A Clockwork Orange

Oct 03 2008

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So I’m trying to figure out how to review A Clockwork Orange. And I don’t know if I can.

It’s certainly a remarkable film, and I use that adjective deliberately. I want to make remarks about it. I want to talk about it with others who’ve seen it. Because it’s an intensely visual film that manages something very difficult:

Its protagonist is an amoral punk, and by the end you feel sorry for him, while still abhorring his deeds.

Alex, the protagonist, is the violent leader of a small British gang in the near future. They go around smashing up people and raping girls, with equal abandon.

Alex is eventually caught and sent to prison, where he is entirely unrepentant and does an excellent job of appearing reformed so he can get out early. He then volunteers for aversion therapy, which works (apparently; you never know how much Alex fakes), upon which he’s released into society. At which point every single thing he did in the first third of the movie comes back to haunt and destroy him. Every single thing. Everybody wants revenge. And he’s broken by it.

Which is the tragedy: whether he was truly reformed or not, he really did want to move on with a new life. But all of his past choices grabbed him and pulled him back into darkness.

And then the ending, which I won’t spoil here. Which turns it all around.

But all of the above doesn’t do the film justice. It really is an intensely visual film. Kubrick provides very specific information with each shot. This sometimes results in clinical shots, but even those have a modern elegance.

I don’t know if I can recommend the film. It’s dark, sparse, and filled with violent and sexual imagery. But it works.

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