Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Clockwork Orange, 1971

Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Stanley Kubrick, from the novel by Anthony Burgess
Starring Malcolm McDowell

I watched this again as part of my Kubrick retrospective, and it's been one of the hardest to sit through -- and not always for the intended reasons. The violence is so sadistic that it's almost unbearable. I actually stopped watching it during the "Singin' in the Rain" scene, and then made myself get through that so that because I knew that the worst was almost over. Another difficult thing about this movie is that parts of it are intended as comedy. For example, the principal guard in the prison, played by Michael Bates, is a character who exists often for comic purposes, but there's something incongruous and forced about having this kind of a caricature in the midst of such scathing commentary.

At the same time, the social commentary is astonishing. As a small example, in the scene where we see the demonstration of how Alex has been allegedly cured, the applause for the actor and model who demonstrate the cure -- and their bowing to take credit -- are chillingly perfect.

From another perspective, Malcolm McDowell's Alex is a kind of modern, unrepentant Richard III. Kubrick wants us to share in his delights and miseries with great sympathy, and that's perhaps the most successful and intentionally disturbing aspect of this movie. Like Richard III, we're fascinated and drawn in by the protagonist, but his immoral nature never fades from view. Alex is smart, charismatic, and occasionally sympathetic (primarily when he is the evident victim of his so-called treatment), but, in the end, I found a gap that Shakespeare manages to bridge with Richard or Iago. It's not that Shakespeare makes us like these monsters, but Shakespeare is psychologically revelatory in a way that Kubrick is not. It makes me want to see Malcolm McDowell play one of those parts; if he could bring to it what he brought to this, under the direction of someone such as David Cromer, it would be phenomenal.

In the end, I found this movie somewhat unsatisfying -- or perhaps I could say I had qualms about it. While it is -- as usual -- visually spectacular, I have doubts about the end it's serving. Similarly, for what it intends, the music (primarily by Wendy Carlos) is perfect; and, again, I'm have concerns about what's intended.


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