A Clockwork Orange

1971, Movie, R, 137 mins

Review

CLOCKWORK ORANGE, A
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Who else but Stanley Kubrick could successfully direct an ultra-stylish, sci-fi cult film about the impossibility of redemption in the absence of freely willed sin? In a shabbily futuristic British welfare state, Alex (Malcolm McDowell) leads a gang of juvenile delinquents through nightly rounds of beatings, rapes and, as they call it, "ultraviolence." The lads wear motley uniforms--jumpsuits fitted with codpieces--and speak in a bizarre patois that combines elements of colloquial Russian with Cockney rhyming slang; Alex hates school but loves Beethoven, whose music he associates with sexual violence. Among their victims is a prominent writer (Patrick Magee); they beat him senseless and gang-rape his wife (Adrienne Corri). After violently suppressing an uprising among his "droogies" (from the Russian for "friends"), Alex is betrayed by them during an attack on another home, knocked senseless and left for the police. In prison, he agrees to undergo horrific experiments in "aversion therapy" in order to shorten his term. Now nauseated by the mere thought of violence--or Beethoven--he's pronounced cured and released into the outside world. There, vengeance of one kind or another is visited upon him by his erstwhile fellow gang-members (now policemen), and by his former victims (including Magee). Victimized by his former victims, he becomes a media celebrity and reaches a cynical accomodation with the parliamentary opposition. "I was cured, all right," Alex observes.

Kubrick's liberal, anti-authoritarian reading of Anthony Burgess's very Catholic allegorical novel is morally confused but tremendously powerful. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is a visually dazzling, highly unsettling work that revolves around one of the few truly amoral characters in film or literature. It pits a gleefully vicious individual against a blandly inhuman state, leaving the viewer little room for emotional involvement (though McDowell gives such an ebullient, wide-eyed performance as the Beethoven-loving delinquent that it is hard for us not to feel some sympathy toward him). Meanwhile, we're dazzled by Kubrick's directorial pyrotechnics--slow motion, fast motion, fish-eye lenses, etc.; entertained by John Barry's witty, ostentatious sets; and intrigued by dialogue laden with Burgess's specially created slang ("good" is "horrorshow"; sex is "the old inout," etc.). A particularly graphic film for its time, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE continues to divide critics. No serious moviegoer can afford to ignore it. leave a comment

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