A Clockwork Orange

Released:  1971

Cast:  Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri, Miriam Karlin

Oscar Nominations:  Best Picture, Best Director (Stanley Kubrick), Best Adapted Screenplay (Stanley Kubrick), Best Film Editing (Bill Butler)

SUMMARY:  In a futuristic, dystopian London, teenager Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) leads a small band of petty criminals made up of his “droogs” — friends Georgie, Dim and Pete.  One evening, they decide to go out and commit some “ultra-violence”.  They first come upon a drunken homeless man, whom they beat severely.  They then encounter a rival gang in an abandoned casino, and get into a nasty fight with them.  They then steal a car and drive through the country until they reach a large house.  Inside, they find writer F. Alexander and his wife:  they beat the man so severely that he is crippled, and Alex rapes the wife, all the while singing “Singin’ in the Rain”.  The boys then return to their homes.  Alex fakes sick the next day and skips school, but is visited by his probation officer, who is onto Alex’s tricks.  Alex spends the rest of the day having sex with two girls he picks up, before joining his droogs for the evening.  He is surprised to find that they are staging a small rebellion:  they are tired of committing petty crimes, and want to make more money from their thefts.  Alex agrees, but as they walk by a body of water, he attacks them and pushes them in, reasserting himself as the leader of the group.  However, he does agree to go along with the theft suggested by Georgie, so the group goes to the house of a wealthy, single woman.  Alex goes in alone, and attacks the woman with a statue.  Unbeknownst to him, the woman had already called the police; when he hears the sirens, Alex flees, but is attacked by the droogs and left lying outside the front door.  He is arrested, and after the woman dies, is convicted of murder and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Two years later, Alex volunteers to be part of an experimental technique that claims to “cure” inmates, the Ludovico technique.  Because the program promises a release in two weeks, Alex is eager to volunteer, but quickly finds that it is not what he expected.  He endures numerous sessions over the two weeks, during which he is strapped into a straight jacket, has his eyes held open, and shown images of violence.  At the same time, he is given drugs that make him sick, thereby associating violence with a sick feeling.  Unfortunately, there is also background music in the films — and one of them is the 9th Symphony by Alex’s favorite composer, Ludwig van Beethoven.  Two weeks later, officials are summoned for a demonstration of Alex’s “cured” behavior.  On stage, a man approaches Alex and slaps and insults him; when Alex tries to fight back, he becomes sick.  The same thing happens when a topless woman approaches him on stage.  Alex and the doctors are pleased with the cure, but the prison chaplain claims it has taken away Alex’s free will, thereby making him inhuman.  Alex is released, and goes back to his parents’ house, only to find that his belongings have been seized and sold in order to make restitution.  In addition, his parents have taken on a boarder, who now occupies Alex’s room.  Alex leaves, but soon comes the same elderly homeless man he once beat up.  This time, it is the homeless man and his friends that attack Alex, who is incapable of fighting back.  He is eventually rescued by two police officers, only to find that they are Dim Georgie, who also want revenge.  They take him to an isolated spot in the country, where they beat him up and nearly drown him.  After they leave, Alex drags himself to a nearby house — which happens to be the house where F. Alexander lives.  Due to his condition, Alex is allowed in and given a bath and dry clothes.  Though Alex realizes who the man is, F. Alexander does not immediately recognize Alex.  However, when Alex is in the bath, he starts singing “Singin’ in the Rain”, Alexander remembers him.  He calls his friends, then drugs Alex.  When Alex wakes up, he is locked into an upstairs room, and the 9th Symphony is being blasted through the house.  In serious pain, Alex jumps out of the window; he is seriously injured, but does not die.  In the hospital, he is visited by a psychiatrist who shows him a series of images, and Alex realizes that he is no longer sickened by violence.  Meanwhile, the government official who advocates the Ludovico method visits, and makes Alex into a media darling.  During a press conference, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is played, and rather than being sick, Alex has a daydream about having sex with a woman in front of a crowd, and says to himself, “I was cured, all right!”

MY TAKE:  This is the reason I’m scared of Malcolm McDowell, and also one of the more disturbing movies I’ve seen, particularly the beginning of it.  There’s a lot of overt sexuality, which was really uncomfortable for me, as I did not need it to be near so graphic.  The violence is also unsettling, particularly when Alex is kicking F. Alexander as he sings.  The actual story — that of a violent criminal who is reformed using an experimental technique — is interesting, but I could have gotten the message without quite so much explicit content.  I did feel a little sorry for Alex when Beethoven was played during one of the videos, because it is a shame to ruin such a beautiful piece of music.  Actually, it’s surprising that the doctors didn’t consider this aspect — that they would also inadvertently condition him against the music.  However, ultimately I would agree with the prison chaplain, that using the Ludovico technique is not really a good idea.  As he says, it does not change the impulse to commit violence, it just eliminates the choice.  Therefore, the criminal nature of the person is not affected, and some vital part of their humanity (free will, however awful theirs may be) is taken away.

Also:  this was originally a book, so the title may be explained in that, but there’s no reference in the movie to oranges of any sort, which begs the question:  What the hell is a clockwork orange?

RATING:  Thought-provoking story overshadowed by way too much sex-related material.

 

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