Dir: Stanley Kubrick, 1971
A morality tale about the freedom to choose or sick fantasy?
Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 shocker about a teenage boy who relishes his life of crime, is the most controversial in all of his career.
Alex De Large (Malcolm McDowell), is an horrifying premonition of what has become real. Alex is around fifteen years old, who pallies around with his gang of ‘droogs’; Pete, Georgie and Dim. Alex narrates the film.
In a subway, a homeless drunk is brutally accosted by Alex and the boys.
The gang speak Nadsat, an amalgamation of Russian and Cockney rhyming slang. The droogs get their kicks from thieving, ultraviolence and rape (“the old in, out, in out”)
A local hangout for the gang is the Korova milk bar. The bar sells milk laced with drugs.
After fighting with rival Billy Boy and his gang, who were about to rape a girl (“devotchka”), they flee the scene and steal a Durango.
Stopping by a writer and his wife’s house, they get the attention of the owners and pretend that they need a phone because a friend has been in an accident.
Letting them in, they are terrorised, assaulted and the wife raped, all to the tune of Alex singing, Singin’ In The Rain.
The next day, Alex goes to the record shop to pick up an album of Beethoven, that he has ordered. Two teenage girls are looking through some records, when Alex spots them. Chatting them up, they go back to his house and have sex, filmed in an comically sped up fashion.
Later, his droogs turn up at his block of flats, talking about how things are going to change. Putting a stop to the mutiny, Alex, swiftly disposes of his three friends, asserting his authority in the group.
Pete lets the gang know, that there is a health farm with plenty of money, and they should rob it.
Breaking in, Alex gets into a scuffle with the female owner and kills her with a china phallus, but not before she has phoned the police about the disturbance.
Escaping out of the front door, the others are waiting for him. Dim smashes a milk bottle in his face and leave him to be arrested.
Alex is sentenced to prison.
While in prison, he hears of a new treatment being developed called the “Ludovico technique”.
Volunteering for this pioneering technique, Alex is subjected to film clips of violence and rape, accompanied by the music of Beethoven, his favourite composer.
The treatment works, and any instance of violence or sex renders him nauseous and incapacitates him. Beethoven’s music has the same effect.
Declared cured, the authorities release him back into society.
He returns home, to find that his parents have rented his room out to a lodger. Upset, he leaves.
Wandering the streets, he his recognised by the drunk he beat up. Gathering, other homeless people, the drunk and his friends, viciously beat him. Two police officers arrive and break it up.
To Alex’s shock, the officers are his old droogs, Pete and Dim. They drag him to some woods and dunk his head in a trough while beating him. They leave him for dead.
He manages to scramble his way to nearby home, asking for assistance. He is welcomed in. Alex realises that the owner is the writer he assaulted, earlier, and who’s wife he raped. The writer is now in a wheelchair, implied to be because of the attack. His wife hs now passed on, possibly as a result of the trauma she exerienced. The owner hasn’t realised who the visitor is.
Alex is given a bath to soothe his his wounds, and while bathing casually beings to sing, Singin’ In The Rain. The writer hears this, and realises who he has in the house.
The writer phones some conspirator friends. They come round to his house, drug Alex and take him away.
Locked in a room, the music of Beethoven is pumped the through the floor. Unable to endure the effects of the treatment, he jumps from a window with the intention of killing himself.
The suicide attempt fails, and Alex is in hospital with numerous broken bones. Alex’s plight has reached the newspapers, and the government is receiving a severe backlash over the treatment.
In an effort to reclaim public support, the government reverse the effects of the Ludovico technique, put the writer away and offer Alex a position that will financially benefit him.
Cured of his ills, Alex fantasises about romping naked with a girl, implying that he will go back to his old ways.
Adapted from the book by Anthony Burgess, Kubrick tones down a few incidents for the film.
The moral of the book is about the right to choose. Alex chooses to be bad. However, Kubrick was working from the American printing which left out, the final, important chapter.
