Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Repeat Viewing: A Clockwork Orange (1971, Stanley Kubrick)

TSPDT placing: #93
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Anthony Burgess (novel), Stanley Kubrick (screenplay)

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!!

In Kubrick's adaptation of Anthony Burgess' bizarre 1959 dystopian novel, a juvenile delinquent (Malcolm McDowell) and his gang of droogs whittle away their time partaking in such wholesome activities as beating homeless drunks, warring with rival gangs, raping helpless women, and enjoying the music of Ludwig Van Beethoven. There are two things happening in this film: one that Kubrick inherited from Burgess' writing, and another that is endemic to the cinematic medium.

The first role of A Clockwork Orange (1971) is as a rather vicious political satire, dryly mocking the hypocrisy of the government and its policies on institutionalisation and criminal rehabilitation. In the film, the Minister of the Interior (Anthony Sharp) is depicted as opportunistic and self-serving, latching onto the unproven Ludovico technique in a bid to stem his party's failing popularity with voters. When public opinion turns against the therapy, the Minister very swiftly back-peddles, reversing the treatment so that Alex may return to his former ultra-violent ways: "I was cured alright!"

The UK edition of Burgess' novel contained a final chapter in which Alex sees the error of his former ways, and vows to reform into a productive member of society. Kubrick was unaware of this addition until he had almost completed the screenplay, and never considered using it in the film. This was, I think, a good decision. Burgess' ending shies away from the problem: by letting human nature run its course, he seems to be implying that the problem of juvenile delinquency will sort itself out. Kubrick, admittedly, doesn't offer any solutions of his own, but the corrupt manner in which he ends the film leaves a sour taste.

The Ludovico technique depicted in the film involves the screening of movies, which allows Kubrick room for a degree of self-referentiality. It is in the audiences' nature to recoil from acts of sex and violence, and Kubrick's hard-nosed, deliberately-subversive approach (utilising the perspective of its biased protagonist and narrator) only encourages this response. Just as Alex is exposed to the Ludovico aversion therapy, Kubrick is exposing his audience to the same treatment. Does it work? Do we become desensitised to the violence, or do we begin to associate socially-accepted cues (i.e. Beethoven's Ninth, "Singing in the Rain") with acts of evil?

Currently my #1 film of 1971:
1) A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick)
2) Straw Dogs (Sam Peckinpah)
3) Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (Mel Stuart)
4) The French Connection (William Friedkin)
5) Get Carter (Mike Hodges)
6) Bananas (Woody Allen)
7) The Stalls of Barchester (Lawrence Gordon Clark) (TV)

1 comment:

Kyle said...

I've never understood the love for this, Kubrick's worst movie. I thought it was juvenile and painfully obvious in its "satire". It was also, most offensively, boring.

Only McDowell bothered to give a good performance and try and make his character moderately interesting. Patrick Magee, in particular, gives what is likely the worst performance ever given under Kubrick's direction (and I'm not someone who thinks he had much of a touch with actors). The scene where Alex is trapped upstairs and the camera pans down onto Magee's face is of such embarrassing awfulness, I would venture to say it's one of the 2 or 3 worst scenes I've ever seen in any movie.