Nine Weeks Of Kubrick, Week Three: Andy Burns on A Clockwork Orange

We started Nine Weeks of Kubrick with two of my favourite films – Eyes Wide Shut and The Shining. Now, as I comb through the recently released Stanley Kubrick Limited Edition Blu-Ray Collection, I’m drifting into somewhat unfamiliar territory, since I haven’t seen all of the legendary director’s films before. Since the Queen and I still want to watch Full Metal Jacket and Barry Lyndon together, I skipped ahead (or back, if you will) to 1971 and what’s arguably the most controversial film in Kubrick’s canon.


What the film is about: A disturbing and brutal two hours that’s permeated the culture’s consciousness, A Clockwork Orange is the adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel of the same name. Set in a futuristic London, the movie’s focus is on Alex (Malcolm McDowell, a violent young man with a love of Ludwig Van Beethoven who rapes and steals and assaults random people until he is caught and undergoes experimental government therapy in search of a cure to make him “good”.

What I liked about the film: Prior to this weekend’s viewing, I’d only ever seen A Clockwork Orange once before and, to be honest, I don’t recall enjoying it on that first viewing. Then again, I don’t think it’s a movie you can actually enjoy too much. The first twenty minutes of the film are really quite disturbing, even if you know what’s coming. Some forty years after it was released, the scenes of physical and sexual violence are hard to take even today. However, if that’s all that was worth talking about when it comes to A Clockwork Orange, I doubt anybody would remember it. And really, there is so much to it – a dark sense of humour that manages to lighten the mood at times; the clever use of classical music that manages to compliment the antics of our lead character, not to mention the brilliant electronic music score by Walter/Wendy Carlos, Stanley Kubrick’s frequent collaborator. There’s also the amazingly nuanced performance by Malcolm McDowell. Watching him go from victimizer to victim is so compelling, and leaves you knowing that Alex and Malcolm were made for one another. I’m more familiar with McDowell in his older age (he is the guy who killed Captain Kirk, after all), so it’s really quite riveting to watch the younger actor pull out all the stops. In the three films I’ve watched on Blu-Ray so far, it’s clear Kubrick has an amazing knack of getting brilliant work out of his leading actors.

Some things I didn’t enjoy: From a technical standpoint, I have to say I was disappointed with this fortieth anniversary edition of A Clockwork Orange. While it is visually striking on Blu-Ray, I found some real sound issues throughout the film, most specifically in the middle where the voices were noticeably quite, dropping in and out for a minute or two at a time. I’m going to have to investigate further, to see if it’s simply my copy or if there’s some issues with the version that was just released. Even if it’s my copy, I was also disappointed that the film didn’t have a more immersive sound experience. Everything seems to occur on this front speakers (this was the case Eyes Wide Shut and The Shining, so perhaps it’s an artistic decision by the estate).

Should you watch A Clockwork Orange: Seeing as the film is a certifiable classic, in some ways it’s almost inarguable that you should watch A Clockwork Orange at least once. However, unlike other classics such as The Godfather or Casablanca, this is definitely not a film for everyone. The scenes of violence are really hard to take, and that’s coming from someone who has enjoyed more than a few slasher films in his day. Maybe it’s the realism, maybe it’s the absolute glee that Alex and his droogs take in their anarchy; whatever the case, I know more than a few people won’t want to sit through images like that. If you can make it, you’re in for one of the all-time great cinematic performance with Malcolm McDowell’s Alex. The film also asks some serious moral questions of what makes someone “good” – are we born that way? If not, can we change? Should we be forced to? And what happens if we are? Forty years later, and in the face of hooligans in Canada running around a few weeks ago and the same time last year, A Clockwork Orange felt very timely and relevant to me.

That just might be the most disturbing thing about the film today.

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