A Couple on Kubrick: A Clockwork Orange (1971) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
23Mar/120

A Couple on Kubrick: A Clockwork Orange (1971)

I've been waiting for this movie specifically because this movie deserves an evisceration. For a little background, I endless picked apart the book in my freshman English class before watching this movie, and I found the movie to be a shallow, stylized, broad movie that, while iconic, does not deserve the respect people give it. Then again, Stanley Kubrick is not a fan of being faithful to a book’s source material (which is not always a bad thing).

One reason why I do not like this movie is because Kubrick stripped the source material of any strong thematic elements present in the book, which gave a story that could have been an empty story about an unlikable protagonist and turned it into a story that explores the idea of morality and free will. Should any governing body (government or otherwise) force an individual into being “good”? The whole idea of the Ludovico Treatment is to unethically and forcibly rehabilitate prisoners into being “good” without revealing the aspects of the treatment and cause severe psychological distress. If said person does not have the choice to be an upstanding moral citizen, is that person a good citizen? Can a man cannot be considered a man if he lacks the ability to choose to be “good”? These elements are completely gone, and all the audience is left with Alex’s journey. Unfortunately, Alex just fails in the movie.

Alex is presented as a cool, subversive, yet dangerous and “scary” protagonist, but I could not disagree more. He is a petty “rebellious” conformist with a penchant for women and some violence. I’m sorry, but that does not make him an interesting character. Anything he does on his own is hardly anything new; he skips school and has consensual with two women he meets in a record store (who are sucking on some penis popsicles. More on that lack of subtlety later.).

I’m shaking. Any violent or brutishly sexual activities are done with his group that is rules over with a quick wit and intolerance for anyone looking to usurp his position of power. A group committing violent and brutish sexual acts is not even the original idea of Alex because there are several other groups doing the exact same thing. Sure, Alex has a somewhat comeuppance by the abusive tendencies of the police force and jail time, but if the movie is supposed to say that The Man is cruel and unjust, I have to disagree. Sure, the police brutality is a bit much, but with a person who exhibits antisocial tendencies, harsh punishment is completely necessary because that person will just not learn otherwise.

The tone given to the movie is one of irreverence and ironic indifference, evidenced by the up-beat Classical music played over an attempted rape scene and subsequent fight. Alex is personification of this callous, amused indifference in the way he barely cares about anything. Nothing I haven’t seen before, but then again, this movie served as an inspiration for that tone Kubrick is a man who labors over the visuals, and this movie is no exception. He has taken the ‘60s elements of color, angles, and curved lines and brought them into the dystopic future of ACO (which is odd given that this movie is taking place in the ‘70s), and I quite enjoy them.

What I do not like is the broad sexuality which is about as subtle and nuanced a Vegas sign or a cereal box. Not that I have a problem with sexuality in movies mind you, but I do have a problem if it has no point other than its existence. The Korova Milkbar has statues of naked women dispensing the spiked milk because it’s…edgy? Alex and his droogs attack a woman with a statue of a penis instead of a statue of Ludwig van Beethoven (a musical favorite of Alex that fuels his delinquent activities and thoughts) because…? It’s more shocking? Because having character significance is for squares? Sorry, movie, but I guess I’m just too jaded too be shocked.

One major problem I have with this movie is the omission of the final chapter of the book, where Alex comes to the realization after running into one of his former droogs and his wife that he is becoming too old to be part of a delinquent gang anymore and should start becoming an adult. Not that is gives a happy ending (I would say that there is not much time for Alex to come to his realization without it seeming rushed), but because it gives Alex a story arc. He goes through jail, the Ludovico treatment, the abandonment by his parents, everything, and ends up in a new place because of his experiences. Without that chapter, nothing that happens is that becomes a pawn of the government and is right back where he started and he does not learn anything (he even says so). That combined with the omission of important thematic elements makes the story completely pointless.

