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A Clockwork Orange (1971)

May 27, 2010

7/10 Ludwig Vans

Good movie, but read the book.

A Clockwork Orange is about a 15 year-old in a future crime-ridden England who spends his days like any upstanding lad of the time by running around town beating, raping, stealing and eventually killing any old chap he comes across with the help of his three loyal droogs. Then one day his hobbies catch up with him and he’s subjected to a new form of “therapy” by Johnny Law to cure his evil urges once and for all, stripping him of free will and turning him into a “model citizen” despite any and all attempts to behave otherwise.

For all intents and purposes, this little number is a classic. It’s no surprise that so many folks hold it in such high regard and I’m not gonna be the guy to tell them otherwise, but since I can already sense some heat coming my way for stamping it with a 7, I’m just gonna jump right in and explain myself.

I might be wrong, but I think I’m one of eight people on Earth who read Anthony Burgess’ novel before seeing Kubrick’s adaptation of it. Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s an entirely accurate figure; Google it, I dare you. It was one of the select books in High School that I didn’t immediately refer to SparkNotes for and it remains one of my favorite books of all-time. Makes me wonder what other gems I missed out on, but something tells me The Scarlet Letter wasn’t exactly my bag anyway.

The reason I bring this up is because it’s hard for me to watch this movie without continually comparing it to the source material. Usually I try my very best to distance myself from this frame of mind, but considering that the two more or less mirror each other in a great many ways, distancing myself wasn’t much of an option this time around.

For the most part, Kubrick does a bang-up job of translating the story verbatim in regards to plot and dialogue and such, the morbidly dark humor is also more immediately apparent thanks to all the upbeat classical pieces that play over the constant ultraviolence, and, like all of his efforts, he makes it look damn good. But the few liberties he does take are ones that definitely left me confused and bothered and are the primary reasons as to why this isn’t even an 8.

If you’ve ever heard through the movie nerd grapevine that some folks out there don’t like Kubrick because his movies are misogynistic, A Clockwork Orange is at times a prime example of that argument even if that statement might sound absurd. Not really sure what I think of the guy quite yet, but in contrast to the source material, Kubrick over-sexualized this movie in a big ol’ way. I get the whole dystopian/uber-deviant vibe he’s going for, and there is a good deal of nudity and whatnot in the novel, but after a while Kubrick makes it feel like nudity and rape to the point of excess instead of nudity and rape for a purpose.

What’s the thinking behind turning a crazy cat woman that gets killed by a statue to the head into a closet sex fiend that gets killed by a giant, ceramic cock to the mouth? That’s just one of numerous examples and it’s that kinda shit that makes me wonder “Why?” Same kinda issue I had with Zack Snyder turning Watchmen into a complete and utter bloodbath.


The other thing is that when Burgess first published the novel overseas, American publishers made him take out the last chapter, leaving us with the ending that Kubrick ultimately provides us with. My issue here is that Kubrick knew about the last chapter and decided to leave it out regardless of Burgess’ protesting. I don’t know, maybe it’s just because I love the last chapter, and I know it’s Kubrick’s call anyway, but it still seems like a dick move even if the ending isn’t all that bad as is.

But everything else is pretty swell, though a lot of that is because of Burgess anyway.

Malcolm McDowell was a good choice for our humble narrator, Alex DeLarge, and, like I said, the story is still very much intact. It’s also something else to see the whole thing brought to life and that outfit of Alex’s sure doesn’t come across as wonderfully as it does in text.

So, personal gripes aside, A Clockwork Orange is nevertheless a brilliant story, brilliantly told about the cost of humanity and the ethics of free will that will entertain, shock and undoubtedly stick with you. Apologies for turning this into a “book vs. movie” review, because I usually hate writing those, but since I’m such a fan, this is where I’m at. If you haven’t seen this yet, take a stab at the book first, and if decoding Alex’s language ends up being more frustrating than rewarding (which is entirely understandable), you’ll still probably dig the movie. And if you already love this thing, at least hop on over to Barnes and Noble and check out the last chapter. Trust me, it’s worth it.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. May 27, 2010 1:10 am

    This certainly helps explain why I didn’t fully get this movie considering my mom let me watch it at age 9 or so….maybe I should try the book. I like your title “Cut the Crap Movie Reviews” – just what I was looking for! Consider me a new subscriber!

