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.
Silent Night (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Deputy Bradimore (Jaime King) receives a call from Sheriff Cooper (Malcolm McDowell) to be informed of the fact that she has to come in for Christmas Eve since Deputy Jordan (Brendan Fehr) is nowhere to be found. Word has it that he has found a woman and they have eloped somewhere. Little do they know that this year, the night leading up to Christmas Eve will be a very bloody affair. There is a man dressed as Santa Claus whose goal is to kill those who have been naughty, from a couple having an affair to makers of softcore pornography.
“Silent Night,” based on the screenplay by Jayson Rothwell, has plenty of gore and gruesome kills but not enough morbid sense of humor to match the ridiculousness of its premise. In addition, although it takes its time to establish the rules, it is disappointing that they are thrown out the window during the third arc for the sake of delivering violence.
The story has a likable protagonist even though ultimately she is not given very much to do. She is more relevant during the first half because there is a hint of a backstory to her. We learn that she remains in a state of grief over losing her lover. King does a good job in communicating that although her character has doubts about continuing to serve the police force, there is something about it that is cathartic and worthwhile. If that struggle had been magnified and expounded upon in the latter half, Deputy Bradimore might have been a complete character. Instead, she feels more like a tool of the plot. She visits crime scenes and chases suspects but beyond that is a question mark.
The screenplay is teeming with characters designed to function solely as red herrings, from a tumescent priest (Curtis Moore) who likes to take pictures of women’s breasts clandestinely to a catatonic grandfather who suddenly bursts to life only to warn his rebel of a grandchild about what to expect that night. The problem is that these characters are too colorful to be worthy of suspicion. Believable serial killers are either quiet and too wrapped up into their own world or gregarious and personable (preferably ordinary-looking) without feeling the need to stick out like a sore thumb. So when big personalities are investigated, there is little tension. Other times, thinking is not required. A suspect cannot be the murderer if a concurrent scene shows the killer Santa being up to no good.
The slow motion sequences are especially annoying. What could have been great scenes prior to the Splat! are watered down by images which force us to notice things like how a character’s hair falls on her face when she is terrified instead of catching us off guard and experiencing the scares on a gut level. The one that works best is the chase scene in and around a seedy motel. There is genuine horror in the decreasing space between Santa and a potential victim. The brutality that ensues once he gets his hands on her is flinch-inducing but less interesting.
Directed by Steven C. Miller, “Silent Night,” loosely based on Charles E. Sellier Jr.’s notorious “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” offers one or two good laughs. My favorite involves a little girl who demands on getting a new Louis Vuitton bag to the point where she bullies her mother, who happens to have a heart condition, into driving her to the mall right now. (Never mind the presents she has under the Christmas tree.) A few seconds later, killer Santa rings the doorbell and shows her a thing or two. It may sound tasteless—watching a child get hurt—but I thought it was really funny. (I have very low tolerance for shrieking spoiled brats.) A more consisent macabre humor would have made a merrier Christmas.
Barry Munday (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Barry Munday (Patrick Wilson), despite his pudgy frame, was a womanizer. He exuded confidence which charmed some but repulsed others. When an underaged girl (Mae Whitman) lured Barry in a movie theater, her father, with a trumpet in hand, walked in on them and hit Barry in the groin. Doctors at the hospital informed him that there was nothing they could do to save his testicles so the boys were going to have to be removed. A couple of days later, to Barry’s surprise, he found out that he had impregnated a woman named Ginger (Judy Greer), the ugly duckling of a well-to-do family (Malcom McDowell, Cybill Shepherd). Based on a novel by Frank Turner Hollon, “Barry Munday” was amusing only half of the time because the director, Chris D’Arienzo, ended his scenes just when the punchline was delivered. For instance, when Barry met Ginger for the “first” time (he couldn’t remember their sexual encounter), the two shared awkwardness, which was mildly funny, but they were left with only references of the night in question. Ginger pointed at the area where they had done the deed and the specific song that played in the background but there was not one memorable joke that incited laughter. I felt as though the film could have played upon Barry’s vanity when he met Ginger. He obviously thought she was ugly so why not overtly play upon the fact that maybe he didn’t feel like she was good enough for him? Yes, the main character would have come off as mean-spirited but it would only highlight the journey he had chosen for himself. The filmmakers’ decision to not take on certain risks lowered the movie’s level of comedy and it missed potential character arcs. I enjoyed Chloë Sevigny as as Ginger’s sister, the favorite of the family. She wasn’t afraid to acknowledge her sexual needs. What I expected to see was her character being used to create a divide between Barry and Ginger. After all, there was a jealousy between the sisters. But I was glad it didn’t take that route. I believed Barry’s change toward becoming a better man because his evolution was mostly two steps forward and one step back. It took some time for him to decide to take real responsibility. However, what I didn’t find as effective was Barry suddenly wanting to know about his father who left before he was born. It offered an explanation involving why Barry turned out to be a womanizer when it didn’t need to. Most men just can’t help but want the idea of being with other women. And that’s okay. Anyone who had taken a psychology course could surmise what the film was trying to say. It implied that his father’s absenceled to his desperate assertion, through being with a lot of women, that he was a man. It was unnecessary because I felt as though Barry’s journey was already complete. He may still not be the kind of guy one would take home to meet the parents, but he was likable enough. We knew he eventually meant well.
