Malcolm McDowell Alex
Patrick Magee Mr. Alexander
Michael Bates Chief Guard
Warren Clarke Dim
John Clive Stage Actor
Adrienne Corri Mrs. Alexander
Carl Duering Dr. Brodsky
Clive Francis Lodger
Michael Gover Prison Warden
Miriam Karlin Cat Lady
James Marcus Georgie
Aubrey Morris Deltoid
Godfrey Quigley Prison Chaplain
Sheila Raynor Mum
Madge Ryan Dr. Branom
John Savident Conspirator Dolin
Anthony Sharp Minister of Interior
Philip Stone Dad
Pauline Taylor Psychiatrist
Margaret Tyzack Conspirator Rubinstein
Steven Berkoff Constable
David Prowse Julian

Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Written by Stanley Kubrick (based on the novel by Anthony Burgess). 1971. Running time: 137 minutes.

clock4.jpg (9936 bytes)Rewatching A Clockwork Orange recently I realized what is truly disconcerting about the film. It's not the violence perpetrated by the thirteen-year-old (in the book at least, in the movie the character is older) thug Alex deLarge, but the way the audience is manipulated into responding towards the violence.

The brutal gang rapes, knifings and assaults perpetrated by Alex and his "droogs" (gang members) are almost comical in a cartoon fashion as filmed by Kubrick. Juxtaposing scenes of ultra-violence with strains of Rossini's very upbeat Thieving Magpie music lessens the impact it would otherwise had had. Infamously singing "Singing in the Rain" while preparing to rape a woman with her husband helplessly looking on doesn't only make for a disturbing movie moment, but it also affects the way the violence is perceived by the audience.

The rape in question seems almost comical in the way Warner Bros. cartoons are. However, when the tables are turned on him and Alex is tormented by his former victims, the violence against him is presented in a gruesome and more real way. Throbbing synthesiser chords (by Walter Carlos) accentuates every blow landed on him with police truncheons by his former "droogs" for example.

A Clockwork Orange is a reminder of the power of film - of how a well-made film can change the perceptions of audiences even against their own better judgement. Alex is a nasty piece of work. He enjoys and delights in senseless violence and thuggery. An average evening out with his fellow gang members consists of getting stoned at a bar (the milk in the bar is laced with drugs in case you hadn't caught on), sadistically beating up an old drunk bum, getting into a fight with a rival gang about to gang rape a woman, forcing all other cars off the road in the middle of the night.

And so forth - that's just the first ten minutes or so of Clockwork. Despite his psychopathic nature, Alex is the only real and interesting character in the movie. All the others are stereotypes and caricatures. Speaking a future slang consisting of Russian mixed with English (called 'Nadsat', invented by author Anthony Burgess), Alex is brilliantly portrayed by British actor Malcolm McDowall fresh from his movie debut in If . . . No wonder you'd find some audience members exiting theatres trying to imitate his speech patterns: "well, well, well, now, my little droogies . . . "

A Clockwork Orange is quite simplistic in its message, namely that a man with no free will isn't really a man at all. As one character states: "The question is whether or not this technique really makes a man good. Goodness comes from within. Goodness is chosen. When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man." Which is why the audience is manipulated into resenting the behavioural treatment doled out by the movie's authoritarian government. The treatment rids Alex of his liking of and capacity towards violence, but it also destroys his enjoyment of classical music reducing him to a husk, unable to cope in real life (he cannot defend himself against aggressors).

Clockwork makes us question our perceptions of crime and punishment. But the movie isn't really honest with its audiences. The deeds perpetrated by Alex are horrible, but they are presented in an almost sympathetic way. Compare for example the rape scenes in Clockwork with director Oliver Stone's depiction of the gruesome (real-life) gang rape of a group of nuns by Salvadorian government soldiers in his excellent Salvador. Sure, Stone has other intentions with this scene (he is basically asking audiences whether it is right for the American government to be supporting a dictatorship who allows this sort of thing to happen), while Kubrick needs our sympathy to Alex to make his ultimate thesis. But the ultimate reality of rape I am sure is closer to what Stone depicts . . .


Copyright © July 1999  James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page



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