Burgess’ novel, ends with Alex in a chance encounter with Pete, who is now married. This makes the antagonist realise that he isn’t a boy anymore but a man and chooses to do good. He matures.
With this chapter missing, the film ends on a downbeat note with Alex choosing his former life of crime and violence. There is no maturing. It destroys the meaning of the novel.
But, it’s still a very good film. The look of the film has a pop art vibe. The costumes of the droogs have now become iconic, and are a staple of fancy dress and halloween nights. A Clockwork Orange is the subject of, many, cultural references, as seen in The Simpsons.
McDowell, tends to overact as the main character. His narration comes across as a little wooden. This does distract a tad, but it’s not too bad.
Warren Clarke, as Dim, is fabulous as the heavyweight of the gang. Like everything else he’s ever done, he steals the show.
A very enjoyable movie, with a catchy electronic soundtrack by Walter (later, Wendy) Carlos.
It’s not surprising that a film of this nature would cause a fuss in many countries. In the USA, the ratings board gave it an ‘X’. It was later re-edited by Kubrick himself to attain an ‘R’ rating, in 1973. He did this by speeding up the shot of Alex, getting the bottle in the face so it plays at a regular rate instead of slow motion, like in the original. Some of the nudity in the films during the Ludovico technique was removed. A slight alteation was made to the threesome.
The biggest, uproar, occured in Britain. Worried about the violence in the film, the British censors looked at cutting the film. Eventually, they relented, and it was issued with an ‘X’, uncut.
A Clockwork Orange, received notoriety before it was actually released. Stories of rape scenes, and the Singin’ In The Rain part were highlighted in the press.
Tragically, a young dutch girl was brutally raped in Britain by thugs, allegedly, dressed as droogs and singing the Gene Kelly classic. Immediately, the newspapers were all over it. Labelling it as sick and dangerous, etc, the newspapers blamed the film and used it as a scapegoat for all the ills in Britian.
This, to me, is a prime example of double standards and why censorship of film, doesn’t work. It was proven at the trial, that the culprits of the rape hadn’t actually seen the film or even that bit.
But, the newspapers had printed all the most horrifying details of the film. So, if the film was to blame for the attacks, then they got it from the newspapers, NOT the film itself.
This is where the double standards come in. The newspapers are very quick to accuse films and such of corrupting people. But, if we were to blame the film, then they got the inspiration from reading it in the papers. So, actually, they’re to blame. But, they won’t acknowledge, that.
Surely, if someone is going to be influenced by a film to do bad things, then reading about these terrible acts is going to have the same effect?
Anyhow, Kubrick received death threats about the film and had the distributors, Warner Bros., withdraw it from circulation in the UK. From 1972 it was never seen, legally, in this country, again. A showing in the mid 90’s, resulted in the cinema losing its licence and being shut down.
Interest in the film, never went away. Probably as a consequence of being unable to see it, the public’s desire to see what all the hoo-haa was about, led to Channel 4 commissioning a programme about the film.
Entitled, Forbidden Fruit, the documentary featured quite a few clips from the film. Because of the withdrawal, Warner Bros. sought an injuncton, alleging breach of copyright, and that the clips used were all of violence and did not, fairly, represent the film. The case was thrown out and the programme transmitted, a little later than originally scheduled.
Sadly, in 1999, Kubrick passed away. A caveat of the film ever being shown in GB, again, was they had to wait until after his death.
Kubrick’s widow, Christiane, greenlighted a UK re-release. It was given a modern certificate of ’18’ and made available to British audiences, 27 years after it was last seen. A video and DVD release, followed soon after.
By contemporary standards, it’s difficult to see exactly what the fuss was all about. The violence isn’t particularly explicit or graphic. The rape scenes occurs off camera and there’s very little blood letting. It’s certainly a period piece.
Or, maybe, we’ve just become desensitised to violence. Perhaps the papers were right.
Great, bolshy yarblockos! We’re okay.
We’re cured alright!