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A Clockwork Orange: “Kubrick’s masterclass of surrealism, disillusion and delinquency”

CW: Sexual violence

When we think of Stanley Kubrick, the first thing that comes to mind is a thought-provoking and experimental filmmaker and director, that was behind some of the most influential movies of the 60s, 70s and 80s. One of his most controversial and scabrous films is A Clockwork Orange, an ideological adaptation of the 1962 novel of the same name by Anthony Burgess about sadistic gangs living in a dystopian future filled with grotesque sins.

A Clockwork Orange was an absolute wonder when it hit theatres, bringing something completely new in a film industry that was slowly moving away from violent approaches such as this one. Coming just after Kubrick’s cinematographic masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the movie represented the entire surrealistic vision of Stanley Kubrick, marking this as his most experimental and outrageous creation yet. Although some of his subsequent works made use of some of the techniques and moments from this movie, it remains the one where Kubrick portrayed some of his most striking elements : violence, misogyny, rage, and of course his soft spot for nudity. The film did not hold back from anything, and the incredibly disturbing scenes of rape led to the withdrawal and ban of the movie in the UK, surprisingly at Kubrick’s demand. Stanley Kubrick was also associated with several real-life crimes that were supposedly inspired by the motives and ideas of the film’s main characters.

Apart from the whole brutality of it, the movie itself remains extremely influential and somewhat relevant to this day. It follows Alex, the young leader of the gang, ingeniously played by Malcolm McDowell (who was surprisingly not nominated for an Oscar that year and did the “Kubrick Stare” perfectly), who pushes the other members into acts of severe human deviance. But in the process of it he is caught by the authorities and becomes the subject of a new futuristic conduct-aversion clinical experiment, which reveals itself to actually be a method of torture. This is what makes the movie an instant classic and where the genius mind of Kubrick shines. Leaving aside the very dark and vulgar satire that is the first act, the second act portrays some form of dealing with societal issues. This highlights deeper meanings and ideas, which set it far away from the plain violent start-to-finish movies of the time. 

The accent falls on the sick mind of our main character, Alex, a boy full of obscene thoughts, desperate to set himself apart by acting in the most unhinged ways possible. However, this mind is then subjected to very harsh and most certainly inhumane torture, in order to remove the sinful side of it and leave behind a “normal” individual. But here is where some questions intervene, especially regarding what is left of Alex. Are we still alive if we cannot manifest our own feelings? Is it still a working mind, one that was emptied of personality and filled with neutrality? The experiment represents a test to our moral and psychological ideas, serving as a challenge to the viewers, who, in the end, feel bad for Alex, despite his mad actions in the first half. This represents the brilliance of Kubrick, in the way he ironizes the ultra-violence, only to leave a mark in your mind with the last scenes of the movie. 

A Clockwork Orange remains an absolute classic to this day, with many potent ideas and meanings. It represents the best of Stanley Kubrick’s vision and surrealism, and marks itself as completely unique. These types of movies represented a mental workout for the viewer, a way to leave the cinema bamboozled and desperately craving for a rewatch. Many 70s directors focused on making surrealistic films (Andrei Tarkovsky with Solaris and Stalker, Alejandro Jodorowsky with The Holy Mountain and The Mole), some of which stood the test of time excellently. But now films similar to this have come to an almost complete extinction, so a breath of fresh air in this industry would be very well received. 

Image credit: Rick Harris / CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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