Classic Movie Review: A Clockwork Orange (1971) #AtoZChallenge

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter C

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

TitleA Clockwork Orange
Release Date: December 19, 1971
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Production Company: Polaris Films | Hawk Films

I first saw this movie as a freshman in college 30 years ago, when A Clockwork Orange was having a 20th anniversary revival at the local arthouse theatre.  It seemed like a strange, retro-future film but oddly compelling at the time. Watching it today, I find it harder to believe that this movie was even made 50 years ago. Knowing that up to the mid-60s movies were censored and cut for anodyne things and then in 1971, there is this.  The first 15 minutes especially seem purposefully designed to put up the most vicious depictions of violent assault and rape and dare the audience not to turn away.

It occurs to me on this viewing that A Clockwork Orange is a very right-wing movie.  The movie draws on that era’s obsession with law and order (that persists to this day).  Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is depicted as a criminal youth who would later be described as a “superpredator.”  Right wingers love to blame parents for their failure to raise children right, and Alex’s parents here are seen as completely checked out. The government is also at fault.  Alex’s social worker, Mr. Deltoid (Aubrey Morris), is ineffective and probably homosexual.  Politicians are uniformly corrupt and self-interested. The one person initially sympathetic to Alex’s mistreatment, Mr. Alexander (Patrick Magee), is a liberal who only wants to use Alex to achieve his own political goals.  And following the right-wing saying “a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged,” Alexander immediately shifts to revenge when he learns that Alex raped his wife.

The movie succeeds a lot on its style.  The sets, costumes, music, and cinematography are all excellent. McDowell brings a devious charm to his acting that makes the audience sympathetic to Alex in the same way the politicians are ultimately won over.   I don’t think it succeeds as well in getting its message across, which I think it does in overly simplistic and contradictory ways.  Kubrick seems to believe that everyone has an Alex inside of them. Based on the stories of what Kubrick did to his actors and crew while filming this and other movies, I believe he was correct in diagnosing his inner Alex, but then projected that onto all of humanity.

I have  mixed feelings about this movie.  I can’t recommend it based on its extreme levels of violence and misogyny.  But I also can’t deny that it is an important movie in film history, and brings up important issues to discuss (even if they may not be the issues the film creator intended).

Rating: ***