Movies We Love: A Clockwork Orange


A Clockwork Orange (1971)

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


Brash ultra-hoodlum Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) is sent to prison – after ironically raping a woman and causing general terror – where he undergoes The Ludovico Technique, an experimental procedure to make him averse to violence and crime. Unfortunately, it works.

Why we Love it

Holy Beethoven, this movie is awesome.

Back when I was in high school, this movie came to me at just the right age. I had that spirit of invincibility matched with just the right undertones of knowing everything (alongside a love for classical music and thinking too deeply about bullshit) that makes Alex the most charismatic figure in the world. This is probably the most disturbing aspect of the film. Through Stanley Kubrick’s writing and directing, and McDowell’s portrayal of Alex, the main character becomes the audience’s best friend despite the horrors that he launches into the world. He’s essentially a guy you’d feel totally comfortable loaning money to, knowing full well that it would be in his pocket while he was punching the woman he’s raping in the face. He’s an anti-non-profit. Someone you want to be loved by who only has love for himself and for his kicks. The only real reason it works is that he seems so childishly innocent. Even while he’s committing grotesqueries, there’s something about him that makes you think, “Aww…the kid just doesn’t know any better.”

That’s the base of the genius for the film. All other ironic components come together to support that dichotomy between sweet and violent. When he’s around people. Alex is in total control of all situations, but when he’s alone, he’s flustered and bored – a product of his time (whatever time it is in “Future Britain”). The harsh night-time scenes are shot sensually enough to make you want to be a member of the gang, there’s a threeway that’s presented in completely un-sexy fast-forward, and hell, Alex rapes a woman while belting out “Singing in the Rain.”

None of the images and sounds or emotions line up correctly, and in that, Kubrick does what almost no other director can to put the audience inside the mind of a psychopath.

From the very opening, you sympathize with a terrible human being, and rightfully so, because the story proves that he literally has no control over who he is or what happens to him. He lashes out against a society that raised him on drug-use and ultra-violence, and when he’s taken to prison – the reality of how little control he has sets in. Perhaps the most famous scene from the film is of Alex with his eyelids peeled back watching in gleeful horror as he’s re-conditioned to hate murder, rape, and Beethoven’s Fifth. It’s a moment of pure compassion. It seems brutal and cruel, and even if we weren’t rooting for Alex, it would pinpoint that the powers that are at work in government and in popular culture are always shaping who he is no matter if he tries to break free. What’s even more fascinating is that while Alex is responding to the images on the screen, the audience is being conditioned to feel a certain emotional response to the images that Kubrick has put up in the theater.

Over all, the images and ideas presented are brilliantly weird. Alex speaks in a type of futuristic slang that sounds more like baby-talk than anything else. The style of the day (both clothing and decorative) is hyper-phallic, ranging from enlarged cod pieces on the gang members to the penis sculpture that goes from mod chic to murder weapon. Alex is slightly androgynous – wearing make-up over one eye and appearing sort of lithe and feminine at odd times – but he’s also unnervingly masculine in strength and anger.

Of course none of this would be possible without the brilliant novel by Anthony Burgess that’s followed faithfully by Kubrick. The title, as enigmatic as most of the images we get to see during the movie, is actually a few words from the Cockney slang term ” as queer as a clockwork orange,” which Burgess decided to use to illustrate the oddity of a conditioned person (“orang” being the Malay word for “man”).

It’s ridiculously smart, absurdly childish, and beautifully shot. I personally think it’s hands down Kubrick’s best film. There’s a ton of complexity hiding within the nooks and crannies of a very simple narrative, one that exactly mirrors itself through violence and revenge. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a film that will certainly draw out a strong response in anyone that watches it. If the message of the film is a question of goodness, Kubrick is digging deep to find it and doesn’t mind getting his hands or the audience’s senses dirty.

Moment We Fell In Love

So many fantastic scenes in this movie. They are almost all short and sweet, getting right to the point of who the people involved are and what they are attempting to do. It’s almost told like a fairy tale. You imagine the narration beginning, “Once Upon a Time at the Korova Milk Bar…”

I’ve already mentioned the Ludovico scene with the eyes peeled back and the William Tell Overture threesome, but there’s also the sequence where they beat up a hobo, and the scene where the concept of dramatic irony is stretched to its limit when the family Alex attacked years before takes him in and takes care of him.

But there’s just no stopping the phenomenal brilliance of the domestic rape scene. It’s rare in film to see such a discord of things all at once. Alex is singing the happiest song on the planet while snipping off a woman’s dress (in full view of her beaten husband). First he cuts out circles for her breasts to show through, then cutting up her pant legs with sickening delight. It is all so horrifyingly pleasant. And it will change the way you look at Gene Kelly for the rest of your life.

Final Thoughts

Not only is this one of the movies we love, it’s one of the best films ever made. Clockwork Orange attacks so many angles all at once, asking penetrating philosophical questions about morality while penetrating a multitude of women, destroying the empathy that anyone might have for the powers at be while making a villain into a martyr, and doing it all with a huge grin.

A veteran of writing about movies for nearly a decade, Scott Beggs has been the Managing Editor of Film School Rejects since 2009. Despite speculation, he is not actually Walter Mathau's grandson. See? He can't even spell his name right.

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