  2. Dan permalink
    May 27, 2010 5:04 am

    Don’t worry about discussing the book, it’s interesting stuff as I’m one of the many that haven’t read the book and only seen the movie. As you alluded to in the review, there is a camp that believe this to be one of the greatest works of cinema. I’m most definitely in that camp. Kubrick has made many great movies – most I thought were cold and detached when I first saw them. Now, I find them thought-provoking in the extreme – passionate, egotistical, affecting. He’s a genius.

    I prefer The Shining and Orange over 2001 but all his movies have so much to offer. And I’d include his final film – Eyes Wide Shut – in that list of masterworks.


    • May 27, 2010 11:35 am

      The Shining is the bomb and I haven’t seen 2001 in ages, but I’m due to brush up on the guy. He’s no joke and I feel shame that I haven’t seen more of his stuff.

      • June 4, 2010 6:44 am

        The Lamb are doing a feature on Kubrick…you might want to email them a link to this article as it would be a good one to include.

      • June 4, 2010 9:55 am

        done and done. thanks for the heads up, i’m terrible when it comes to submitting stuff for those things.

  3. May 27, 2010 7:20 am

    Its some hard material to watch mostly cause you lose yourself over all the violence, and rape, but it still provides great points about a future we may all have to be careful of living one of these days.

  4. May 27, 2010 7:27 am

    I actually prefer the film to the book and the exclusion of the last chapter vastly improves the impact of the piece. If you want to talk about the importance of being able to choose bad then to have a prologue that says ‘well, he’ll grow out of it’ softens the blow. I always found that Kubrick had a fantastic vien of dark humour and this is what lifts the film up.

    It’s a very good book but a majestic film.

    • May 27, 2010 11:40 am

      Yeah, the dark humor is clear as day in the movie, far more so than in the book, but I really do adore that last chapter. Left me thinking far more so than it would have with Alex “cured”. It’s important to see him choose to change even when he doesn’t have to. Didn’t find it to be a copout, thought it was necessary for Alex to experience that. Who knows though, maybe I’ll come around one of these days.

  5. May 27, 2010 7:30 am

    …and as for Kubrick ignoring authors I say good on him. If he’d done a faithful adaptation of The Shining it would have been just as awful as the book.

    • May 27, 2010 11:25 am

      Damn, I need to read The Shining. I’ve been staring at that thing on my shelf for months now.

      • May 27, 2010 2:13 pm

        It’s not nearly as good as the film. I would leave the book on the shelf.

      • May 27, 2010 2:15 pm


    • May 27, 2010 2:27 pm

      I agree with WinterTyson

  6. May 27, 2010 10:05 am

    Interesting. I haven’t read the book but I can understand where you are coming from because I do often impose the book (if I’ve read it) on its film adaptation.

    But even so, I don’t see your problem. Yes, the sex is excessive, but it’s supposed to be as it places us in the character and doesn’t spare the details of what he is doing, which makes the latter scenes even more impactful. I’d be the first to call out gratuitous nudity, but here I think it works in service to the story, characters and emotions of the film.

    As for the ending, I love it. In fact, it’s probably one of my favorite film endings. I don’t even want to know how the novel ends.

    • May 27, 2010 11:23 am

      I feel like it’s unnecessary excessive rather than gratuitous. Thought it beat the audience over the head with women in their birthday suits or being raped/used when it really would have been enough with the Singing in the Rain scene, the naked woman on the stage after his “rehabilitation”, Alex and the two girls from the record shop in his bedroom, and the final dream sequence works, too.

      But then there’s Alex’s bedroom mural of a woman spreading herself open with a big ol’ grin on her face, Alex’s hedonistic daydream where three naked chicks are feeding him grapes, the scene with the cat woman I mentioned, the nude statues in the milk bar who spurt the booze from their nipples and the woman who almost gets raped by the rival gang at the beginning.

      It’s that kind of stuff that seems unnecessary, like it’s just there for the sake of being there. We get Alex pretty early on, but after a while it borders on objectification.

      And it is a good ending, I like the ending, I just think it’s unfortunate that it’s the one we’re left with because it changes the story entirely.

      • May 27, 2010 11:52 am

        I tend to place this film within the context of the just about to explode British Sex Farce genre… yes it’s a darker cousin and yes there is definitely objectification but that is the point – Kubrick just refuses to judge his protagonist and part of the fun is the audiences vicarious enjoyment of Alex’s actions.

        We enjoy his evil but the ‘singin’ in the rain’ rape and the phallic murder push us over into horror and, in the case of the latter, bewilderment at just the right moment and all of this makes the end utterly subversive as it holds our own guilty enjoyment up as something to be treasured.

