Stanley Kubrick was one of the first directors that shaped my idea of cinema and just how far and deep films could reach. A Clockwork Orange, was I believe, the first film that I have seen from the director, leaving a mark on my mind with its daring violence and intense sexual imagery, not turning away to protect the conscience of its viewers; and because of this risk, A Clockwork Orange is a perfect product and showing the auteur at his most peak, equally rivalling the ambitious film that came before it.
A Clockwork Orange in its exterior is a rise and fall character study, which is something the director, would revisit again in his next film Barry Lyndon; this film is one of the rare few that let the audience be completely in understanding of the followed character’s emotions, preventing from experiencing the film from a distance or as a spectator. At the start of the film, we are given a menacing figure, Alex DeLarge, and his three droogs drinking milk filled with illicit substances, roaming around town causing destruction and suffering, stealing wealth from those that comes in their way. Kubrick allows the impulsive feelings that run through the mind and veins of Alex as he goes through these activities to be conveyed into the minds of its audience, activating the nerves in ourselves that produce a similar experience to Alex’s. The film achieves this sense of excitement without letting us feel guilty of feeling so, as the director executes it with a surge of dark humour, cushioning the honest tragedy and despair that lingers behind it; the film wants us to demand more to be shown, just to get that sense of rush of rebellion and power, consciously disarming me in the process.
The second act of the film begins to shift the film’s tone, stripping slowly the humour that prevents the film from becoming too self-serious and dark, but not entirely so that the audience would start to feel physical discomfort and emotional trauma. It is during this time that certain themes and messages are being firmly established, and preparing us for what is to come during the third act. It features one of the most intense images to ever be put in cinema, the Ludovico technique, a method that aims to cause illness when in the presence or in thought of violence or sexual engagement; watching his wide eyes in distress with no possibility of looking away, an image that would stay with us and breaking the illusion of those chosen to donate themselves for the advancement of science. This sense of discomfort is further emphasised when the demonstration of the technique’s outcome on our protagonist, frequently in the mercy of seemingly normal-looking individuals, antagonising him and hoping to create a physically painful response out of it, ergo proving its effectiveness to the world.
The film’s third act places the character and the audience at an emotional and tonal low, with pain and suffering on our protagonist, displaying him as a victim rather than the aggressor from those that he has done wrong to in the past; an opportunity for supposed justice. As Kubrick keeps the audience tight and locked in with Alex’s emotions and character development, we are able to feel everything that he had to endure; it was in the blaring echoes of his former droogs’, now officers, strike from their batons that we feel his physical torture; it was in the quiet rejection and abandonment from his family that we feel his emotional bruises; and it was in his experience with a familiar former-victim that we see and empathise his complete loss of faith in humanity. Through his heavy despair and the manipulation of those who entrapped him, led to an act of desperation to save himself from a life of complete psychological and emotional damnation. The film however, ends with on an ironic note that conveys the return of his destructive nature as a sense of personal salvation, and metaphorically of humanity; stopping the usage, at least for now, of the penetrating and immoral technique, but also leaving the audience with a feeling of fear, through the sight of Alex’s widened and insidious eyes paired with a horrifying sarcasm in his final statement; reminding the audience of the poor victims that were left in agony by Alex and his three droogs.
A Clockwork Orange’s impact reaches far beyond the story it tells, also exploring the world that shape it, giving us a glimpse of what may come for humanity’s future. Kubrick has created a world where power comes from the young that streak through the night, imposing themselves to the lives of others, breaching a territorial, physical, and personal privacy that leaves a trail of tears and bruises, reaching far beyond the purple marks that display on the surface of their skin; possibly caused by the failure of modern politics or the over-exposure of sex and violence in the youthful minds. The exploration of this theme of power and control is nothing new for the director, as the idea has been touched on in almost all of his films, but none of them reach the emotional and cerebral level as what was shown in this film; it provokes feelings that would remain with us, constantly reminding us of the suffering that was felt rather than the person who has caused it. The story then shows in its later stages, Alex being stripped away of his sense of power and control, constantly forcing him to be in a state of mercy to those that are unmerciful, understood by the assailants as a sense of justice. It is a problem that plagues the minds of its society, with Kubrick unwilling to provide a solution, therefore arresting this future with an idea moral and social justification.
Morality is another heavy theme that is explored throughout this film, with the Ludovico technique acting as the force that strips away humanity’s free-will, questioning on whether such a method should be undertaken even if it produces a positive financial and criminal outcome. It forces the audience to contemplate on whether human conditioning allows the individual to be redeemed for his sins, as to be in a state of salvation could only be achieved if the individual him or herself is willing to be forgiven and change his way of life. It is clearly a desperate cure from those attempting to regain control of their own society. This also forces us to contemplate on how far this method would go in reshaping the minds of its society, leading back again to the themes of control, with the members of the government craving to remain in power and this method possibly causing society to become more submissive to the ideals and values of their leaders. It is not doubt a frightening thought.
A Clockwork Orange features once again, the trademark visual style of photography that runs through his filmography; featuring patient tracking shots, extended takes, and the constant usage of symbolism, but this time the metaphors and symbolism are far less subtle, playfully exposing them on the surface for the audience to take in. A world filled with sexually-driven paintings, splashingly colourful walls, and provocative statues, indicating a society obsessed with expression, ensuring everything about them is right there on the surface for everyone to see. The film’s choice of prominent classical music and the use of original compositions by Wendy Carlos gave the film that sense of flavour that leaves a strong but enjoyable aftertaste. The usage of the Moog synthesizer was a brilliant one, allowing certain moments throughout the film to feel comedic, despite its dark ideas and imagery; as mentioned before, it keeps the audience from viewing the film too direly, having a bit of fun in the process. It is a unique visual journey that equally matches the resonance that came with his previous film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
It was clear to me that A Clockwork Orange was a phenomenal film, from the moment we see the shot of Alex’s penetrating stare at the Korova Milk Bar as the camera slowly paces us away from him.