Overview: Alex and his group of thugs (“droogs”) rape, pillage, and terrorize the streets. Based on the Anthony Burgess novel.Warner Brother’s. 1971. 136 minutes. Rated R.
Psychological Conditioning: We all remember Pavlov’s dog from Psych 101. A Clockwork Orange explores a human example of comparable conditioning, but on a twisted, disturbing scale. When Alex is picked up by the police he is chosen for a fictional form of aversion therapy known as the Ludovico Technique, wherein he is forced to watch horrific crimes while listening to his favorite composer, Ludgwig van Beethoven. The goal of this conditioning is to cause a harsh, negative, physiological response to violence and cruelty (much like the harsh response the viewer will likely have while watching this sickening scene). To this extent – the treatment is a success. Afterward, violence isn’t light and fun to him anymore and Beethoven’s song now brings him nothing but horror. These effects are eventually unraveled by (you guessed it) violence. Not violence Alex has committed, however, but violence done towards him. This seesaw of violence lends to one of the more concise philosophical and psychological conversations in the Kubrick canon.
Violence vs. Morality: A Clockwork Orange is a disturbing film and often easily dismissed as another “violence for the sake of violence” movie, but it’s worth investigating the function of violence as a narrative tool. This isn’t just another movie with gore, sex, and murder. This is a movie that utilizes callous, vicious images to force us to look within ourselves and question the fabric of our conscience. This is a movie that makes us question … well, everything, but morality in particular. Consider the nature vs. nurture tug-of-war throughout the movie. We are shown that cruelty is in Alex’s nature, but his conscience becomes manipulated (nurtured) by brutality into hating violence. In a sense Alex is raped, victimized in a way that parallels his own earlier exploits. Finally a series of savage events again leads Alex back to his natural love for violence. If this movie is correct, how much of our identity is real? Can an individual ever change? These are questions composed of and framed by violence.
The Important Central Piece: Malcolm McDowell performs flawlessly as Alex. McDowell brings Alex to life with terrifying charm, from the beautifully evil smile to the horrifying look in his eyes as he screams with joy during beatings. Not only do we hate him when he hurt others, but, more importantly, we come to sympathize with him during the excruciating conditioning scenes.
Overall: Stanley Kubrick does an excellent job bringing Burgess’ novel to life, and much of his success has to do with how precisely Kubrick follows the scene and style elements of the book. The production value is solidly conceived as expected from the known perfectionist. I mean, really, who can forget the costumes from this movie? The face make-up? No one could have translated this haunting novel into a motion picture better than Stanley Kubrick.