A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * * ½

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Some time in the near future, Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and his gang of teenaged hooligans commit a variety of violent crimes, for one of which Alex is arrested and sentenced to prison. There, in order to win an early release from his incarceration, he volunteers to participate in an experiment to condition his behavior so that he will no longer be able to engage in violent actions. The consequences of this treatment are, however, more severe than he had imagined they would be.

Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, by conjuring up a frighteningly beautiful world of utter ferocity, which so enthralls the viewer that he is quickly submerged in the director's terrible vision, elicits such a feeling of horror at the physical, mental, and moral acts of violence men commit against one another that the moviegoer is almost certain to be left deeply shaken by the experience of watching the film.

The director's arousal of these feelings is made particularly intense by the movie's remarkable visual qualities. A Clockwork Orange is, in fact, a unique, skillfully crafted spectacle. A number of the scenes Kubrick has included are presented as carefully arranged tableaux, the composition of each of which is reminiscent of that found in formal painting. This style of precisely arranging characters and sets, which the director developed further in Barry Lyndon, gives A Clockwork Orange an elegant beauty which contrasts with the brutality being depicted and, consequently, enhances the viewer's emotional response to the film's violence.

What is more, the movie is as fascinating aurally as it is visually. Kubrick's screenplay, which relies heavily on Anthony Burgess' novel, on which the film is based, is poetic, sly, and savagely harsh. Few films include dialogue that is aesthetically pleasing, but A Clockwork Orange does. By using the slang Burgess devised for the young characters of his novel throughout the film, the director both presents the viewer with a distinctive and imaginative linguistic world and gives his work a unique flare.

The persistent violence of A Clockwork Orange evokes horror throughout, but Kubrick skillfully uses the stylish and attractive qualities noted above to make the initial scenes of the movie, in which Alex is the perpetrator of that violence, frighteningly intoxicating. The viewer is drawn into Alex's world and made to feel the excitement the protagonist feels when he engages in his brutal adventures. Furthermore, the consequences of his violent actions are never shown in the film's first act. It is only as A Clockwork Orange reaches its conclusion that Alex and the viewer are presented with the effects of the crimes the character has committed. The exhilaration of violence, not its horror, is initially emphasized. Later, when the ugliness of brutality is revealed, and the viewer remembers its pleasures, his awareness of his earlier delight helps to shock him and, consequently, to heighten his feelings of revulsion.

Wisely, the director, having stirred up such a sense of horror, does not narrow its focus by applying it only to instances of violence committed against certain persons. Instead, he makes the viewer feel even for his protagonist, who is, without a doubt, a selfish, cruel, and despicable creature. Had Kubrick made Alex a more sympathetic individual, the feelings of abhorrence he arouses with his depictions of the consequences of violence would have been considerably less affecting. Alex himself, though a perpetrator of violence, is shown as suffering as much as do any of his own victims, and his suffering is depicted as being as worthy of compassion as is theirs. Violence as such evokes horror in A Clockwork Orange, not only violence of the wicked against the just. Had Kubrick differentiated unjustified violence from acceptable violence he would have weakened the impact of his work.

Instead, by refraining from constricting his focus, and by mingling the sadness and compassion A Clockwork Orange manages to arouse with a terrible sort of glee, Kubrick has created a remarkably affecting film. He conjures up in the moviegoer's heart visions of the intoxicating pleasures of violence and of the miseries such delights bring about. Then, having done so, the director leaves him with profound feelings of sorrow by making him aware that the characters of the film will in the future indulge in such pleasures.

Review by Keith Allen

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