The general consensus is that A Clockwork Orange is a classic, one the landmark films of its time, and they’re right. While it can often be placed in the category of the 70’s-style futuristic sci-fi film, it was certainly more than that. It was a deep, thought-provoking vision of how British society might look if it were only a stone’s throw away from totalitarianism. In that sense, the message and meaning of A Clockwork Orange is quite clear.
The film’s story is told from the perspective of Alex deLarge, a teenage delinquent and gang leader who is principally interested in classical music, rape, and ultra-violence. He also treats his fellow “droogs” like thralls, rebuking them when they express their discontent. His criminal life plays out in the backdrop of a society where law and order seems to have vanished. All this changes after he is betrayed by his fellow thugs and caught by the police. Two years later he is subjected to the Ludovico technique, a controversial, experimental aversion therapy technique that gets him out of jail within two years, but the technique turns out to be too effective.
The story starts out as a slowly paced tour of anarchy, with Alex and his gang taking drugs and raping and beating their way through a now dystopian London, a city teetering towards societal collapse. In the years following Alex’s incarceration, after a new government is elected, the tone of the film changes, becoming colder and more sterile, perhaps befitting the now subdued Alex. In taking the perspective of a criminal, Kubrick frames the dystopian world in the context of his own narcissistic worldview. Some have said that this glamourises the film’s graphic violence (which is rather tame compared to what we have now), but said violence is an important part of the film’s message.
Malcolm McDowell, as one might expect, delivers a fine performance as the main character, with a very convincing Cockney accent. He also excels in portraying the contrasting states of Alex deLarge – both the unhinged criminal and the subdued mannequin are portrayed with precision and skill by Mr. McDowell. The cast in general delivers some very fine performances, including Patrick Magee, who plays the lefty writer who sees Alex as a political tool to use against the government, and Anthony Sharp as the sinister government minister who wants to use him to advance his political agenda.
The film was not just groundbreaking in terms of its narrative and themes, but also in terms of its style. The film opens simply with a block colour title, and the rest of the film is set in a dreary urban environment. The film’s score is composed almost principally with a Moog synthesiser, which along with some classical music compositions gave the film a part of its unique personality. On top of that, the first half of the film is littered with sexual imagery, by way of the bizarre sexual art that people in the future seem to have. Could this be a way of visually communicating the late stages of the society in which the film is set? Who knows.
All in all, it was a great film, providing a great deal of fuel for your intellectual curiosity if you want such a film. It has certainly aged better than many films from its time, a rarity amongst films that are so symbolic of the dazed and confused decade as this.
- Score: 85%
- Grade: A