  7. May 27, 2010 10:33 am

    Another great review, Aiden. I typically have a hard time with critics comparing books to film adaptations, but you effectively sold me on the book…in fact, after reading this review I ordered an old hardcover from Amazon.

    I haven’t read Burgess’ novel, but I agree with Wynter in regards to The Shining…thank God Kubrick didn’t let King write the screenplay!

    • May 27, 2010 11:13 am

      Wow! Good for you, man, and glad you dug the review. Book might take a bit to get into just because of how it’s written, but stick with it, that’s a big part of the appeal. And make sure you read Burgess’ intro (if it’s in that edition), sheds a whole new light on the novel as a whole.

  8. May 27, 2010 1:34 pm

    The only time that Kubrick worked in conjunction with the source material author was Lolita (sooo good)…..Can’t spend enough time doting on the man, Aiden you should watch all of his flicks (there’s only like 15) in a couple week span.

    I always try and hold the Kubrick separate from the source material. He doesn’t need it (compare AI the story — 5 paragraphs — with AI the movie) except as a jumping off point.

    And the lady that gets killed with a ceramic cock is a cat lady. She’s just also a workout nut. Remember the driving forces in Alex Delarge’s life: sex, drugs (moloko milk), and rock n roll (well, Ludwig Van anyway), it’s only poetic that his murder comes from a smashing a dick into a mouth

    • May 27, 2010 2:34 pm

      I don’t know about poetic, man. The workout nut and cat lady aspects of her character immediately take a backseat the second Alex walks into her studio, starts playing around with the cock statue and glances over all the sexual art on the walls. Still don’t understand why her character is changed like that.

      But hey, I will check out Lolita, need to go back and finish that book, too. Same here with distancing the source material from the movie, but this was an exception for me.

  9. May 27, 2010 9:48 pm

    Great review, as usual. Love this movie, my number 7 of all time! Kubrick is my favorite director and this is my favorite of his!

  10. May 28, 2010 12:59 am

    I’ve been holding off on seeing this until I read the book. Thanks for letting me know I should continue on my charted path.

  11. Branden permalink
    May 28, 2010 3:11 pm

    I didn’t read the book when I first saw the film. All I heard what that is was violent and all that. Maybe in ’71, the rape scenes would be quality. Now, it’s seems tame.

    I was confused about Alex DeLarge towards the end of the movie. Not knowing the real ending of the book, was he really rehabilitated at the end or was he faking it?

    • May 28, 2010 3:22 pm

      Really rehabilitated.

      • Branden permalink
        May 28, 2010 3:38 pm

        All right. When he was dry heaving at that naked woman, he was reacting to the aversion therapy.

        Hey, can you give me the book’s ending on a PM on facebook? I kinda wanna know. You piqued my interest.

  12. May 28, 2010 5:18 pm

    One of my Top 10 Films of All-Time. I could never get through the book — and I’m an English teacher!!!! It isn’t a pleasure to read…you plod through it, especially with the Russian slang that you have to look up in the index ad infinitim. Kubrick’s film may look dated today, but it remains astonishing to look at and is ever so haunting. McDowell really created one of the screen’s greatest villains as well. I wouldn’t call him a mysoginist…his lead character though surely is. A masterful film that desrves more Ludwig vans here, dude! 🙂

    • May 28, 2010 5:44 pm

      hahaha, that last sentence seems to be the general consensus around here. i actually loved the Russian slang and for some reason my edition doesn’t have the dictionary, so I had to figure it out through context and it’s a big reason why I loved it. but still, it’s a different-strokes-for-different-folks situation, i don’t blame you for ditching it. but like I said, check out the last chapter at least. gets ya thinkin.

  13. June 1, 2010 8:59 am

    I am with you on one of the few that read the book before seeing the movie. However, at the time (8th grade or so) I was thinking what the hell was this, and spending about 20 minutes per page deciphering the lingo.

    So when I saw the movie a few years later with my matured movie taste, I was in love. I guess that’s where we differ.

    I think “Why” can be answered quite easily if you think about it. Getting murdered in the face with a giant plastic penis… sexual irony in a way. Sex was always getting everybody in trouble in that movie, locked up, seizures, murdered…

    Even without the theme sex and violence are nearly always directly correlated, as they are in every Scorsese movie. Sometimes being explicit can be overdone, but if ties right into the themes of the movie, then I don’t see a problem with it at all.

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