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A Clockwork Orange
1973 - R - 137 Mins.
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Producer: Stanley Kubrick
Written By: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates, Warren Clarke, John Clive
Review by: John Ulmer
To say that the Alex character from Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" is unlikable is like saying the Manson family was sort of bad. He's not just unlikable; he's despicable, terrifying, sick, twisted, and ultimately a haunting embodiment of all our greatest realistic fears and worries. But Alex does not see himself as a sick person. The key to this is in his voice-over narrative.

It reminds me of the scene in "Rain Man" (1988) where Raymond Babbitt (Dustin Hoffman) is asked whether he knows what autism is. "Yeah," is his blunt reply. "Ray," a doctor asks him. "Are you autistic?" Raymond struggles in his chair for a moment. "I don't think so. No. Definitely not."

Alex does not see himself as a pervert, just as we do not see our own flaws and Ramond Babbitt did not see his own autism. To us, we are all normal, which is a scary thought.

"A Clockwork Orange," which was originally released in 1973 after an appeal for an R rating (that was granted after originally being tagged as an X-rated motion picture), had been banned from Britain for close to thirty years. Most film fans in Europe will tell you that they had seen the movie on grainy bootleg videotapes years ago when they were young and curious.

But for those of us lucky enough to enjoy (or squirm through) "A Clockwork Orange" in its entire odd splendor, it is an experience you are likely to never forget. Anyone who has seen the film will tell you the same thing: It doesn't just disturb you; it becomes a part of you. From that point on, all cinema relates to "A Clockwork Orange." Not that you'll think about it all day long or anything, but that it will become a haunting image in your mind. Its characters, its style, its subject matter, its explicit material--all of it combines to create a marvelous whole that will stay with you long after the credits stop rolling, reappearing any time you view an arthouse movie, see a violent beating in a movie, see nudity, or even hear "Singin' in the Rain." (In fact, after the film's release, some were worried that they had been brainwashed like the narrator of the story. From that point on, "Singin' in the Rain" was never quite the same.)

The infamous "Singin' in the Rain" scene occurs early on, when a young British man named Alex (Malcolm McDowell) breaks into the home of a writer (along with his band of Droogs), beats him and his wife, tears the part a place, and rapes his wife in front of his own eyes--all the while humming the tune to "Singin' in the Rain."

This would be controversial even to this day, and this is a movie released more than thirty years ago. It makes one wonder how so many of our movies are still so clean. Compared to "A Clockwork Orange," for example, most of the R-rated films on the market seem mild. "Basic Instinct" looks like a children's video compared to this. (Not that I'm condoning most of the inappropriate material that does exist in most films today--much of it is unnecessary.)

Essentially a tale focused on Alex's journeys in jail and his process of being re-submitted to the world after inhumane treatments to cure the evil out of him, "A Clockwork Orange" is indeed as offbeat as its title.

I've never been an immensely large fan of the late Stanley Kubrick. I admire "2001: A Space Odyssey's" ambition and revolutionary ideas, but I do not love the film. I found "Full Metal Jacket" to be only sporadically well made, "Eyes Wide Shut" a decent enough odyssey and "The Shining" his best work--one of the only films I can say that is actually on my list of favorite films.

So is "A Clockwork Orange" (1973), one of the strangest and most disturbing films you shall ever see, oh my brothers. Here is a movie that takes its primary character and thrusts him upon us, all his disturbing qualities unshaken, and we never learn to like him. Not in the beginning, not in the middle, and not in the end--we never care for Alex, or what he is doing, and we don't feel pity for him.

All tales of redemption involve characters that we gradually come to appreciate, or like, or--at the very least--learn to tolerate. Not "A Clockwork Orange." Our narrator remains the same throughout the movie, always an incarnation of everything wrong in today's modern world. He goes through no cleansing process and by the end of the film we like him less than we did at the beginning. But what is truly startling is the effect the film has had since its release in 1973. Not many people can explain why this movie is a classic. Everything about it is sick, twisted, perverted, and explicit. Many could view it as soft-core pornography. Many could also criticize Kubrick's many flaws in the movie.

And yet here it is, existing as an unexplainable tale of twisted non-redemption. And it works. And I don't think I've ever met anyone who can reasonably explain why.
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

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