O Lucky Man! (1973)
★★ / ★★★★
Malcolm McDowell and Lindsay Anderson team up once again in “O Lucky Man!” a sequel to the exemplary “If…” McDowell plays Mike Travis, an ambitious and enthusiastic coffee salesman whose main goal is to attain financial success. I thought it was very interesting how he seems like a force to be reckoned with in the beginning of the film, but as it goes on and meets quirky, greedy and insightful characters, he seems so insignificant in comparison. Although its premise is a commentary on the evils of capitalism, the dry and dark humor are consistent. Although I didn’t understand some of the jokes because I don’t know much about business and economics, the ones I understand are clever and have a staying power that’s still relevant today; especially now that competition is at its peak and the American economy is not doing so well. This film’s strength lies in its surrealism: some of the actors play multiple characters (Ralph Richardson, Rachel Roberts, Arthur Lowe…) and the events that unfold are extremely out of the ordinary and a bit random (such as the medical facility that use human subjects). I also enjoyed listening to Alan Price’s songs because they reflect what Mike Travis is going through yet at the same time comments on where he should be going. However, I felt like the film digressed too much. Despite Mike Travis’ adventures all over England, I feel as though he didn’t make any genuine human connection that could potentially warrant his change-of-heart during the film’s third act. Yes, he did have inspirations from poets and philosophers but I feel like those aren’t enough to change a person, especially a person who’s obsessed with climbing the economic ladder despite everything that’s put on his way to distract him from that goal. The most interesting character, other than Travis, was Patrcia (played by Helen Mirren) and I wanted to know more about her. In the end, I feel a certain disconnect from this picture–which is strange because, when it comes to films that run for about three hours, I usually feel a certain inclination for the project. “O Lucky Man!” is an unfortunate exception despite its intelligence and brilliant acting from McDowell.
★★★★ / ★★★★
This is one of those films that I will never forget because of how daring it was (still is) especially back at the time of its release. Lindsay Anderson was able to helm a counterculture film that fuses reality with surrealism and dark fantasy, all the while embracing its satirical nature. This was Malcolm McDowell’s first feature film and it was easy to tell that he was a star. He played his character with such domineering sneer and swagger, it was almost as if he was preparing to star in “A Clockwork Orange” directed by the great Stanley Kubrick. The way McDowell’s character and his friends (David Wood and Richard Warwick) were constantly pushed toward the edge by the faculty was fascinating to watch. Each scene has an implication and a certain bite to the point where I found myself referring back to the earlier scenes and realized that foreshadowing is one of its strongest elements. The final scene involving a bloody student uprising against the school system was done in such a provocative way; I didn’t know whether to laugh or take it seriously. Another element that I found to be interesting was the romance between McDowell and a waitress (Christine Noonan). That one “animalistic” scene was so out of the blue but it was exemplary because it’s as if it symbolizes every student’s frustration in that public school. Lastly, the romance between Warwick and one of the younger boys (Rupert Webster) provided a much-needed sensitivity to the picture. Even though they may not have many scenes where they conversed, when they finally did, I couldn’t help but have a smile on my face. This may have been really controversial back in the late 1960s but I think it’s more relevant today. School shootings have now become far too common because of the way students feel about their teachers, peers and the school’s atmosphere. (On the other hand, one can argue that school shootings happen for no reason at all rather than to inflict pain and violence.) This film does a tremendous job avoiding expected rationalizations for the students’ future actions whenever it could. If one is craving for something different in style and perspective, this is the one to see.