At the Movies with Alan Gekko: A Clockwork Orange “71”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Dystopian Crime/ Stars: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates, Warren Clarke, John Clive, Adrienne Corri, Carl Duering, Paul Farrell, Clive Francis, Michael Gover, Miriam Karlin, James Marcus, Aubrey Morris, Godfrey Quigley, Sheila Raynor, Madge Ryan, Anthony Sharp, Philip Stone, Michael Tarn, David Prowse, Carol Drinkwater, Steven Berkoff, Margaret Tyzack/Runtime: 136 minutes

From the moment it started disturbing the heck out of movie goers in the long-gone year of 1971 to now nearly 5 decades later, I think it is safe to say that A Clockwork Orange really and truly is one of the most off the wall in terms of how engaging and entertaining it is yet equally as visceral and downright disturbing movies ever released into mainstream cinema. I mean not only is this a film that was subject to a series of riots in the UK due to a series of crimes involving teens mimicking things that they saw in the film, but even Anthony Burgess, the writer of the novel that the film is an adaptation of, is known for equally loathing the movie and also seeing it as absolutely brilliant. Suffice it to say then that the maelstrom of controversy surrounding both this film’s release and the subsequent withdrawal from cinema in the UK for close to 3 decades may be known, but it is the film’s enduring talent to equally baffle, unnerve, and just downright push and pull viewers new to the madness as well as old timers in equal measure almost 5-decades after it first opened that makes this film both an intriguing entry in Kubrick’s filmography and a cinematic experience like few others.

Indeed Kubrick doesn’t just make a pointed statement on violence; he also hands the whole nightmarish ordeal over to the crowds who embrace it no matter if that is a crowd watching it on TV or in the Coliseum in Rome or even participating it in the crime-rampant alleys and streets of a grim and dark future London. Indeed anyone who watches this film will be firmly forced to discover just how depraved they are, to really question their sense of civility and to figure out where the line between what is tasteful and what is amoral lies for them. In addition, Kubrick doesn’t just take an in-depth analysis on the concepts of rehabilitating, criminality, or just evil, but he also conjures up a possible future where getting the mind in check is the main solution given to every conflict that comes up and challenges us to figure out the difference between a human being and a monster as well as what is a treatment and what is an ailment to say nothing of thinking about the essence of deviance and the cynicism of the world’s young adult population. Thus I think it is safe to say that this film does require as much as it gives movie goers in a unique yet dark marriage between helmer and their audience. Indeed this is not a easy cinematic experience to make it through, but if you are able to you will see that this is a film that is a truly ingenious film that is supported beautifully by a group of truly masterful performances, downright incredible work in production design, a riveting musical score, and some truly off the wall narration that proves to be a variety of things to anyone who chooses to watch this movie including unnerving, visceral, odd, intriguingly comedic, razor-sharp satirical, and quite genius amongst others. Yet if there was ever one constant to be found in regards to this film it would have to be the fact that be it the year it first came out, or the current year of 2020, A Clockwork Orange now and always will stand as one of the finest entries in the filmography of a titan of filmmaking whose entire life’s work was that and so much more.

The plot is as follows: In a dark, and grimy futuristic England, we as an audience find ourselves following the various misadventures of a young man by the name of Alex. Alex, we soon learn, spends his time as the head of a gang of incredibly violent and ruthless hooligans who spend their nights engaging in such heinous acts of debauchery as assault, robbery, and especially rape. However all good things must come to an end, and sure enough soon we witness as things quickly go sour for our “boy wonder” as, during a typical gang outing, his gang decides they’re fed up with him and leave him for the police to capture for his various crimes. Once in prison however, Alex soon is invited to take part in a procedure that the state government promises will “cure” him of his desires to engage in the acts he took part in previously. However, upon completion of the procedure and released back into the world, Alex will quickly and horrifyingly discover that for every action there is fallout, and a lot of his actions, whether he is aware of it or not, have been waiting for just the right moment to get their comeuppance on him…..

