Facts & Figures
* Title: A Clockwork Orange
* IMDB rating at time of writing: 8.5
* Year: 1971
* Length: 137 minutes
* Country: United Kingdom
* Director: Stanley Kubrick
* Producer: Stanley Kubrick
* Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Anthony Burgess
* Cinematography: John Alcott
* Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Warren Clarke, Michael Bates, James Marcus, Michael Tarne, Patrick Magee, Anthony Sharp, Carl Duering
Plot summary (Spoiler alert!)
In a alternate London, a boy named Alex and his so-called “droogs” Pete, Georgie and Dim are in the Korova Milk Bar, enjoying a milk plus (the plus being various drugs), at the start of an evening of what they call “the old ultra-violence”. They are talking in a slang of English mixed with Russian terms and some made-up words called Nadsat. The violence of the evening starts with the gang beating a homeless guy up, continues by stopping a rival group raping a young girl and fighting this gang until they have to flee the onrushing police sirens. This not being enough violence for Alex’s taste, they steal a car and drive around the countryside, where they find a lonely home with lights burning inside. They manage to gain entry by pretending one of them is hurt and asking for a phone, but quickly break down the door when it’s opened. While kicking and beating the house-owner, a writer called Alexander, Alex rapes the man’s wife in a famous scene, while singing the song “Singin’ in the Rain”. At the end of the day, Alex gets home to his parent’s appartment and falls asleep while listening to Beethoven’s 9th symphony, a piece of music he greatly loves.
The next day, Alex skips school but is visited by a probation officer called P.R. Deltoid, who talks to Alex about how he has been trying to get Alex’s life straight and how he is worried Alex is still into violence. Alex lies about his nightly exploits, but Deltoid easily sees through him and warns him about possible consequences of keeping this behavior up. After this meeting, Alex goes to the record store to pick up a new classical tape, where he also picks up two young girls, who he takes to his house to have sex with.
Later that day, Alex meets again with his droogs, but finds out that Georgie has ideas of taking over leadership of the group to do more ambitious crimes. This leads Alex to attack his droogs to re-establish his leadership. That night, the group invades a new house, the home of an elderly woman who lives with a group of cats. The woman tries to defend herself, but gets beaten by Alex with a statue in the shape of a penis. Hearing police sirens, Alex tries to run but gets ambushed by Dim, who beats him unconscious and the group leaves Alex to get arrested. During his interrogation Mr. Deltoid shows up, telling Alex he is now a murderer, since the woman he beat up died from her injuries.
Being tried for murder now, Our Humble Narrator (Alex) is sentenced to fourteen years imprisonment. While in jail, Alex befriends the Chaplain and takes an interesting in the bible. While the chaplain thinks Alex is repenting and converting to God, Alex mostly enjoys the violent and sex-filled passages and has fantasies about being involved with them. After several years, the minister of the Interior or Inferior arrives at the prison looking for volunteers for a new, experimental technique. Alex, having heard that this method of therapy will let him out of prison after two weeks of therapy, instead of his remaining twelve years, volunteers at once for this Ludovico technique.
Alex is transferred to a new facility, where first he is fed well, gets a comfortable bed and made comfortably. The therapy however, forces him to be put in a straitjacket, and with a device to hold open his eyes Alex is forced to watch scenes of extreme violence and rape while being given nauseating drugs, helping him associate his revulsion with the violence he sees. After one of the scenes is being played with Beethoven’s ninth symphony over it, Alex begins to protest against the association of a piece of music that is such beautiful with the kind of film he is seeing. The doctors supervising the technique see this as a space of improvement, however, and start playing music that Alex loves over all scenes.
After two weeks, when the therapy is supposed to have finished, Alex is brought before an audience to be tested and demonstrated. A man picks a fight with him by shouting and even kicking, but Alex is unable to fight back, becoming nauseated by the thought of it. As a second test, a young and beautiful naked woman is brought on the stage, who starts to arouse him, but a feeling of sickness attacks Alex, preventing him from even looking at the woman. The minister declares Alex cured and orders him immediately released from prison, but the chaplain protests, claiming that Alex has lost all free will.
When Alex comes home, he discovers that all his belongings have been sold by the state to help his victims and that his parents have rented out his room, making him homeless. After this, our narrator wanders the street, where he meets the homeless guy who he beat up years earlier. This time, however, the tides are turned as the vagrant calls his friends and together they start beating Alex (who can’t fight back because of the “cure”) up. Two police officers arrive to break up the fight, but the officers (in who we recognise Georgie and Dim, Alex’s former droogs) drag Alex out to the countryside, where they beat him some more and almost drown him in a water trough. After this assault, Alex walks around the countryside, until he stumbles onto a home where he rings the bell. Quickly let in, fed and given a bed to sleep, Alex discovers his benefactor to be the same Mr. Alexander as the one he attacked years earlier, but who doesn’t recognize him. Now crippled and only living with a personal servant, his wife having died, Alexander discovers that Alex was the victim of the Ludovico treatment, as it has been published in all newspapers. He gets his political friends to meet Alex, to find a way to attack the current regime, but quickly recognizes the tune Alex whistles to be the same as the mysterious rapist of his wife. Wanting to get revenge, the writer locks up Alex in his room and starts playing Beethoven’s 9th symphony at high volume, driving Alex crazy. Trying to escape the musical torture, Alex jumps out of the window, wanting to kill himself.
