A Clockwork Orange (1972) — How to hate art in two hours

“It had been a wonderful evening and what I needed now, to give it the perfect ending, was a little of the Ludwig Van.”

Justin’s rating: A conspiracy unraveled

Justin’s review: Something’s probably bugged you about A Clockwork Orange and other films like it. You’re not quite sure what it is, but it makes you mad. That’s because you are witness to one of the greatest conspiracies of moviedom. Critics say Clockwork Orange is good. Film professors teach that Clockwork Orange is a masterpiece. Contentious artsy-fartsy students can’t shut their silver spoon mouths about the brilliance that lies within Clockwork Orange. They do this about many, many horrid films, and we take it meekly, assuming that other people know something we don’t.

That’s a lie, ’cause I know it all. And A Clockwork Orange reeks. It’s a lot like postmodern art displays: labeled as insightful and innovative, yet it really makes no sense to anyone.

Justin tells it like it is. Here you have a film that has a really antagonistic subject Alex (Malcom McDowell) who revels in sex, violence, and talking in some sort of weird language that’s most likely based on sounds emanating from five-month-old infants. After some shocking, shocking acts of violence and rape (and CHECK OUT that phallic imagery, our film professors chime), the law catches up with Alex and throws him in jail. A bizarre experiment rehabilitates him to become nauseous at the mere thought of sex, violence, and Beethoven. From this point on, a large subtitle might as well be flashing “SOCIAL COMMENTARY” at the bottom of the screen

My thought is, social commentary in movies is fossilized dinosaur dung sold at museums — unless it’s shown with a spark of creativity. This is not the case. The plot turn is no more complicated than anything you’ve seen on a Happy Meal box. It’s pretty much “what goes around comes around” with silly set design. Alex treats his friends badly. Later, they do the same to him. Alex tries to beat the system. Alex drinks milk. Blah, blah, blah. I hate this film.

Kubrick revels in long, dry stretches of cinematic wasteland that has everyone barking that it’s the best thing since Oprah started reading books. Open your eyes to the truth! It’s just a few people bullying you into liking something that you haven’t had the time to make up your own mind about! Free the people! Begin the revolution! Picket your local Arby’s!

I hate Arby’s, too.

PoolMan’s rating: I wish *I* had a pink sweater with raised red vinyl chunks and a four inch wide belt too!

PoolMan’s review: I have to admit, when I walk down the aisles of my local video store, seeing a box with the sticker “100 Best Movies of All Time” on it is usually enough to make me walk the other way. Usually these lists are assembled by people that have never been in my kitchen, and would certainly not be welcome there should they decide that, one day, it would be a particularly wonderful place in which to hold their meetings. I’d probably hurl bagels at them. But I’ve rolled the dice with critically-blathered-over movies before and won, and I’d just walked past Stanley Kubrick’s most famous piece one too many times. Would I win again?

I found myself transfixed by A Clockwork Orange. There’s something about its entire style (disregarding the outrageous ’70s fashions) that captivates the eye. From the colours used to the long, long, loooooong run-on shots, this movie has a certain timelessness to it, like it could have taken place anytime in the past or future. There is precious little to root the viewer in any one time frame.

Clockwork is all about powerful imagery. There are no fewer than three rape scenes with lots of nudity on top of that. There’s the threat of the rough truth of prison. Phallic imagery done to the point of excess. And the scenes of Alex’s “reprogramming” are truly haunting and disturbing. One has to either admire or pity Malcolm McDowell’s patience here… he’s hit in the privates, smashed in the head, stripped naked, strapped down, set in body casts, and has his eyes jammed open with metal prongs. And I do not mean via special effects. The put long, sharp-looking pieces of metal in his eyes, and spread them unnaturally wide. There were a LOT of times where I shook my head and thought “Jeez… he actually DID that?”

That said, this movie DOES have its ridiculous points. The aforementioned fashion has to be seen to be believed. The set decoration is just plain weird. And the music, God, the music… thank goodness we don’t love the sound of synthesizers anymore in this day and age. You won’t believe what they’ve done to poor Mr Beethoven.

All in all, this story is a powerful one, ringing with the same truths that made 1984 and Brave New World so haunting. Instead of downplaying basic human tendencies, Clockwork highlights them in a bleak, flat light that makes you wonder how far society would have to go in order to descend to this level. Not too far, I fear.

This is the kind of tale that can’t be told anymore because it’s too powerful, and it might offend someone. That’s honestly too bad. Will you enjoy it? I don’t know if “enjoy” is the right word. This isn’t a film designed to entertain and make you feel good about yourself. It will make you laugh here and there, and then gasp in horror. And most of all, it’ll make you think. This flick is five years older than *I* am, and it made me think things over. I know that’s not usually the Mutant way, but do it for your old droog, Pooly, eh?

3 comments

  1. I used to have the soundtrack on CD. I loved it. I played that disc until it could not play any more. Would I be welcome in Justin’s kitchen, or would I be bagel-faced?

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