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February 27, 2015

A Clockwork Orange

by Franz Patrick


Clockwork Orange, A (1971)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Alex (Malcolm McDowell) leads a group of friends (Warren Clarke, James Marcus, Michael Tarn), the four of them collectively known as “droogs,” to commit sociopathic acts of random ultra-violence. Based on the screenplay and directed by Stanley Kubrick, “A Clockwork Orange” wastes no time to lay out its platform. The second scene showcases a beating of an old homeless man, the next involves another five men undressing and attempting to rape a girl, followed by the droogs breaking into a writer’s home to rape his wife. Right away there is an understanding that it is not going to be a movie for everyone—but it does not mean that its message is not important or universal.

It works as a satire due to the material’s proclivity for exaggeration. For instance, aside from McDowell, the majority of the performances are rather robotic and archetypal. People of authority are played to the extremes, especially the police. Scientists are portrayed as cold and unblinking—the ends justified by the means. “Normal” civilians, like Alex’ parents, are dull, some might say idiotic. “Abnormal” civilians, like Alex, his fellow droogs, and other males his age who like to cause trouble, are extremely violent, unpredictable, like starving dogs chained to a post clamoring for the same slab of fresh meat placed only a few feet away. Because the performances are hyperbolic, even though the supporting characters are not fleshed out, they work because each one is magnetic.

There are certain roles where a specific actor is born to play a part. McDowell is Alexander DeLarge, prisoner 655321, and he plays the lead droog with animalistic energy both ferocious and playful that he is ingrained in film culture. In every scene, he hits the perfect spot, exuding a specific level of danger with a hint of humor. There is not one scene when we feel like Alex is playing one emotion or thinking about one thing. Because of such a portrayal, he is an enigma through and through.

The picture comes into focus the moment the main character brings up a form of treatment that can potentially get him out of prison in no time. With no intention to exorcise his thirst for sex and violence, he volunteers to participate in a so-called Ludovico Technique, currently in its experimental stage, which, in theory, can “make a man good.” The goal of the study is to eliminate the “criminal reflex” and the methods employed is not at all dissimilar to aversion therapy. The big question is this: Given that the tools are available and the methods work in the most elementary sense, is it morally right to change one’s nature just so a person can fit the mold of society?

The circus of violence in the first arc is justified not for the sake of experience but for the sake of argument. We need to see what Alex’ lifestyle, how he thinks, what he is capable of. We need to see him destroy lives, to scare them in some way. So when the big question is placed onto our laps, it is not so easy to provide a simple answer. We acknowledge that Alex is a convicted felon and what he has done is wrong, but the underlying motivations of the therapy should also be taken into consideration.

Based on a novella by Anthony Burgess, “A Clockwork Orange” shows us a monstrous society, not limited to the behavior of the droogs, by executing and shooting it through beautiful aesthetics. This is only one of the many contradictions in the film. Another aspect worth mentioning is its utilization of classical music to underline chaos. Kubrick creates a synergy between music and imagery so confidently that the experience is like undergoing hypnosis.

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