Coming fresh off 2001: A Space Odyssey, he followed it up with his coldest film to date. Adapting Anthony Burgess’s equally controversial novel of the same name, Kubrick formed a product that is still just as controversial today as it was back in its day. In all its coldness, it still remains one of the boldest satirical efforts of all time, not more than Dr. Strangelove but still just as fascinating. It was the first Kubrick that convinced me of his remarkable talent as a film director (I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey at the age of ten and my opinion on it now is much drastically different), and while it may not exactly be my favourite from the wonderful filmmaker’s body of work, it certainly has left a grand mark upon my own perception of film.
The film introduces us to our protagonist, the charismatic young criminal Alex DeLarge, and as we slowly zoom away from his face staring straight, we get an idea of his menacing personality. Portrayed magnificently by the young Malcolm McDowell, he is our protagonist, yet he is the sort of character whose actions give off very many detestable qualities. Yet with the manner in which Stanley Kubrick is presenting a character like he to us, a fascinating character study is left behind, for the development of his own psychological state within each stage of the film (the first depicting him moving on with his actions, the second being his imprisonment, and the third being his forced reformation) is a trial that even gives a clear understanding to the emotions of a sociopathic figure who gets himself into what he terms “ultraviolence” for the sake of his own amusement. It’s as if Kubrick evokes a sense of guilt for bringing us closer to the mind of a sociopathic individual much like Alex, and at that, he succeeds brilliantly.
What Kubrick also gives an image of is the extremes on both ends of the spectrum which he is presenting in A Clockwork Orange, adding more to the brilliance of the satire which he is leaving behind. On one end, you have a gang of youths who represent the worst in humanity, for they go out and perform all these acts of violence for they find pleasure inside of it, and then we have the dominating government who wants a perfect society, they will resort to having the most volatile of delinquents remove their free will by having these devilish thoughts make them physically sick, thus removing any sense of humanity in them. It’s right here where Kubrick establishes that in spite of the many horrible things in which we see Alex DeLarge is committing, there still is a sense of humanity to him, and sympathize with him or not (it is especially hard to when you think about what he does on a regular basis), the immediate classification as “the scum of the earth” just because we only see the worst of what he’s done, cannot fully be justified unless we truly get closer to him. As he is being treated through the disturbing process that is the Ludovico technique, though, there’s an aching pain we can feel for his loss of freedom.
The tonal shifts from each stage of the film also allow a form of effectiveness to rise, for they also give off the uncomfortable vibe completely contrasting what had been offered prior. Prior, as we witness Alex going out together with his droogs as he performs acts of violence then and there, the sudden shift in tone from the moment in which Alex’s droogs betray him and leave him to be caught by the police eliminates a sense of dark humour which was being given off from how we witness Alex’s demented psychology, which ultimately hid away the tragedy of what happened to Alex’s victims for it was all placed within the realm of an overwhelming excitement. The sudden shifts in tone from one act to the other only bring us closer to Alex’s pain, which in turn makes A Clockwork Orange an effectively brilliant picture of the human mind, especially in a peculiar individual like Alex.
The world building for this dystopian world which Stanley Kubrick created is another aspect to which creates the uncomfortable vibe in which we are feeling as A Clockwork Orange is progressing. We know already that this is not a story set in the present, but given how excellently it builds up this world which Alex inhabits, it is a sense that a search for power has corrupted humanity. Whether it be from the delinquents that are Alex and his gang or the government, Kubrick is attacking the radical ends on both ends of the political spectrum. What he shows us right here is how it is not these psychotic acts that are destroying humanity (they already are a picture of how it is destroyed), but a desire to be more capable over others.
A Clockwork Orange is a film that would not be as effective as it is had it not been as cold as it stands. It is a frightening picture of where humanity is going as time passes by. It raises questions in regards to morality and the nature of mankind. When one has all of this power in his hands, what happens to their well-being? When one is stripped of all free will, are they still human after all? Kubrick’s masterpiece goes down to the bare bones of what superimposes human psychology. From the strange dialogue all the way down to the amazing set pieces and the powerful leading performance from Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange truly is a feat that cannot be repeated.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Warner Bros.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick, from the novel by Anthony Burgess
Produced by Stanley Kubrick
Starring Malcolm McDowell
Release Year: 1971
Running Time: 136 minutes