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  • Writer's pictureReece Bithrey

The Film Review - A Clockwork Orange

Stanley Kubrick's cult classic details extreme violence and an uncertain political climate...

(Picture Credit - American Cinematographer)

Recently, I've started watching slightly older 'cult classics'. I'm already familiar with the likes of The Italian Job, released in 1969, with Michael Caine and Noel Coward. Admittedly, this caper-time masterpiece is my favourite film and so, it may not be comparable to the likes of A Clockwork Orange. With a name like Stanley Kubrick attached to it, admittedly, this is going to be treated with high expectations.

The film's basic premise surrounds the idea of Alex, characterised brilliantly by Malcolm McDowell, and his gang of 'droogs' embarking on an evening of what they coin as 'ultraviolence'. The acts themselves are utterly grotesque, ranging from the clubbing of a poor homeless man with a drinking problem, to a large fight with another gang in a small theatre, which Alex and his band of brothers win rather spectacularly.

Alex's 'ultraviolent' actions are then turned against him, forcing him to be imprisoned and then endure clinical remedial torture. Our protagonist is forced to watch upsetting footage, such as Nazi rallies, with his eyelids forced open as they are lubricated by a doctor tasked with keeping his eyes hydrated. It's one of the film's more squeamish moments and certainly caused me to toss and turn in my seat. However, despite the uncomfortable actions, it is all soundtracked to the work of Beethoven, Alex's favourite composer - this is referenced throughout the production. Its inclusion causes Alex to develop a hatred not just for the violent actions, but also for his "dear Ludwig Van" in the process.

As aesthetics go, there's no finer place to look - indeed, the wide array of costumes, especially on Alex, with his lengthened eyelashes in that iconic scene, teamed with the contrast of the black walls of the bar to the pearly white outfits. There's a harsh reality portrayed in this future dystopia, with unruly bunches of delinquents roaming the streets at night, carrying out disgusting attacks. In addition, Kubrick's ingenious "One Point Perspective" filming technique is in full-force throughout the film, especially in that first scene. Focusing on Alex's eyes, the camera tracks forwards and the cold narration begins. It's got to be one of the best opening scenes in film history.

At a time of great social change with the rise of hippies and free love, A Clockwork Orange offered a brutal kick to the head with its anger and vandalism of suburbia. It challenges liberal ideas and the principles of a more permissive society - a key emergence in the late sixties and early seventies. These classically liberal ideas are in full-force today and A Clockwork Orange really does act as a rude awakening to shades of the past. We look back on productions such as this with a renewed vigour as it harks back to the worse, darker days of a broken society that we still haven't fully fixed. As well as being a cult classic, A Clockwork Orange is also an extraordinary tool for culture.

The film ended up being banned by Kubrick himself and therefore withdrawn by Warner Bros from UK distribution. This comes as a fascinating example of a director's insistence over a studio, portraying a great deal of power. It was effectively banned until his death in 1999 and has since been freely available on streaming services such as Amazon Prime, along with other Kubrick classics such as Full Metal Jacket.

In terms of scoring A Clockwork Orange, it's a difficult one. Its cultural and social significance cannot be overstated, but at the same time, with a film for such a high billing, it falls short of my expectations. Whilst Kubrick's intention may be an overly satirical take on a dystopia and that is well done, I just find it a little too much - it oversteps the mark by a fair way. That being said, the acting and filming is fantastic and the story feels real and very much tangible. It's well-written and well-directed, but overall, just feels a little lacklustre by comparison to its hype.


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