Blog Directory CineVerse: Eyes wide open: Taking a closer look at "A Clockwork Orange"

Eyes wide open: Taking a closer look at "A Clockwork Orange"

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Few movies have the power to both captivate and disgust like Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange," ranked as one of the most controversial and disturbing films ever made. CineVerse took an unblinking look at this disquieting picture and came away with these observations:

·       It pushes the envelope almost as far as it can go for the times in terms of graphic and disturbing violence and imagery, especially its rape scenes.
·       It stylizes the violence and often presents it from Alex’s point of view and in an erotic way that can be both titillating and repulsive; the danger is that, as writer Bradley Tuck said in his essay on the film, “the stylistic devices of the film that show that Alex enjoys his violence have the effect of shielding the audience from the inherent brutality of Alex’s actions.” In other words, this film arguably glorifies the brutality and violence we see; this argument lends credence that it can have a dangerous effect on viewers, as evidenced by copycat crimes that occurred after it was released in Britain.
·       The home invasion rape scene is particularly controversial because it comes across as both abhorrent and erotic—the woman is a stereotypically attractive one who demonstrates little resistance and whose muffled cries could be interpreted as pleasurable or arousing to males. However, this is the one scene where we see how Alex is turned on by the violence and pain he is inflicting, which is repulsive to many viewers, and we see the pain felt by the victims of this crime, too.
·       This is a very dark, pessimistic film that ends with a disturbing full circle journey for its protagonist; in the novel, Alex matures and grows out of being a criminal; in the film, it ends suggesting that he’s ready to commit more mayhem and revel in the pleasure of it.
·       It’s also unsettling that the director manipulates us into identifying with this monstrous criminal Alex in the film’s second half; while Alex disgusts us early on, the violence and psychological conditioning he endures later makes him a sympathetic figure.
·       The way that Kubrick marries beautiful classic music with images of extreme brutality and ugliness is a complete 180 degrees from what he showed us in 2001: A Space Odyssey. This juxtaposition of artistic beauty with repulsive inhumanity would have been pioneering for an early 1970s movie. The majestic classical music has a tendency to make a disgustingly violent scene more tolerable, because the music is calming and stirring; this marriage of pleasant classical music with unpleasant imagery can also evoke a reaction of irony and humor in the viewer.
·       The visuals in this film are quite striking and memorable. Kubrick employs slow motion, fast motion, rapid-style dream montages (where we see him fantasizing he’s a vampire juxtaposed to explosions), handheld camera shots, extreme low-angle shots of faces looming above, and other techniques to create a unique visual palette and editing style.
·       This is a sci-fi movie, but not necessarily detached from any particular time like 2001: A Space Odyssey was; instead, it’s meant to depict an ugly dystopia that could have occurred following the psychedelic/free love/counterculture period of the late 1960s in which social freedoms are intact, but at a terrible cost (yes, society can express itself artistically, sexually and via drugs, but its citizens, particularly women and the elderly, are not safe). This futuristic society is plagued by violence, drugs, law-braking, political corruption, depravity, and sexism, according to Tuck.
·       The slang vernacular used by the street thugs is a curious mix of Russian and English, creating a whole new, inventive vocabulary.
·       Additionally, women are depicted as passive objects of male aggressive fantasies throughout this film: from the plastic, nubile statues in the milk bar to the paintings of women being fetishized and objectified to the real rape and assault victims themselves. Milk, which traditionally symbolizes nurturing and comfort, is here a hallucinogenic that inspires violence. Sex has also ceased to be an act of love and is instead an expression of violence and dominance over the submissive.
·       Also, much of the violence is choreographed in an artistic, almost balletic way: consider how Alex sings and dances before he rapes the wife of the author, or how the two rival gangs jump and acrobatically move before and during fighting.

·       It asks a fundamental question: What is more dangerous—freedom of choice, or safety and order in society? The former produces violent individuals; the latter can create a totalitarian society where the people, even its bad apples, are controlled and have their freedoms taken away.
·       Human nature is inherently capable of both good and evil: consider how we see that Alex has the capacity to be reformed (although not of his own free will) and how we sympathize with him later; yet, we see that he’s likely to return to his deviant ways. Kubrick is insinuating here that evil and destructive tendencies are an essential component of our humanity and part of what makes us alive. Consider how energetic, vibrant and “alive” Alex and his droogs are when they are up to no good. It can be argued that this movie suggests that some humans are so difficult to understand because they’re capable of both good and evil—two natures which are essential to the condition of being “human”.
·       Art has the capacity for both evil and good, and it both expresses and drives human impulses; case in point: Beethoven wrote his 9th Symphony because he wanted to convey the unlimited potential of human goodness as opposed to its corruption and wickedness. But Alex is inspired to act violently when he hears this music; it’s his fuel and his muse to commit crimes.

·       Taxi Driver (Travis Bickle commits violent acts that are later, ironically, celebrated by the press; only once you think he’s back to normal, he appears unhinged and ready to commit more violence at the very end)
·       1984
·       Brazil

·       Paths of Glory
·       Spartacus
·       Lolita
·       Dr. Strangelove
·       2001: A Space Odyssey
·       The Shining
·       Full Metal Jacket
·       Eyes Wide Shut

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