Review by Brian Koller
3 stars out of 4
Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" had to stun
its audiences upon release in 1971. Like his previous
film, "2001: A Space Odyssey", Kubrick had violated
enough taboos to stretch the envelope of cinema:
what was previously unacceptable could now be done.
The contribution of "Clockwork" wasn't just the explicit
sexual violence and nudity, which had to be somewhat
edited to avoid an 'X' rating, but the film's misanthropic
attitude and bizarre sets. The film covers sadistic
anarchy, black comedy, and deep cynicism of governmental
power. The whole cast is irredeemable except for the
prison chaplain (Godfrey Quigley), whose task in reforming
hardened criminals is presented as hopeless.
The lead (Alex, played by Malcolm McDowell) brings new
meaning to the term anti-hero. He is a vicious, sadistic
monster who lives a nighttime fantasy life of beatings,
robbery and rapings, in which he is always the one delivering
the punishment. As in "2001", a classic score dominates,
with Beethoven giving Alex the inspiration for his criminal
activities, which are luridly and explicitly depicted.
Alex's desire to control his fellow gang members backfires
when he is betrayed by them after committing a murder.
Alex is sentenced to prison, where he pretends to be
a born-again Christian to facilitate his release.
Alex's desire for freedom makes him a volunteer for
a brainwashing experiment, which makes him physically
nauseated when confronted with thoughts of sex or
violence. Upon release, Alex can't escape his past,
as his former victims delight in their revenge on their
now-helpless past tormentor.
While I don't sympathize with Malcolm's character, I
do feel sorry for Malcolm. Kubrick puts him through
the works: those eyeball clamps look painful, and it
couldn't have been much fun to lick shoes, get dunked
underwater for who knows how many takes, be trussed up
in a cast, plopped in spaghetti, etc. Did he have a
Kubrick freely mixes the shocking and ironic with
blatant black humor. The prison guard character
(Michael Bates) seems out of a Monty Python sketch,
while Malcolm's parents are stupid and maudlin.
Alex has a sculpture depicting a Jesus chorus line,
and commits a murder with a sculpture of a sexual
organ. Kubrick skewers both conservative and liberal
politics, with the cynical, manipulative Minister
of the Interior (Anthony Sharp) no worse than the
half-mad 'subversive' writer (Patrick Magee).
By the way, there is another film in the American
Film Institute Top 100 that has even more nudity
and violence: "Schindler's List". Presentation is
Copyright © 1997 Brian Koller