Now behind the camera, we witness as Kubrick, as was his way, manages to showcase a wonderful degree of control at the helm of this adaptation of the same-named novel by Anthony Burgess that really when you stop to think about it even the main character in this, as power-hungry in his own kingdom which has begun crumbling away around him, is nothing more than just a piece on the board of Kubrick’s riveting film chess game with the audience on the other side of the board. Indeed it is no secret that you most likely will have some kind of strong response to this film, and as a result we see Kubrick, in this film more than a lot of his other work, really yank on the strings in your brain with such violent intensity that you will find yourself absolutely unsure about just how far either the main character or the director are going to take things. I mean there are quite a few instances throughout this film where you will struggle to keep your eyes on the film as the mixing of the imagery and music by itself is enough at points to make your stomach go on a rollercoaster and your flight response to kick into overdrive. Yet even with all of that going on Kubrick, fully aware of what we are going through, still tries to make his audience actually like the character of Alex which shouldn’t be as easy as it should because lest we have forgotten dear reader: this is a narcissist kid who, while other kids play sports or join afterschool organizations, has pastimes that consist of raping, pillaging, brutally attacking people, drinking drugged milk, and not always in that order! Yet the fact that Kubrick is able to take such a slime of a character and make it possible for him not only to get laughs from you, but also your sympathy is an accomplishment that should not be understated and is a true ode to both Kubrick’s helmsmanship and lead actor McDowell’s work. Indeed for a film helmer to make a movie as wild, crazy, and vastly unpredictable as this film is one thing, but to also make that film as on the level, and thought-provoking as it is twisted, careless, and even dangerous to some level is one which takes a helmer who is one of a kind in how they bring a story to life. Yet what this film got however was much more than that because the film may have needed an artist, but what they got was a Da-Vinci of film, and it may have required a storyteller, but what it got was easily one of the finest filmmakers of the 20th century so really I think that is a fair trade for audiences….all things considering.

Now as for the performances in this film, as alluded to in the previous paragraph, they all manage to quite flawlessly fit in this nightmarish landscape and are a huge credit to why the film manages to succeed on the level that it ultimately does. However, without a doubt in my mind the main performance that will leave you in equal parts in awe of and terrified beyond your wildest imagination will be Malcolm McDowell’s career-defining lead turn as main character Alex. Indeed I have always loved Malcolm McDowell and his work be it Loomis in Rob Zombie’s Halloween films, H.G. Wells in Time After Time, Kesslee in Tank Girl, Col. Cochrane in Blue Thunder, or as Alfie Alperin in Sunset from 1988 among others, but there is no denying that more than any other role that McDowell IS Alex and you really can’t help, but actually admire to some degree his urgent fix for little bit of the ol “ultra-violence” he engages in every night as he and his droogies embark on their typical campaign of terror. At the same time however, you also can’t help, but really appreciate his interaction he has with his parents the morning after when he claims he can’t go to school that day as well as feel maybe even a bit sorry for him when he returns home following the “cure” and he’s introduced to the young man who his parents have chosen to all but in title replace him in their lives and he suddenly finds himself both homeless and in desperate need of a friend. Not only that, but his time spent with his droogies is oddly delightful as he goes from simply “singing in the rain” to a slightly mad with power tyrant who we see beating his groupies into submission and in slow-motion no less. Finally there is a degree of tragedy to be found when we see that Alex, for all his acts of debauchery, is also a lover of classic music only for that same music to turn into his worst nightmare in more ways than one.  Make no mistake the character of Alex is one of the most iconic in all of cinema, but he wouldn’t have become that if he’d been played by anyone else other than Malcolm McDowell because from the smirk on his face to the condescending tone in his voice he nails this character and makes him instantly iconic through and through.

All in all it most assuredly goes without saying, but A Clockwork Orange is a film that has for a long time now been seen by many a reviewer and casual movie goer in equal measure as one of the iconic film helmer that was Mr. Stanley Kubrick’s finest cinematic endeavors (and that’s saying a lot when you think about it and realize that virtually ALL of Kubrick’s films are iconic masterpieces in their own way). At the same time however, I do feel that I should give a degree of fair warning and let you know right now movie goer that this film contains quite a bit of disturbing and shocking material contained within its 136-minute runtime and as such not only might ruffle up a few feathers if you are a viewer of a sensitive nature, but also viewer discretion should most certainly be exercised when it comes to a person under the age of 16 or 17 wanting to view this landmark cinematic viewing experience for the very first time. Indeed this is because this is a very adult and intense cinematic experience which also does a quite skilled job of making the audience go along with seemingly every single whim of a cinematic variety that popped into the heads of helmer Kubrick and his cast during the filming process. With that being said I feel you should also know that I have a vast love and respect for this film for quite a few reasons, but it is because this film puts its emphasis delightedly on a riveting narrative, a wonderful score, truly incredible performances, and arresting work in the visual department that has resulted in this movie a permanent place on my list of favorite cinematic experiences that I will always turn to time and time again. Suffice it to say then that if you are old enough to handle just what is being thrown your way and you want a cinematic outing that is truly unlike any other you could ever even remotely begin thinking of having then give this film a try. I promise you will never ever forget it. On a scale of 1-5 I give A Clockwork Orange “71” a solid 4.5 out of 5.