Critiquing Film, Television, and More

A 2,000-Word Analysis: Why A Clockwork Orange (1971) Remains to Be One of the Most Important and GREATEST Films of All-Time

Screened at Cinepolis La Costa

Spoilers Ahead

3rd Viewing

Come, my brothers and sisters! Gather around your old pal Evan, for an in-depth review of A Clockwork Orange, and why it’s arguably one of the most important and GREATEST films of all-time! Now thou, where shall I begin?

A Clockwork Orange is the perfect allegory to what film has the capacity to do when it is gifted with such a thought-provoking story. Sure, you can mention the perfect, revolutionary technological mechanics that add to the narrative of Alex and his three droogs, but damn if it weren’t for that story this film wouldn’t be seen in such a controversial spotlight as it is today. This story changed cinema forever, similar to how Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, changed and nearly diminished sensitivity in film forever. A Clockwork Orange had this hard edge, this risk to its subject matter and messages. This movie had no fear of getting its hands dirty when it came to expounding its beliefs. This movie, in other words, had big, big yarbles.

This central concept brought up in A Clockwork Orange in which some people simply can’t change themselves or their persona, is an idea that can be hard for humans to accept or even consider. People can’t rightfully change people, only a person can rightfully change him/herself. If someone does change another individual, then that individual ceases to be alive, because he is someone else, not his original self. It’s such a mouthful of an outlook, but the more you think about it, the more you realize how philosophical a lot of Clockwork’s undertones are. When Alex was converted into this new, “law-obeying” person he essentially became this whole other individual. He wasn’t the brave, cocky, rebel-leading, and demanding Alex anymore, he was just this depressed entity that couldn’t stand to deal with the real world. He lost sight of the evil, deviant human being he was before, and just became this transparent soul. This then brings up a key question that can vaguely be spotted in Clockwork’s undercurrents: Should criminals be altered into new, morally heeding people or should they be sentenced to death?

I always had a slight feeling that author of the A Clockwork Orange novel Anthony Burgess, was hinting at this idea that criminals will always be criminals, but he didn’t want to blatantly say it or he would, of course, trigger many folks. I think primarily though, him and Kubrick had this rationale that if we are in the possession of someone who had committed grave misdeed according to the standards of society, would it be equally as wrong to change that person as it would be to kill that person since technically in both aspects, they would end up dead in a way? Simply put, changing someone would lead to that someone becoming a new person meaning that the original person would, therefore, become deceased, and killing someone physically would well, be killing someone physically. It’s an intriguing argument and whether you can agree with it or not, it is something like I mentioned before ballsy, and unlikely to be found in many art pieces in the medium of film.

A Clockwork Orange is also the essential karma movie. Like, it’s basically the go-to “you did all this bad s*** so now you’re going to get f***ed over,” flick. What’s even better though is that this movie doesn’t have those usual, hackneyed endings where the main protagonist learns from his mistakes, in fact, the whole point of the movie is to show that Alex starts back at square one at the end of the day. After all these treatments and implications that were supposed to make him a “moral” and “ethical” man, he still just ends up as the old, malicious rapscallion as he was in the very beginning of the movie. It says a LOT about us as humans and speaks so many truths on so many different levels.

Another marvelous notion that is brought up in A Clockwork Orange is about what the personal and media response would be if you were ever cured and released out of prison. For example, if you are cured of wanting to create violent implications ever again, your peers aren’t going to give a damn. Your negative history will always stick with you no matter how righteous of a person you are now, and people will continue to treat you as if you were the man or woman you were once before. It’s a big dilemma, and I must give this movie so many props for bringing it up.

This movie moderately implies that all humans are awful too, due to their tendencies to seek out revenge. We see police officers and detectives beating up Alex for what he did, we see the homeless men attacking and robbing Alex because of how he treated them in the past, we see his old friends Georgie and Dim, torture him for being a nasty leader, and we even witness his own parents pretty much disown him. Most importantly though, we experience Mr. Alexander whose wife was raped by Alex himself, drive Alex, towards the climax of the movie, to suicide. It relates back to the old notion that, “because you did wrong, we have the right to do wrong back to you.” Personally, I think it’s a ridiculous argument but, I think in hindsight, anybody can relate to the unavoidable disposition of vengeance.

I additionally, appreciate how the movie addresses the greediness of the government and how no matter the odds, they are a powerhouse that will likely turn on you or bribe you in any sort of fashion they so desire in order to save their own asses. A Clockwork Orange is low-key woke!

