Saturday, January 19, 2008

Review - A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange
1972 Hugo Winner for Best Dramatic Presentation

A Clockwork Orange marks the end of the Hugo voter's love affair with Stanley Kubrick. To be honest I'm a bit surprised that The Shining didn't at least get a nomination but I suppose in the 70's that a horror film was just too far for science fiction fans to go.

2001 may have been an exploration of the heights that humanity could aspire to, but A Clockwork Orange is all about the depths that it can find. Almost every single character is amoral and the few that are not are typically victims of those that are. Even those who have an appearance of an altruistic streak have their own selfish motives at heart. This might be the single most cynical film ever made.

Alex is a member of a gang that spends its time fighting, beating helpless people, and raping anything that crosses their path. The only things in his world are violence and sex. After a session of cruelty which results in a woman's death Alex is caught by the police and finds that the authorities are just as brutal to the weak as he is. Alex is given an opportunity to leave prison by participating in an experiment that removes his capacity to commit violence.

Once more Kubrick demonstrates why he is one of the greatest film directors of all time. First he plunges the viewer into the same world of violence and sex that Alex occupies both overtly through watching Alex's gang and subtly through the images that occupy the background. He just as quickly shifts gears to present the "fun" of the first half of the film in a more harsh light and it builds some sympathy in the viewer for the sociopathic protagonist.

And just like in Kubrick's 2001 the imagery steals the show. Besides the famous sequence of Alex with his eyes pried open being forced to watch scenes of violence there's odd quirks like the high speed sex scene played over the William Tell Overture. Alex's choice of murder weapon is a giant ceramic penis which he is warned when he picks it up that "It's an important work of art!" His vision of the crucifixion is that he would enjoy being one of the Roman centurions torturing Jesus.

The cast deserves a special note in A Clockwork Orange. Besides Malcolm McDowell who had the challenge handling Alex all of the cast has to present a friendly face one moment only to turn into a beast the next. Everyone handles it superbly and it only adds to the chilling effects of scenes as the "innocent" turns on someone.

It's an exceptional movie with perhaps two flaws. First, and the most minor, is that the subject matter is a bit rough. The film earned its X rating and while it wouldn't be the same film without it at the same time it can definitely make people uncomfortable. I don't think its a reason to avoid the film but it's there. The other problem is that it tends to hammer home its message that the base instincts of mankind are part of what makes us human and that a complete repression would be a disaster. Fortunately there's only a few spots in the script where they stop to moralize but it was grating when it happened.

The fact that those complaint are so minor says a lot about how perfect this movie is. A Clockwork Orange is yet another masterpiece of cinema from Kubrick and certainly more of a coherent movie than his 2001. It is a movie not to be missed.