea. The scene under the bridge where the droogs beat up a drunk bum is lit like a Film Noir with such a mastery that even if this is a cruel scene this is one of the most beautiful scenes of Cinema. Visually the colours, the frames and the movement of camera in A Clockwork Orange doesn’t have any flaws.
Adapted from Anthony Burgess’ novel by the same name, this feature is way much better than the original material and I think the same for Kubrick’s version of The Shining. The symbolism and the psychological/philosophical depth of Kubrick’s films can’t really be described, you have to see/live those films to fully appreciate every aspect of them all. The differences between Burgess and Kubrick are that the film success in bringing an entertaining story with the most unfriendly character ever presented. This is one of the most pessimistic films and one of the most ironic too. Nobody would want to live in this kind of world where everyone is ugly and inhuman. The dehumanization of Alex is done by vicious scientists and his rehabilitation is the action of political manipulations. Evil is everywhere and irony reigns. The roles switched in many cases, the writer who got beat up and got his wife raped by Alex and his gangs gets his revenge by torturing the mild dehumanized Alex without any remorse.
On a technical aspect, the use of classical music, especially Beethoven’s, Alex’s favourite compositor, sets the standard that Kubrick already did with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Those classical masterpieces were remixed and are characterized by the perfect use of music in films. When I hear Beethoven my mind automatically will remind me of the accelerated threesome scene, the record store just before, or the morning when Alex puts on music in his room. This is a celebration of the magnificence of Beethoven’s oeuvre. The first time we discover this film, the music of Beethoven makes a clash because this is such a beautiful, elegant, and passionate piece of art that Alex isn’t the type of individual who’ll connect with this kind of music. You would think that in this near future he would listen to some distorted guitar à la Black Sabbath or The Stooges, something dark and heavy, but still. Kubrick probably choose those masterpieces that transcended time and imagination, like his other pictures he needs something that doesn’t reflect a time period but that evokes and awakes many layers of emotions. A Clockwork Orange is an example of mastery in the use of a soundtrack and demonstrates how a score should fit with the imagery it presents.
Like any other masterpiece, A Clockwork Orange has its detractors. Some say it’s too violent, others say that it depicts a surreal world of nonsense and coldness. The violent aspect of the film is there and the weaker hearted may find some scenes unwatchable but still, this is a film that denounces this kind of gratuitous violence. On the other hand, sure this is a surreal world, this is a science-fiction movie that projected the world of tomorrow just like George Orwell’s 1984. The last argument of the detractors, the most justified in my opinion, is the cold approach of Kubrick towards the story and the characters. Kubrick is not a warm director and his characters are more pieces of chessboard than the players of a John Cassavetes movie. He uses them to tell the story. The objective of the camera always seems distant to the characters and they are shot with blissful movements of camera. It creates some sort of objectivity through the subjectivity of the story. Unlike Hitchcock, for example, we are not pulled into the story as the wrong man. We are the watchers of the story, Kubrick uses other tricks to interpel his public. His favourite director, Max Ophüls and his always moving camera influenced the work of Kubrick. The uncommon camera angles and unique framings destabilize the viewer in his experience.
As you may have guessed this is a film I love with passion. I have seen it a dozen times and each viewing has showed me a different aspect of the film. When I think about the perfect director I always put Stanley Kubrick in number one. Even if it’s not my favourite Kubrick or my favourite movie of all-time, A Clockwork Orange will always have a special place in my cinephile heart.