Filmbusu Treeview is a weekly collaboration between Tembusu Treehouse and Tembusu College’s Filmbusu, where Treehouse writers give their take on Filmbusu’s pick of the week.
Film: A Clockwork Orange
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Producer: Stanley Kubrick, Si Litvinoff, Max L. Raab
Screenwriter: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Malcolm McDowell (Alex), James Marcus (Georgie), Warren Clarke (Dim), Michael Bates (Chief Guard), Patrick Magee (Mr. Alexander), Anthony Sharp (Minister), Aubrey Morris (Deltoid), Godfrey Quigley (Prison Chaplain).
A Clockwork Orange is a 1971 dystopian and science-fiction film set in Britain. Both haunting and disturbing, it employs violent images and aberrant scenes to create a satirical masterpiece. Stanley Kubrick’s omniscient role as the director, producer, and screenwriter of the movie rightly earned him success in the New York Film Critics Circle awards for Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay. Kubrick similarly received Oscar nominations for all three categories. Although widely acclaimed and well received by many, response towards the controversial film remains divided, with Kubrick himself withdrawing the film’s British release.
Set in a Britain of the near future, the audience finds themselves in a dystopian world in which law and order has severely denigrated. A Clockwork Orange starts off with a strangely captivating scene of Alex, the film’s main protagonist, in a maniacal state; a half-smirk plastered on his face and long lashes framing only one eye. He sits relaxed, but his eyes that stare straight ahead at the camera (and right to the audience) are distinctly diabolical and crazed. The camera then pans out slowly, and the glass of “milk plus” that sits in his hand slowly comes into view. His cronies, termed endearingly as ‘droogs’ throughout the film are introduced as Pete, Georgie and Dim. There is a charged atmosphere of suspense, and the audience later finds out that the drink was instrumental in preparing Alex’s gang for a night of “ultra-violence”. The start of the film already establishes a bizarre semblance of Alex’s world – a world meticulously set up by Kubrick for his audience to dive in through the eyes of a sociopathic protagonist.
A Clockwork Orange is a film of eerie juxtapositions and symbolisms: it reflects Alex’s world, one hanging on the edge of humanity and teetering on logic and sanity. Alex and his droogs, calmly sipping milk while covered in blood, present a jarring contrast of corruption and innocence when placed side by side. Right from the get-go, we get a sense of the film’s recurring motifs of contrast and convolution: From seemingly joyous classics as the chosen background music during rape scenes and gang fights, to Alex and the droogs’ adornment of a gentleman’s outfit of bowler hats and suspenders. Notably, Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony” and “Singing in The Rain” accompanies Alex, as he goes on his escapades of heinous crimes and wrong-doings. The terrible contrast elicits horror and repulse from the audience.
The film’s choice of language is an important symbolic motif that permeates the movie, infusing an element of originality to Kubrick’s work of art. The “Nadslat” slang, used by the characters, is a combination of Russian and English that sounds both nonsensical and lyrical to the ears at the same time. It makes the characters of the film even harder to comprehend, weaving disorder into Alex’s lawless world and contributing to the sense of unease building up beneath the surface. Language, the medium in which we understand our characters, is thus the proverbial cherry on top of Kubrick’s perplexing film. All in all, A Clockwork Orange succeeds at leaving its viewers shaken and disoriented.
Despite having witnessed Alex’s twisted nature, the protagonist oddly remains likeable for the audience throughout the entire movie, as we follow him along his journey of sociopath to defiant juvenile, and lastly to pitiful teenager. Malcolm McDowell’s acting is indeed commendable as he carries the plot of the film well, from his perfectly-mastered villainous smirk to his reformative self, where the audience can’t help but empathize for him. And it is hard not to, for Alex’s juvenile behavior in prison and defiance sprinkled throughout the movie endears us to his young age, reminding us that despite his heinous wrong-doings, he is still after all, a teenager. Above all, Alex reminds us of our humanity – that it often exists as darker manifestations of our deepest desires.
Kubrick is a fantastic film-maker, just as Malcolm and the rest of the cast are fantastic role-players. As such, the audience is compelled to go along with what A Clockwork Orange wants us to feel. Anger, horror, pity, and even humour, as we sit transfixed at the scenes that unfold. Humour comes along as an unwanted guest. We become shocked at ourselves, for having such a reaction. Even more surprisingly, the audience finds themselves inevitably chuckling along, making light of darker scenes, accompanied by a lingering sense of confusion. Kubrick’s mastery of film-making and of human emotions shows again in his ludicrous scenes of comical violence. Here, his statement remains a blurred one. But perhaps this again forcers viewers to confront the uncomfortable reality of human nature.
On one level, the film poses important questions about the state of humanity and its darker nature. On another, the role of the state comes under examination. This happens when Alex’s will becomes stripped away by the state under the banner of reducing crime rates and reinstating law and order. My favorite quote of the film appears at this point, making a statement: “Goodness is something to be chosen. When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.” The film brings up the age-old debate of nature versus nurture, along with questions about totalitarianism and the value of individual will.
Although the film did its job in provoking thought about important ethical dilemmas of the modern world, the film was perhaps not as effective in evoking a strong enough desire for self-reflection or reformation. It could be that its disturbing scenes of rape and violence were too over-the-top and bizarre, painting a dystopian landscape that seemed all too fictional and much too divorced from reality for the audience to find relatable.
However, for me, the film still is a commendable feat of Kubrick’s, and a cinematic beauty in its own right – as with all of Kubrick’s films. As the credits roll up at the end of the film, viewers are left with a sour aftertaste in their mouths, and yet oddly, a sense of inexplicable resonance. Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is indeed, “gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh.”
Who should watch:
For the occasional nihilists and realists, as well as for the brave humanists and unshakable existentialists.
About the Author
Mun Yee is a Year 1 FASS student whose moods are largely affected by the weather. A rare morning person, she starts off the day with a good cup of coffee and ends it with her nose in a book. Her favorite days are the ones spent musing on long walks. Most of all, she loves to dance and occasionally writes prose and poetry.
Ratings system designed by Goh Yong Wee