Now it can’t go without saying how important Malcolm McDowell’s performance is to not only this film but the world of characters and acting in movies in general. Alex is easily one of the most iconic characters of all-time, and McDowell’s portrayal of him is, in a heartbeat, one of the most iconic performances of all-time. He changed the “psychopath” game forever. Without him, we wouldn’t have the odd, careless attitude of Heath Ledger’s The Joker, from The Dark Knight. Without him, we wouldn’t have the subtle potency of Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh, from No Country for Old Men. Without him, we wouldn’t have the fancy, physical showiness of Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman, from American Psycho. And without him, I don’t even think Anthony Hopkins’ performance as Hannibal Lector, from Silence of the Lambs would be as godly as it is. McDowell’s performance is arguably also, one of the most underrated performances at that—I’m dead serious. People never bring him up in the conversation of movie psychopaths and what-not, probably because his character only killed one person or some lame excuse like that, but the dude was literally a total, prideful rapist who beat the living crap out of homeless folks. He was 100% a psychopath.

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And quickly I will mention the technicalities of A Clockwork Orange despite it not being the highlight of the film’s gloriousness. Don’t get me wrong though, I do think all the filmmaking etiquettes in this movie are flawless. The hand-held camerawork, the oversaturation of lighting, the zooms that surely inspired Wes Anderson’s directing, and my golly the set-pieces and costumes are so colorful and so special it’s just “mwah!”

Additionally, the use of music in A Clockwork Orange elevates it like hell. Maybe, using Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is technically cheating, but you know what, sometimes cheating can get you far in life. Some more bad advice from yours truly. But honestly though, all the orchestra, highly intense, and sometimes electronic tunes make this movie come off like an epic, and it’s pretty darn awesome when you realize that they managed to pull that off when this movie is just about some kid going to prison and then leaving it. The soundtrack and score plays a considerable role in this movie, and I think Wendy Carlos’ original compositions and remixes are often overlooked sometimes.

I forgot how funny this movie is too. Like frankly, this movie is actually quite rib-tickling. Not only does Anthony Burgess’ absurdly preposterous writing—which can at this point be considered a language of its own—allow the film to have a comedic tone despite all the severe, dark places it goes, but it also appends this old-folk tone to it. The scene with the rich cat lady cracks me up every time, and I don’t know if that makes me a sane person or not because—for those who’ve seen the movie—you know what happens to that lady in the end, but it’s nonetheless, an exemplary example of comedy gold that never gets tiresome. There are so many scenes in A Clockwork Orange like that, which I can rewatch over and over again and never find it remotely uninteresting.

By the way, I don’t think you can consider yourself a true cinephile unless your favorite quote is this one. I feel as if it’s a movie lover’s default to instantly be fond of the quote, “It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem real when you viddy them on the screen.” Hmm…

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Lemme just list, like, twenty quotes I use on the daily from A Clockwork Orange cause I’m pretty much married to this movie at this point:

“I’M CURED! PRAISE GOD!”

“Naughty, naughty, naughty!”

“Come and get one in the yarbles! If you have any yarbles that is!”

“How art though? Thou bottle of cheap, stinking chip oil?”

“Pick that up and put it down properly!”

“Oh, and what’s so stinking about it?”

“What are we gonna do? Talk about me sex life?”

“No time for the ole in-out love, I’ve just come here to read the meter.”

“I’ve taught you much, my little droogies.”

“I jumped, O my brothers, and I fell hard but I did not snuff it, oh no. If I had snuffed it, I would not be here to tell what I have told.”

“Cut the shit, sonny.”

“Enjoying that are you my darlin’? Bit cold and pointless isn’t it my lovely?”

“…a little of the old ultraviolence.”

“Could you spare some cutter, me brother?”

“Try the wine!”

“…real horrorshow…”  

“I’ve suffered the tortures of the damned, sir.”

“Goodness is something to be chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.”

“I’m singing in the rain. Just singing in the rain. What a glorious feelin’. I’m happy again.”

“Eggy Wegs… I would like to smash ’em.”

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I think the controversy behind some of the film has brought fear into many critics and fans to consider this one—and for certainly understandable motives since all the material especially the sequences that involve rape are difficult to endure—a masterpiece. But all this harsh substance is shown solely to hoist up a greater purpose and a divine theme, and I don’t think it’s a reasonable enough excuse to deny that Kubrick’s—in my humble opinion—#1 film is, in fact, one of the most important movies ever crafted.

A Clockwork Orange is like if Shakespeare was born in the 1900s and decided to write a timeless, legendary tale of a man accordant to deviance, except, even better than what he’s been known to be capable of. Keep the drama, none of that “Romeo, oh Romeo” crap, you hear? Viddy that my brothers and sisters.

Verdict: A+

This Movie Has Moved From #3 to #1 on My List: My Top 44 Favorite Movies of All-Time

This Movie is a Part of My List: Ranking Stanley Kubrick’s Films From Best to Worst

This Movie is a Part of My List: The Big Five: My Favorite Directors

I think I’ve discovered Kubrick’s ultimate weapon: making the funniest drill sergeant characters in the history of film.

“A Clockwork Orange” is now available to rent and buy on YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, and Netflix.

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