Wednesday, December 05, 2012
A Clockwork Orange
Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 5/9/05 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.
Based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange is the story of young man whose love of ultra-violence, sex, and Beethoven leads to a dangerous lifestyle where he is suddenly caught by authorities who put him into an experiment that has everything he loves turned against him. Written for the screen and directed by Stanley Kubrick, the film is a part-satire that fuses dark comedy with brazen sexual and violent content that reveals a young man becoming a victim of his own crimes. Starring Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri, Anthony Sharp, and Michael Bates.
On a typical night of decadence at the Korova Milkbar, Alex (Malcolm McDowell) leads his gang of Droogs that consists of Pete (Michael Tarn), Georgie (James Marcus), and Dim (Warren Clarke) to a night where they beat a homeless man (Paul Farrell), fight a gang, and break-in to a house owned by Frank Alexander (Patrick Magee) and his wife (Adrienne Corri) where Alex rapes her while wearing a mask and singing Singing in the Rain. The night ends at the Milkbar where Alex hears a woman sing Beethoven as he later plays Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at his home. At home where he lives with his parents (Philip Stone and Sheila Raynor), Alex gets a visit from his headmaster Mr. P.R. Deltoid (Aubrey Morris) who is aware of Alex's misadventures and wants him to stay away from trouble. After a visit to the record store where he flirts with a couple of women and has sex with them, he meets up with his Droogs about what to do for tonight. Georgie and Dim had an idea as Alex takes their suggestion to break into the home of a caretaker (Miriam Karlin) after assaulting the two.
At the house of the caretaker, Alex gets in as he tries to charm his way only for something to go wrong as he leaves the house assaulted by Dim and Georgie. Caught by the police, Deltoid tells Alex that he's being sent to prison for the next 14 years for his actions. Two years into his sentenace as he's looked on by a guard (Michael Bates), Alex decides to volunteer in an experimental treatment as a way to get out of prison as he turns to the prison chaplain (Godfrey Quigley) and its minister (Anthony Sharp) to have him take part. Alex is transferred to a facility where he meets its head Dr Brodsky (Carl Duering) and his assistant Dr. Branom (Madge Ryan) where he's given various experimental sessions to forcefully watch images of sex and violence for several hours. The experiment has made him ill as it reaches its breaking point where he hears Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in one of those films as the experiment proves to be successful as Alex is sent back home. Realizing that he's forced out of his home and a lodger (Clive Francis) lives in his room, Alex is despondent over these changes as he couldn't assault anyone or do anything.
Lost in a world where he becomes a victim, Alex is later assaulted by the homeless tramp he beat up a few years ago and later assaulted by Georgie and Dim who had become police officers. Seeking shelter, Alex walks to the home of Mr. Alexander as Alex is unaware of the house he had entered. Mr. Alexander realizes who Alex is as he decides to do something that will ensue into near-tragedy and political scandal.
While the film is mainly a satire, it's also a study on morality, violence, and human nature. While the protagonist of Alex maybe a sadistic, violent, anti-authority, rebellious anti-hero, he is a very complex character that isn't stupid but one who knows his limits. While many won't agree with his unique views on sex and violence, his ideas seems to be more cartoonish since he enjoys fighting gangs and rebel against the ills of society. He loves sex and everything about it, even if it meant raping a woman despite his cruel intentions. Plus, his love for Beethoven's Ninth Symphony seems to calm him down as he tries to escape from the real world that he lives in. Then when he becomes part of the Ludovico treatment, the intention of sex, violence, and Beethoven is taken to new extremes. In fact, their treatment is far more violent than what Alex does since its done for political means and science.
Part of the genius goes to Stanley Kubrick for taking Burgess' bleak view of the future to new extremes, as he tests the boundaries of what is obscene. In his writing, Kubrick goes for playfulness and humor while most of it is a study of a young man's love for life as it turns against him to the point that he's powerless. He knows that Alex never wanted to kill anyone but as the film progress, there is sympathy since he is being used against his will for all means. It's a very powerful statement of how government works to try to clean up morality and it is pretty relevant since America is in a state of paranoia and we might end up turning on ourselves. It also shows how violence has worsened since it's now more politically-motivated and is all done for all the wrong reasons.
