Year Released: 1971
Director: Stanley Kubrick
That opening shot. That standard Kubrick tracking shot. I’d seen it before many times. It always makes me crack a style to see one of this director’s signatures. Yet this time, that shot that I had seen many times in the past, gave me a sense of uneasiness. That long stare of a young man with a glass of milk wearing white with a black hat. The images all around the milk bar, from the tables shaped like naked women to the words that appear to be Russian on the wall coupled with a haunting electronic piece by Wendy Carlos. The film is A Clockwork Orange. And for the first time ever, I had seen a film that truly has me conflicted.
Based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange stars Malcolm McDowell as Alex DeLarge, a juvenile delinquent who partakes in drinking milk-plus and engaging in rape, and ultraviolence. Within the first 45 minutes of the film, Alex and his droogs beat up a homeless man on the street, get into a fight with another gang and assault a writer and rape his wife. I’ve always heard about the use of “Singing in the Rain” in regards to this rape scene and now I understand. Usually when a movie know for its violence ages it tends be a little tamer when viewed. Not at all here. This isn’t the type of stylized violence we see from Tarantino or Verhoeven. These are despicable actions by despicable people. It is uncomfortable and unpleasant. Yet Kubrick makes it hard to turn away. I don’t know what he did with his films of the 70s, but this and Barry Lyndon, which I felt was extremely boring but I couldn’t take my eyes off it, but he managed the same here.
Alex is incarcerate for murder and is released after going through an experimental treatment designed to “cure” him of his criminal nature. By time it’s all over he gets physically ill when faced with a violent or sexual situation. The state declares him cured and releases him back into society. However when he comes across the people who he has wronged in the past, he can not fight back as the prospect of violence makes him sick.
This is where the film makes me question myself. Normally I’d would want to see a person like Alex get what he deserves and he does once he returns home. Yet it’s doesn’t seem balanced since he is conditioned to not fight back. I want him to get his when he is at full strength. A minister while he was in prison says the state has taken away his free will. He has choice but to behave because he can’t choose the opposite. Should I have sympathy for Alex? Even at the end of the picture I was unsure of what to feel.
I love Stanley Kubrick’s work and this is the only one of his films I had not seen. I put it off for years because of the subject matter. This is quite a disturbing film. Will I ever watch it again? Perhaps. I need to clear my head after watching this. Do I feel this film is classic? Absolutely. It does what a film is supposed to do, open your eyes to new ideas and ideals and sometimes challenge your mind. I still feel Kubrick’s a master of the craft. This film cements that opinion.