“… makes sure to not use any energy unnecessarily, instead channeling all of that to make you as uncomfortable as possible.”
Critiquing any of Stanley Kubrick’s works is not easy because most people regard them all as very important pieces of cinema history. I’m not in a different boat (at least for most of his films), but that fact does make it hard for me to say anything that hasn’t already been echoed a thousand times before. With that in mind you’ll have to excuse me if this review is in any way lacking. A Clockwork Orange is based on the story of the same name by author Anthony Burgess and follows Alex, a hoodlum who spends his days sleeping and his nights raping and stealing. Things go south when one of Alex’s victims dies and Alex is sent to prison for 14 years. Hearing of a new experimental “cure for crime” Alex sees this as his ticket out and signs up immediately.
So what do I love about A Clockwork Orange? Most of it really. I guess it would be easier to start with what I don’t like about A Clockwork Orange. A Clockwork Orange as a movie is very stylized. Kubrick takes a lot of liberties in this film to prove a point, so instead of being as realistic as possible it is as imaginative as possible. This is great and it makes the movie everything that it is, but the problem is sometimes it can be too much. There are times when watching A Clockwork Orange where I find myself saying “Get on with it” because Kubrick is essentially playing with himself in front of a camera. These moments are sparse, but they are there. I also thought that the movie was next to impossible to understand at points, this is due to both the accents of the characters and the slang used in the film. A Clockwork Orange (the book) is known to have almost created its own language, so much so that it explains to you what a lot of the phrases used mean. A Clockwork Orange (the movie) didn’t provide us with any such information so we were kind of left struggling to understand what was being said. I got the gist of everything (or at least I think I did), but that’s not to say I didn’t have to struggle for it.
Now on to the things that I liked about A Clockwork Orange. This may sound like a contradiction but I loved how stylized the movie was. Even though at times it was too much, the move being as “artistic” as it is really set itself apart from the pack. The way that Kubrick managed to build this world and tell this story (especially with Alex’s imagination) is amazing. Speaking of world building, let’s talk about how fucking cool the world of A Clockwork Orange is. A Clockwork Orange is a pseudo-apocalyptic landscape where youths run amok in the city, but at the same time there are successful business men and women living their fancy lives. This creates a really intriguing backdrop for the story, and it makes you wonder what happened to the world to make it end up like this. Something else that is interesting is the world’s fascination with sex. A Clockwork Orange is steeped in dicks and vaginas, and that just makes the whole thing all the more interesting. Even the more “reserved” characters (like the old cat lady) are apparently sex-fiends with pictures of women in compromising positions plastering their walls like wallpaper. But like I said this dark and gritty world is contrasted by normal people doing normal shit. And not only that, but as if to separate them more these normal people are often times wearing very bright colours. This creates this visual contrast between the “dark” and the light and it widens the gap between these two groups. And speaking of contrast, the film does a great job with having even more light contrast with dark with their use of Beethoven throughout. A Clockwork Orange often times features scenes that are less than ideal, but to see them with the lovely Ludwig Van playing in the background makes the experience all the more bizarre. I also loved the more creative uses of the soundtrack like when Alex is being beaten by a police officer and the sounds used attempt to emulate the stabbing pain that Alex would be feeling. I also really liked the performances in the film (specifically McDowell’s bone chilling portrayal of Alex), and I feel that I also have to give a shout out to the films editing. The editing in A Clockwork Orange is nothing short of brilliant, and if I had to use one word to describe it it would be ‘deliberate’. There is not a single cut present in A Clockwork Orange that is not needed, and that makes the performances that much better. Sure during an action scene you’ll get a nice handful of apparent edits just to speed up the pace and keep tension, but during conversation scenes? You’d be luckily to see two cuts in twenty minutes. A Clockwork Orange makes sure to not use any energy unnecessarily, instead channeling all of that to make you as uncomfortable as possible.
Overall A Clockwork Orange is a masterpiece, but not one that is easily accessible. If you know what you are getting into before you watch it you’ll probably love it, but it is the kind of movie that can catch you off guard and make you wonder why you’re even bothering with it in the first place. If you do end up giving A Clockwork Orange a shot you’ll find a movie with an engaging world, wonderful performances, and enough sexual references to shake a dick, uhh… I mean stick, at.
I give A Clockwork Orange an A