Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick. 1971)

"It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen."


As opposed to opening credits, the audience is immediately blasted with the peculiar visual of Alex DeLarge. A teenager with a strong interest in ultra-violence and Beethoven, Alex was not the hero in Anthony Burgess’s novel by the same name. Stanley Kubrick sees the mythos of A Clockwork Orange much differently than the writer of his source material. Burgess once said of the book/movie that “it became known as the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify sex and violence. The film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about, and the misunderstanding will pursue me till I die.”

This does not sound like an author who is happy about the film adaptation of his most famous novel. As a major fan of the book, I can see why Burgess feels this way. Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange lacks the maturity that Burgess brought to the character of Alex. In the book, Alex is a disturbed sociopath and rapist who becomes a victim of an oppressive and Orwellian government mind-control project. Though his narration is unreliable, his lack of explanation and insistence on ultra-violence seem to shockingly relate to the readers. I’m not saying that his actions are relatable, but the way he goes about them seem to strike a chord.

In the film, Alex is just a monster. The government angle is quickly brushed aside as something necessary to push the plot and the character is reduced to that of an evil-for-no-reason type of bad guy. Then, all of a sudden, the theme of the film changes and makes the audience want to cheer for Alex. This is where you get people calling A Clockwork Orange a vehicle for sex and violence. Kubrick disregards the message and glorifies his “hero”. It is actually kind of twisted.

On another level, Kubrick’s futuristic vision is what makes A Clockwork Orange such a memorable experience. The legendary perfectionist director shot ever single moment of the film as if it were to be the climax. This meticulous attention to detail makes the film look different than anything that was previously made. Kubrick famously used a wide-angle lens for almost every shot in the film. This made objects seem distorted and longer than they actually are. This forces the audience to stay off balance through the entire runtime. For me, this is what makes A Clockwork Orange feel authentic. I almost wish that Kubrick would have been more surreal in his storytelling. I feel like Burgess would have approved.

As we all know, A Clockwork Orange is also famous for its use of experimental language techniques. Alex and his droogs speak in a language called Nadsat. Burgess was not only an author, but also a linguist. He combined English, Russian and British slang to make a frustrating and unfamiliar language. This may be the best known aspect of the entire film. Understanding the lingo is not very difficult, but it is tedious. You have to commit to wanting to decipher the code before you pop the DVD into your player. This is not a casual film experience.

It would be impossible for me to write about A Clockwork Orange without mentioning the most famous moment in the film. Near the beginning of the action, Alex and his gang engage in an extraordinarily violent home invasion and rape. This is set to the tune of Malcolm McDowell (Alex) crooning the Gene Kelly standard, "Singin’ in the Rain". Music plays a major role in all of Kubrick’s work, but this seems to be the cruelest working of the man. He singlehandedly turned one of the happiest and most beloved songs in film into an unlikely anthem of the rapist. In the film, Beethoven is inadvertently taken away from Alex. In reality, "Singin’ in the Rain" is taken from the audience.

So, here I sit on the fence over A Clockwork Orange. I hate comparing film to literature, but this is a very specific case. Like in my earlier review of Fight Club, I feel like this is a film that irresponsibly disregards the overall message. It glorifies violence and sexuality while never stopping to tell the audience that violence is wrong. We cheer for Alex when we should not. That is Kubrick’s design, not Burgess’s original intention.

If I am on the fence then I must be forced to pick a side. Am I for or against A Clockwork Orange? Honestly, I find the film to be overlong, talky and irresponsible. In a nutshell, I often find the film to be incredibly boring. Though the importance of the film is undeniable, I cannot rank a film too highly when I rarely find myself in the mood to watch it.

Maybe A Clockwork Orange was a product of its own hype. Maybe I am missing what Kubrick so desperately wants me to see. There is even a chance that I have let my love for the novel blind myself from accepting any outside adaptation. Regardless of reasons, I am leaning toward negative.

A Clockwork Orange: C-

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