This review may contain some minor spoilers as this film is over forty years old. Please also note this film is rated 18 for good reason, so not for those of a sensitive disposition. For context, this is the first time I have watched the film and I watch it at the cinema.
“A Clockwork Orange” is the sort of film you hear a lot about. Everyone says it is grim, even those who haven’t watched it. Therefore, when going to watch it in the cinema, I did so with a feeling of apprehension. Was everyone soft. Would my snowflake millennial mind shatter at what I would see? Within the first ten minutes, I certainly felt uncomfortable. Our lead character Alex (Malcom McDowell) and his droogs commit the most atrocious crimes. Stanley Kubrick spares no details showing us these scenes in a most uncompromising manner.
I’m cured. Praise God
The very first scene is one of the most iconic in cinema. The slow zoom out of partly eyelashed Alex and his droogs in the disturbing milk bar and him discussing how he was to have a night of ultra-violence with a backdrop of ominous drums and a brass band playing a daunting song in a minor key were brilliant at setting up the film. From here we witness a sadistic gang partake in atrocities all under the calm Tyler Durden-esque narration of Alex.
He himself proves the most fascinating enigma. His actions are presented as a performance, or a form of art. This is most noteworthy during his “Singing in the rain” sequence. The acrylic colour schemes during these scenes and the almost dance like choreography make the whole thing seem like stage-show. This isn’t how the viewer sees it, yet we are given an introduction into Alex’s mind. He enjoys hurting people beyond repair, while in the morning nothing gives him more satisfaction than listening to Beethoven’s ninth. There is no consequence as he feels invincible. He acts sophisticated and believes he is better than all others. He is truly psycopathic and unpredictable. The reference to the audience as his “brothers and only friends” only adds another layer to his relationship with the audience.
As Alex goes on terrorising both society and his droogs, his crimes continue. He is finally caught having murdered a woman and goes to jail. From here, we see the blackest comedy about free will. After two years in prison, Alex volunteers for a scheme which will cure him of all his urges and free him from prison. The Ludivoco technique involves him having to watch videos with his eyes clamped open. It makes him sick when he has any urges or hears Beethoven’s song. After his release, he comes back into the world and the world has its revenge. He can not fight back. He can’t defend himself or express himself at the fear of the situation he will be put in. We watch him be tortured by society for what he has done and he becomes a wreck, nothing like he was earlier on in the film.
You’re not cured yet boy
The main idea of the story is that the government claims it reduces crime and fixes Alex, while others bemoan that Alex has lost his free will. Was Alex happy free or merely a shell of what he once was? This is where the movie is at its strongest. Kubrick just about gives out enough information about the politics around the issues so we can come to our own conclusions, but not enough that he forces us to come to an answer. While we appreciate the need for society to be safe, there is a sadness about the quirky personality of Alex becoming shriveled.
However, despite this story being strong, it is over-shadowed by the violence you mainly remember. So much so, you already feel empty by the time all of this comes around.
I was cured alright
This world we witness is a dark world, full of bad people other than Alex. The pastel colour scheme offsets the darkest actions and feel like a facade, adding a level of distance which make these crimes feel fictional enough. We go quickly from light glossy colours to dark colours. The synthesised music only adds to the quirky atmosphere as Kubrick tries to create a balance between gritty reality and distance for fiction.
As this is an old film, I will not be rating it, but giving some concluding thoughts
Am I glad I watched this film? In some ways yes, in other ways no. This was an interesting story with a fascinating lead character. The plot brilliantly considers what freedom is and the role of the government in a person’s life. It’s very difficult to get past the horrendous scenes which you are forced to watch. If you can deal with anything on screen, then I would recommend you consider this movie as it certainly does stick with you. But do approach with caution as it is certainly not easy to watch.