Today’s movie focuses on a group of young men who exhibit absolutely zero compassion, perpetrate sickening acts of violence against people that did them no wrong, and fetishize vicious misogynistic aggressions toward women. What? No, not Internet MRAs, this movie was released in 1971, there was no internet.
Spoilers ahoy for A Clockwork Orange.
My general opinion about A Clockwork Orange is about the same as most of Kubrick’s work. It’s…odd. It raises interesting questions, thought provoking topics, and is a very unique experience. I’m not sure I could say I enjoyed that experience.
The first act of the movie shows us lead character Alex and his gang of “droogs” as they drink drug laced milk and generally raise hell around town. Malcolm McDowell turns in a singular performance exuding charismatic arrogance in every action and narration. While I certainly never think the character is likeable I can’t deny that he grabs my attention and makes me want to see more of him. It’s easy to see why McDowell is still remembered for this role.
That said, this first section drags a bit. There is some fascinating world building as the audience discovers this bizarre “near future” England but for the most part we are accosted by scenes of violence and rape that feels almost like an exploitation film. While I understand that some of these elements are important to the plot later and we need to establish that Alex is unrepentant id unleashed I was glad the movie changed gears when he was arrested. A point needed to be made. I just felt we spent a little too long making it.
The same can be said for the whole movie. While in prison we beat around the bush longer than I felt necessary before Alex is put through the experimental “therapy” that causes him to have extreme negative physiological reactions to the thoughts of violence or sex. Once he’s released there are one too many scenes demonstrating that he is now a push over in a world taking advantage of him before we finally get to our resolution.
So, Kubrick takes longer to make his points than I care for. That is balanced by the fact that the points raised are fascinating ones. If in the end the government is willing to allow Alex to keep his ability for violence in exchange for his cooperation, does that imply that the government is actually ok with these awful things as long as it benefits? Does stripping yourself of every ounce of aggression leave you helpless in a world that is inherently aggressive? Is a person that wants to do violence but refrains only out of fear of the consequences just as “good” as a person that doesn’t want to be violent in the first place?
The most fascinating question to me is that of stripping someone of their free will. Alex is conditioned to experience pain and nausea if he even thinks about violence or sex. It can be argued that this removes his free will as it removes his ability to choose; he is essentially programmed for non-violence. How much is free will worth? Is this an offense just as distasteful as what Alex did to his victims? Is this transgression worth it if prevents a criminal from hurting anyone else? The question of what constitutes basic human rights and weighing those rights of a criminal against the safety of society is a complicated issue. A Clockwork Orange doesn’t give a definitive answer but does use its unique fiction to discuss the topic and get people thinking. It reminds me, as many things do, of the video game series Mass Effect. In it was forced to choose between either destroying a large antagonist group of sentient free thinking robots or reprogramming them into being on my side undermining the choice they had made for themselves. Trying to decide which option was the least problematic, the removal of life or the removal of free will, was a thought exercise I spent quite a bit of time on before continuing with the game. (Well, as much time as being on a spaceship with no air surrounded by hostile forces would allow.)
A Clockwork Orange features a great lead performance and heady concepts about right and wrong. It also generally drags and is almost impenetrably bizarre in visual style. I can’t say I enjoyed watching it, but it was effective at engaging my brain. It’s technically a good film, just not an entertaining one as a whole. So I’m not sure how to rate that?
How about on a scale from baddiwad to sladky this movie rates two yarbles. That makes about as much sense as most of the dialog.
Other movies I watched (potential minor spoilers):
Annabelle – Terror is to be had when a doll is possessed by an angry spirit! Or, it’s not really possessed but…haunted? Or I guess it’s a demon, not a spirit? And it needs a soul for… Look, I don’t know. The motivations of the paranormal entities are weak and the scares are even weaker. The movie starts with a very effective opening scare and quickly crumbles away into poor renditions of well worn tropes. What’s worse is the movie pulls its punches resulting in low stakes and low interest.
Vacation (2015) – This sequel/reboot of the classic Chevy Chase movies features the son of that family, Rusty Griswold, taking his own family on a road trip to Wally World. Updated for the times the jokes are more absurdist, risque, and over the top than the original. Throw in some nods and winks to the movie that inspired it and you have a pretty funny flick that likely won’t be as well remembered as the original but is still a good time in its own right.
Keanu – What would you do to save this little ball of fur? Well, tag team comedy duo Key and Peele hang out with drug dealers, get caught in firefights and high speed chases, and listen to George Michael to save their precious kidnapped kitty. The schtick of these two average suburbanites posing as hardened gangsters gets a little tired but over the top silliness and that fluff ball running through intense actions scenes keep things entertaining overall.