What frustrating movie. What do you think, sweetie?

Leaving aside the acerbic jabs against the film for a sec, my favorite part of the movie was your commentary. For example, after the second rape scene when you turned to me and asked, "Are you going to talk about the phalocentric imagery?" Or, my favorite moment, after the church scene when a parishioner is making lip-smacking advances on the young (relatively speaking) Alex and wondered, "Are you going to talk about how blatant the homosexual imagery is?"

To finally answer both questions, "Yes" and "Yes." The more we've been going through Kubrick's movies the more I've been finding he's a director that wore his ideas on the sleeve of his films. There has barely been a single image which has gone by that I think deserves an hours long debate, especially since Kubrick was not exactly shy about explaining (to a point) what the images in his films were "supposed" to mean. He was maticulous to the degree which open interpretation felt a little meaningless at times, and none so potent as in A Clockwork Orange.

I do not like this film. I did not like it the first time I watched it ten years ago before I had gathered the sum experience of 100-plus years of film history and I do not like it now. The deliberately confrontational style reveals a shattered ego right off the bat, and the excessively phallic imagery does nothing to combat this. Scene after scene we watch Alex overcompensate with his penis, either on women or the way it is stronger than other men's, unsubtley enforced by the background images of erect phallus. Granted, ACO only uses this means of direct enforcement in the first half and decides to delve into an even more simplistic arc in the second.

If films are a visual medium, then ACO fails the test with its second act. Once Alex is caught and goes to jail the film goes to great lengths to spell out every character interaction in its dialogue. What's worse is Kubrick decides to have the visuals match the simplicity of the words. The visual cues to Nazi empowerment give way to stock footage.

Didn't MST3K viciously mock films which use stock footage like this? It belabours an existing point about how the governmental system of "future England" is mimicking the Nazi's which came before it. This is the opposite of subtle, and the multiple monologues written into the film which reinforce what's going on in each don't help. Surprised by the ending? Alex tells you he is faking his "disease" the entire time, in every scene, in non-evasive terminology so there is no doubt about his mental state.

My theory is Kubrick was disappointed about the way audiences and critics failed to grasp the meaning of 2001 during its initial run and decided to make the most aggressive film he could at the time. Given his sensibilites this meant he still needed a large budget, but a source material he could utilize which would fulfill his goal. So ACO was born, and with it a large number of visual queues to his earlier "failure".

What was once enigmatic is now broad and obvious in the dialogue, that much is clear. But Kubrick reuses the same architectural spaces in 2001 during the first half of ACO until Alex (which is now Kubrick's stand-in) becomes a pariah by the system. Then it is replaced with the same rectangular sets, dressed slightly differently, until Alex proclaims he is "cured". It's even in the soundtrack with the way ACO blends synth and classical music in the way 2001 might have but did not. Then Kubrik makes his point blatantly clear with the 2001 product placement in the background, soundtrack prominently displayed in the racks of a local record store.

This leads to one of the only scenes in ACO I like, the threesome. Which inspires another funny question you asked, "You're going to talk about the threesome, right? You've got the rep for talking about these things." Well, I do, but in a movie as phallically broad as ACO its hard not to pick up on the way he uses violence to perk up his erection. I like the threesome scene because the violence afterwards provides an interesting counterpoint to the fun. Threesomes are a lot of work, as much as a steamy erotic thriller might tell you otherwise, and someone like Alex has to inflict a lot of the ol' violence to get his jimmy back up to speed.

ACO is the Dirty Harry of the arthouse set but with intention and without much interest. It is a fascist "classic" broadly presented with little interesting subtext and a whole lot of boring dead air. You were right on the money love. This film has far outlived its usefulness as an intriguing talking point, especially when we have better Kubrick films to type on about.

Next week will be a surprise to Amanda and Andrew both as they partake in the lugubrious (so we've heard) pacing of Barry Lyndon.

Kubrick with text

Posted by Andrew

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