1971 / Best Director / Best Picture

Film #307: A Clockwork Orange (1971)

More back-to-back posts focusing on the same director now and in this case it’s someone we’ve met before. Judging by his first Best Picture appearance Dr Strangelove, it was clear that Stanley Kubrick wasn’t a director who played by the rules. However it appeared that the Academy enjoyed his odd style of filmmaking which is evidenced by the fact that two of his movies were nominated for Best Picture in the 1970s.

Of those two films, A Clockwork Orange is definitely the most bizarre of the pair. Based on the novella by Anthony Burgess, the film delves into a dystopian future in which violence, rape and robbery are everyday occurrences. Our hero of sorts is Alexander DeLarge, a leader of a gang who take pleasure in committing these aforementioned deeds. Alex’s style is unique in that he dons a white suit with a black hat and his group always wear animal masks whenever they commit a burglary. The second act of the film sees Alex arrested and later become a guinea pig for a new scheme in which the minister of interior hopes to turn violent individuals into law abiding citizens. This scheme involves brainwashing Alex using a series of harrowing images which ultimately make him violently ill. The worst part of this is that he is no longer able to hear Beethoven, his favourite composer, as his music is played over one of the films. The third act is the most interesting, as we see Alex return to his normal life as a broken man and one that can now not do anything to defend himself against the people who have wronged him in the past. I feel that this part of the film makes it an incredibly thought-provoking endeavour and so it was interesting to learn that Kubrick initially never intended to make the film. Instead, the story was dropped into his lap by a friend and he only decided to get involved in the project after the film he was going to make about the life of Napoleon fell through.

Stanley Kubrick has the reputation of being somewhat of a perfectionist so it’s interesting to learn that A Clockwork Orange was the film that took him the least time to complete. This was mainly due to the fact that the majority of the filming took place quite near to his home, in central London, and that there were no tricky technical sequences. Of course, the scene that sticks in most people’s minds is that of the cinema in which Alex is forced to watch a number of disgusting films, with his eyes propped open constantly. To me though, it’s the after-effects of these methods and in particular when Alex has a breakdown after being played Beethoven on-loop. I have to admit that it took me a while to get into A Clockwork Orange, with the opening ten or fifteen minutes being a particular struggle. I feel that being plunged into this world of sex and violence head-on was a little alienating to this particular viewer as was the slang that was employed by Alex and his friends. Luckily, as things progressed, I really started to get where the film was going and throughout the second and third acts I was completely engrossed. Part of the reason for this is down to Malcolm McDowell’s incredible central performance as the anti-hero Alex. On paper, Alex is somebody who is completely unlikeable but over the course of the film I found McDowell made him feel quite sympathetic. Alex is definitely a product of his environment and Kubrick takes his time to show exactly what this sort of environment is. The production design and quirky cinematography add to the unsettling nature of the film and the score is particularly memorable. Though the film was nominated for four Oscars, it ultimately came away empty-handed, but that being said A Clockwork Orange is definitely a memorable film and one that makes you think long after the credits roll.


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