A Clockwork Orange

Year: 1971

Production: Polaris / Warner Bros.

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Warren Clarke, Michael Bates, Aubrey Morris, Adrienne Corri

Screenwriter: Stanley Kubrick

Based on A Clockwork Orange (1962) by Anthony Burgess

137 minutes, Color


This controversial adaptation of Burgess' novel about mind control tells of Alex (McDowell), a teenage thug in a tawadry near future - dehumanizing and luridly presented - who is cured of his violent ways by a sadistic form of aversion therapy. It was the (arguable) glamorizing of Alex's anarchy sex and violence (in contrast to the book) that provoked so much angry reaction in the media, though otherwise Kubrick's adaptation is moderately faithful. The film is not in fact amoral, though its moral is controversial: A Clockwork Orange is a religious allegory with a Frankenstein theme - it warns humankind not to try to compete with God - but Burgess reverses the theme, showing it to be as evil to unmake a monster, by removing his free will, as to make one. A Clockwork Orange is an intensely visual tour de force, deploying clinically a spectrum of powerful cinematic effects. As in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, some sequences were rendered even more disturbing by the use of music contrasting wildly with the visual content, most famously in Alex's rendition of "Singing in the Rain" while kicking in the ribs of the husband whose wife he is about to rape.

A Clockwork Orange received the 1972 Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

Though 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), its Homeric title notwithstanding, clearly sees man as not in control of his destiny, it nevertheless remains an affirmative film; A Clockwork Orange, through it celebrates free will, is a far more pessimistic offering. The earlier film ends with the birth of the new "transcended" man, A Clockwork Orange opens (and closes) with the frightening image of McDowell's young thug about to go on the rampage and then follows his rehabilitation, by the horrendous Ludovico technique, which leaves him unable to cope with the violence he once meted out; whereupon, as part of an electroneering ploy, he is restored to his former self, his murderous instinct again intact.

Both Kubrick and Burgess have said the message of the film is the need for (and the price of) free will. Though the film was attacked both for violence McDowell metes out and then suffers, it should be stressed that the film's violence is more stylized than realistic, more shadowplay than blood and gore. Indeed the violence is more shocking than physical with its interwining of such valued and varied cultural products as "Singing in the Rain" (which McDowell sings and dances as he and his "droogs" beat up Magee and rape Corri) and Beethoven's 9th Symphony (McDowell's favorite piece of music) with the omnipresent violence of Kubrick's near future. That said, if the film's argument demands, as one critic has put it, that as we watch "we shed out humanity that McDowell may acquire it", the film's bravura sense of style has a coldness about it that smacks of cynicism, especially when compared to the more modestly conceived The Terminal Man (1974) in which society also tries to restructure an individual to save him from himself. In Mike Hodges' film the scientists are misguided, in Kubrick's they are merely, like McDowell, the products of their society.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

Related links:
Classic Science Fiction Reviews at scifi.com


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