A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

“Being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven.”

That tag line summarizes much of the visual nature of this movie. If you are repelled by violence watching this film may present you with problems. The movie was given a rating of X when released, and although not competitive as pornography, does show much more than regular theater audiences expected in 1971. Both sex and violence often dominate the visual aspects of the film, while Beethoven, other classical composers and assorted musical selections decorate the soundtrack. Kubrick and his film editor received Oscar nominations for A Clockwork Orange, but no wins. However, the movie won many other awards.

This movie gives the viewpoint and story of Alex de Large (Malcolm McDowell), a young English man from a period just around the corner from today. Besides providing the story and main character, Alex also narrates, addressing the audience with “O my brothers” and similar salutations.

The movie begins – after very basic credits over primary color screens – by picturing Alex, in his fashionable “droog” outfit. As the camera draws away from its focus on Alex's face, its view widens to show the other members of his gang: Dim (Warren Clarke), Georgie (James Marcus) and Pete (Michael Tarn) – who appear to be out for a drink. As Alex sips his beverage he begins his tale.

To give a taste of the language often used in dialog between droog characters and also in Alex's narration, these lines delivered by Alex open the movie: “There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. The Korova milkbar sold milk-plus, milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence.”

The décor in the Korova milkbar also gives a taste of what to expect from the rest of the film. Describing the décor as politically incorrect makes a great understatement. The scene shifts to an old drunk (Paul Farrell) with a bottle of spirits singing “Molly Malone.” As Alex and his droogs approach the old man, Alex gives his opinions about the drunk before they engage him in a short discussion. When the droogs applaud his singing, the old man asks for some money. Instead, Alex pokes the old man in the stomach with his walking stick / cane / quarterstaff, and the gang beats him senseless.

The scene shifts again to a gang rape taking place on stage in a derelict casino. A different gang of droogs have captured a young woman. After violently disrobing her they prepare to take turns. Into this arena come Alex and his droogs. Alex salutes the other gang leader with insults and a battle ensues, incidentally allowing the rape victim to escape. All the while, providing odd contrast, classical music plays on the soundtrack.

After dispatching the other gang, sirens announce approaching police. Alex and his droogs steal a sporty car. With Alex driving they play “hogs of the road” while on the way to their next adventure in ultra-violence. They arrive at a home, occupied by a writer Frank Alexander (Patrick Magee) and his wife (Adrienne Corri). After telling the wife a false story about needing to use their phone to call for help after an accident, the droogs gain entrance, truss the woman up, beat the writer/husband and rape the wife while her husband watches. All the while Alex sings and dances, “stealing” a signature song from Gene Kelly.

Only a bit over 12 minutes has passed in the movie which extends over more than 2 hours and 15 minutes. Quite a lot of action has occurred in little time – this film never lags. However, to avoid an overlong review, I will summarize subsequent elements.

After a falling out with two of his droogs and a particularly heinous crime, the police capture Alex. The “justice system” appears to work fast and sends Alex to a prison where he encounters its chaplain (Godfrey Quigley), who may be the closest thing to an admirable character in the film. After a few years of his sentence, the chaplain discourages Alex from pursuing scuttlebutt about a way of gaining early release, via new rehabilitation methods, specifically the “Ludovico technique” – a “drug-assisted aversion therapy.” After impressing a high government official – but against the wishes of the Prison Governor (Michael Gover) and Chief Guard (Michael Bates) – the Minister of the Interior (Anthony Sharp) chooses to enroll Alex in the special treatment and release program.

I will refrain from discussing what happens in the treatment program and afterward here other than to say these last few things. This movie has a wealth of “poetic justice” and irony, but also fairly accurate insight into modern society and its captor: the State. The violence and cynicism of those in the movie's political realm more than match Alex's own. Alex's crime and violence remain mainly simple, while the political actors seem more dishonest and slimy, but still coercive and destructive. Though the film lacks the more hopeful outlook of the last chapter of Anthony Burgess's complete novel, with A Clockwork Orange Stanley Kubrick made one of his best films. For those who can handle the level of violence, less extraordinary with the passage of 35+ years and the films made in the interim, this movie rewards the time spent with both entertainment and insight into aspects of today's world.

Kubrick DVD Set

Collector Set

Soundtrack CD