If Kubrick's ability as storyteller is more provocative, his directing is more entrancing in the way he presents the life of this young man. He brings not just an eerie tone to the film but also brings humor in a few sequences, notably a fast sex scene that is shot on speed with the William Tell Overture played in fast time. Kubrick's uses of steady camera pans, zoom lenses, and slow-motion show his ability to shoot scenes that are given real power in its frame and intention, even in scenes where he uses hand-held cameras to give the first-point view of our protagonist. His take on violence isn't that extreme compared to today's cinema since he takes one part of it in a comical sense and another in a cruel approach. This along with Kubrick's approach to light with cinematographer John Alcott shows his brilliance in terms of lighting where he gives the film a unique look and movement along with a tone that is very futuristic.
If Kubrick and Alcott's cinematography is brilliant in its tone, so does the production design of John Barry along with art directors Russell Hagg and Peter Shields. The film&'s look is very futuristic with model-like statues, futuristic cars, and appliances that are all filled with strange designs and colors. The film's design is very distinct and memorable along with Milena Canonero's amazing costume design from the bowler-hat and white clothing the Droogs wear to the strange, colored clothing that Alex wears outside of his Droog world and the clothing of his parents that is very whimsical from the hair-coloring of Alex's mother and the makeup that people wear. Kubrick's genius in terms of look is also done in presentation thanks to editor Bill Butler for his nicely-paced feel of the film along with that infamous, fast-edited sequence of Alex having sex with two women with John Jordan doing great sound manipulation in the sound design.
With many of Kubrick's film, the music is very important as the film features many great musical elements of work ranging from classical composers like Beethoven, Henry Purcell, and Gioachino Antonio Rossi that gives the film a feeling of idiosyncratic tones. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is played dominantly whether in its original orchestral composition to the eerie electronic score of Wendy Carlos who gives some wonderful original music that plays to the film's dark, sci-fi feel as her synthesizers sucks in the audience with each, eerie melody.
While the film has a large cast of small characters, many of them standout including Adrienne Corri, Miriam Karlin, Clive Francis, Godfrey Quigley, Sheila Raynor, Phillip Stone, and Madge Ryan along with Steven Berkoff as an investigator and the future Darth Vader, David Prowse as Mr. Alexander's bodyguard. Of the Droogs with the exception of Michael Tarn as the quiet Pete, James Marcus and Warren Clarke stand out the most with Clarke's comical, brash performance and Marcus as the serious of the Droogs. Aubrey Morris is excellent in his role as Alex's school superior along with Michael Bates as the prison guard and Carl Duering as the torturous Dr. Brodsky. Of the supporting cast, Anthony Sharp and Kubrick regular Patrick Magee stand out the most in their respective roles as the minister and the revenge-crazed Mr. Alexander.
While the film has a great cast, the film really belongs to Malcolm McDowell in the most memorable role of his career as Alex. McDowell brings a charming yet sadistic performance as a young man who loves sex, violence, and Beethoven but seems to try and test his limits. With McDowell serving as a narrator, he is the heart of the movie as he tries to understand the world only to see that if he did take his love of sex and violence to extremes, it would make him sick. McDowell brought an innocence as his character develops from a funny little devil to a helpless youth alienated by the world as everything he loved turns against him.
A Clockwork Orange is a magnificent film from Stanley Kubrick that features an outstanding performance from Malcolm McDowell. The film is truly a stylish yet entrancing film into the world of dark fantasy and reality with a mix of satire and humor. It's also a film that is very uncompromising as well as confrontational in the way it explores violence at its most visceral. In the end, A Clockwork Orange is a triumphant film from Stanley Kubrick.
Stanley Kubrick Films: Fear and Desire - Killer's Kiss - The Killing - Paths of Glory - Spartacus - Lolita - Dr Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb - 2001: A Space Odyssey - Barry Lyndon - The Shining - Full Metal Jacket - Eyes Wide Shut
Related: Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures - The Auteurs #18: Stanley Kubrick
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