Several days later, Alex wakes up to find himself in the hospital, being tended to by several doctors. Through a series of tests, he finds that the “cure” has been reverted, and our Alex is able to withstand violence again. After a few days, the minister of the Inferior comes visit, offering his apologies and an important government job. He also has a stereo put next to Alex’s bed, playing Beethoven’s 9th, and Alex discovers that he not only can listen to the music again, he gets visions of sexual pleasure. He was cured all right!
Well, what can I say, it’s Kubrick. I love all movies of this director so much, every single frame is composited carefully and perfectly, creating not so much a movie as a piece of art. However, I’ll try to be objective in this review.
This may be the best performance ever of our main star, Malcolm McDowell. Back in these days he still had a kind of fire burning in him, allowing him to experience every role as it were his life. Unfortunately, mr. McDowell’s performances have been going down over the last few years. The other characters are certainly interesting, from the choice of his droogs (one big guy without intelligence, one sneaky guy constantly trying to take over Alex’s power over the group and one guy that gets between it all) to the writer Mr. Alexander, clearly gone mad with the loss of his wife. One of the better performances of this film, however, must be that of the minister of the interior, portraying a truly political character, that will be ruthless when there are no camera’s around, but full with compassion when somebody is watching.
Esthetically the movie is great. Every set has been carefully constructed, from the statues in the Korova milk-bar, through the colors and lights of the music store, to the clinical location of the prison hospital where Alex is cured. Even the room where he is forced to watch the violent movies, gets turned from an ordinary cinema to something creapy and experimental. As said before, each shot has been planned to perfection, not being one place where the screen is too filled or too empty.
The director uses a lot of different pieces of music to great effect here, but there are two that keep coming back: the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony and the song Singin’ in the Rain, from the musical with the same name. The first of these two is used as Alex’s favorite, but is later used as a torture device to him. In the end, though, he can enjoy his classical music again, even giving him sexual pleasure while listening to this great score. The second part, Singin’ in the Rain, is the tune Alex whistles while beating up Mr. Alexander and raping his wife, but is also the cause of his eventual return to the hospital. This song was used because of two factors: it is simple, innocent and cheerful, in direct contrast to Alex’s ultra-violence, and it was a song the actor could actually whistle. A third piece of music, used to great effect in maybe my favorite scene of the movie, is a remix of the famous William Tell overture by Rossini, played during Alex’s sex-scene with the two girls he picks up in the music store. This whole scene is shots from one angle, with only music and Alex and the two girls in fast forward. The rest of the score of this movie is also a mix of classical pieces and electrical synthetical music by Wendy Carlos, which is mixed to a nice effect in a way that portrays the world in this movie: something from this world, but also something eerie and futuristic.
Here comes the most difficult part: the comparison between the book and the movie. Having just read the book, I must say I loved this just as much as the movie. The greatest difference in these two lies in the fact that Kubrick never used the last chapter of the book, causing a different ending.
In the book, after Alex gets released from surgery, he forms a new gang of droogs for ultra-violence, but prefers to stay in the background of these acts, watching instead of joining in. The book ends with Alex considering having a child of his own, signifying the start of his adulthood and the end of his roaring pubescent years.
There are many more differences between the two media, but these are generally subtle and used for style, without having much impact on the story. Several notable ones, that do cause a change in story, are:
* In the book, Alex is forced to go the treatment, for beating up and killing a man in jail, but in the movie he volunteers.
* In the book, Alex is conditioned against all music, not just Beethoven’s 9th.
* The girl raped by the rival group, and the two girls Alex takes him from the music store, are 10 year olds in the book. In the movie they are turned to 16/17 and the music-store-girls are volunteers, instead of raped.
* The song that is whistled during the rape scene, Singin’ in the Rain, is not at all present in the books. There the writer discovers Alex to be the rapist because of several accidental remarks around the incident.
Overall, it is a great pity that the last chapter of the book was never used, in my opinion it portrays Alex rise to maturity much better. Also, the book was built to have three parts (Alex in his normal life, Alex in jail, Alex cured) from 7 chapters each, the number 21 (3*7) being a nod to the age of 21 being the turning point in a person’s life.
The use of Nadsat, the slang that Alex and his droogs speak, is spread throughout both the book as the movie, the entire book being written in this language as well.
I loved this, and I can watch it over and over again. Even though this is not Kubrick’s weirdest (2001), dramatic (Lolita), funniest (Dr. Strangelove) or even most violent (Full Metal Jacket), it combines a bit of all these characters with a great book, excellent acting and beautiful cinematography to create another masterpiece.
This movie really is about what would be better: choosing to be evil and accepting the consequences, or being forced to be good, without having a say in the matter. I know what I’d prefer, do you?