Summer Moviethon 2016: A Clockwork Orange

June 27: #15, A Clockwork Orange

Kubrick makes audiences squirm with emphasis on opposites, unblinking violence

I didn't watch A Clockwork Orange for a long time because I didn't think I'd like it. I knew about two scenes: the infamous “Singin' in the Rain” home invasion and the scene where Malcolm McDowell has his eyelids pinned open for a very peculiar brand of therapy. Neither one made me think I'd like the film.

However, it's on Netflix and I've been wanting to see some more of Stanley Kubrick's movies, so I gave it a whirl. I'm glad I did. This film is wildly influential and you can see the impression it made on everything from Quentin Tarantino's work to Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight or even the unfortunate subgenre of torture porn.

After seeing A Clockwork Orange, I don't think it fits that last label, though. Sure, we see lead character Alex prepare to rape a woman while singing a happy tune and forcing her husband to watch, but the scene isn't shot like the repugnant rape scenes in modern films like the remake of Last House on the Left.

In fact, I don't think that any of the scenes where terrible crimes are committed are filmed in a way that glamorizes the acts. Kubrick often makes use of a static camera placed far from the action, providing the viewer with a startlingly detached, sterile, unemotional perspective. He doesn't invite you to enjoy or even be disgusted what you see, like torture porn directors do. He merely provides you a voyeur's view of what's taking place and seems to be asking you, “What do you think?” Kubrick wants you to feel complicit in what you see.

The idea that at least some of the violence that takes place in the film may titillate the audience is not avoided, of course. It's kind of the point. Whether you chuckle at Alex killing a woman with a giant penis sculpture or feel satisfied when the tables are turned on Alex later, a close viewing makes you think that if he could, Kubrick would be next to you, smirking when you finally find a terrible scene that fails to offend you.

Alex has his eyelids pinned as he viddys a slooshy horrorshow, or something.

The whole film uses opposites to make its many points. Alex is all about bringing disorder to order. The house he barges in during the afore-mentioned scene is sparkling clean, with nothing but a few chairs that are more pieces of art than furniture to be found. With his singing, violence, and loud behavior, he takes joy in shattering the perfect world of the occupants.

Other opposites include Kubrick's mismatching use of music and content, especially noted in Alex's love of Beethoven. Not everything is supposed to represent an opposite, of course. Kubrick intentionally parallels the violence found in the Bible while questioning the emphasis on vengeance found in not only the Old Testament but also the criminal justice system. He even manages to get a few shots in on politicians near the end of the film, when Alex is reduced to a political football that can be used to score some PR points.

Malcolm McDowell is absolutely perfect as Alex. He has the likability that you stereotypically associate with charismatic sociopaths and when he charms some of the leaders at the prison he winds up in, you can believe it because he has the ability to play an earnest individual who you still feel that you can't trust.

I refuse to believe that McDowell and American Horror Story's Evan Peters aren't somehow related.

The film isn't perfect, but many of its flaws are a real matter of preference and are more of a product of Kubrick staying faithful to the book than anything. I wasn't a fan of the silly slang terms in the film, with all the “slooshy tolchoking” and “viddying” or whatever, but it wasn't a deal breaker.

As a movie that stays relevant to this day and a predecessor to everything from villains who “just want to watch the world burn” to real-life internet trolls who do things “for the lulz,” this film deserves its classic status. Like many of Kubrick's movies, A Clockwork Orange works on the surface level and provides plenty of opportunities for deeper analysis, too.

Grade: A

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