A Clockwork Orange is a very difficult film to enjoy. Not appreciate, which I most certainly did, but like. It is set in the future, a place that looks as if we finally gave up and let the interior designers have their way with the world. It features a protagonist who is so cruel, so unlikable, that when the film starts to want us to care about him, it’s very difficult to. He’s not sympathetic in the least, but we’re to be convinced that he is by the time all is said and done. It’s also very violent, featuring several scenes that make you want to turn away.
How does one enjoy A Clockwork Orange? I kept wondering that for the majority of its running time. I suppose it is funny, at times, with Malcolm McDowell’s narration always being pleasant to listen to, but I kept feeling as if it needed a little ray of sunshine to penetrate its dark core. So sad, so upsetting, and while that’s not bad in and of itself, it grows tiresome after sitting through it for over two hours. Sure, it’s a mostly accurate translation of an equally dark novel, and it’ll make you think a bit after it finishes, but if you’re hoping to enjoy your time watching a movie, look elsewhere.
McDowell both narrates and is the lead actor, playing a teenager named Alex whose idea of fun is to either get into violent altercations with his peers, or going on raping sprees. If either is done to a song of Beethoven’s, Alex is most pleased. The law does not hinder them, the police have no idea who they are (they wear masks, you see), and they have not a care in the world.
Alex’s group has tensions, sure, but he always knows that he’s the leader. Why? Because the camera distorts everyone but him, so that we know he’s the lead. Stanley Kubrick, who wrote the screenplay and directed the film, uses wide-angle lenses frequently here, portraying Alex as the only sane person in this dystopic world, even though it’s very likely completely the opposite. This is a crazy person with no regard for his fellow man, and yet we’re supposed to root for him. Sorry, but I couldn’t do it.
While I don’t want to spoil later portions of the film, reform eventually comes to Alex, and we have to see the ramifications of that. It’s not by choice, to put it bluntly, and we begin to question whether it’s fair for someone to change someone’s nature. Alex sees a vulnerable person, and he wants to inflict harm on them. Is it right for someone to physically prevent him from acting upon those urges? We see the pain that this treatment causes Alex, and we’re supposed to sympathize with him.
So, A Clockwork Orange gives you a lot to think about. It’ll stick with you, due to the violent images, the amount of detail that went into each scene, or the themes that it deals with while it plays. It is a good movie. It’s not all that fun to watch, but it’s important in its own right and it’ll most certainly be worth your time if you decide that you can handle it. It is not, however, for everyone, and if you’re looking for light entertainment for the night, this is most certainly not the movie for you.
There is some irony involved in later scenes that made me laugh, and some of McDowell’s narration is hilarious, but for most of the time, this is a drab drama that needed some more cheeriness. Granted, that might have ruined the tone, and I can see why some form of comedy wasn’t included, but when we’re dealing with someone who is delusional, it wouldn’t be too hard to make the film more of a dark comedy. Maybe a second viewing would make me appreciate that part of the film more; there’s certainly enough there to warrant multiple viewings.
Actually, that problem might not have been with the film, but with me. I don’t find someone singing “Singing in the Rain” while proceeding to rape someone particularly funny, but perhaps the intention was to make that comedic. I guess I just have a different sense of humor, or maybe a few morals. I think that I just might not have gotten the film’s sense of humor, and that’s fine. Other people will, and they’ll like it more, while another group of people will find it even more depraved than I did, and hate A Clockwork Orange as a result.
If there’s a driving force behind why A Clockwork Orange ultimately works, and you’re completely ignorant of the talent behind the camera, it’s Malcolm McDowell. Stanley Kubrick is known for being a perfectionist, and some of the things that McDowell has to get right — over and over again, presumably — are insane. The film opens with a shot of Alex’s face, and continues to zoom out for a good two minutes, with Alex not blinking. How hard is that? Try not blinking for two minutes right now. Once you can do that, try doing something else like drinking some milk while not being able to blink.
A Clockwork Orange is a good movie, one that makes you think and appreciate it for the majority of its running time and for some time afterward. Is it enjoyable? No, but it’s not exactly supposed to be. It gives us some insight into the mind of a person who is driven solely by his instincts to fight and rape, and then shows us what happens to him once those instincts are impeded. It has a driving performance by Malcolm McDowell, is made with great skill, and is dark and not at all enjoyable to watch.