Wednesday, 20 January 2010

What we were after now was the old surprise visit. That was a real kick and good for laughs and lashings of the old ultraviolent.

No 37 - A Clockwork Orange
Director - Stanley Kubrick

It took me years before I realised that my first experience with this controversial masterpiece was through the introduction of Conker's Bad Fur Day. Which lifts the introduction to A Clockwork Orange perfectly. Even in my youth I knew it was a parody. I just didn't know what of...

The important thing about this film is not to focus on the rape and the death and the violence. Whilst they are all there, in quantity, the film is far richer than that. The world is far richer than that and the story is far more bleak.

The film is set in a strange future, or maybe an alternate present. The clothes are all a bit strange and the in house design is all a bit weird. We see this mostly with Alex (our protagonist)'s parents an his home. There are clashing colours and retro-futuristic furniture. Think Barbarella. That is the style of Alex's home.

You can hear the other worldliness in the way that the characters speak. This is (for me) the film's real joy. Alex, and his gang of Droogs, speak in a delightful way. Through intonation, sentence structure, antiquated language and made up words, each sentence becomes a bizarre delight. I'd love to read the book because seeing the dialogue written down just makes me smile:
There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. The Korova milkbar sold milk-plus, milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence.

The final sign of the parallel world is with the extreme violence. The gangs of hoodlums which cause fear to all and sundry. Whilst it is graphically depicted (The rapes more so than the violence) it is the joy and the excitement on the faces of Alex and his men which truly shocks. Seeing how they relish in causing pain in others is far more scary than merely seeing the pain be inflicted.

The film follows Alex, leader of an ultraviolent gang. We see him in his happier times. He is vicious, he is violent, he is a rapist but also a romancer of women, he wears impeccable outfits (when out of his iconic - and Halloween staple - Droog uniform) and he loves the work of Ludvig Van Beethoven.
He is a horrible thug. Certainly charismatic but bristling with rage and violence and hate. He is not a likable protagonist.

However, throughout the film there are three key events which seriously affect Alex. This is what I want to focus on because Alex's journey is what makes this film so remarkable.

1) In order to listen to a lady singing one of Beethoven's operas, he silences his Droogs with a whack of a cane.
This is important because it means that the Droogs aren't happy. Time and time again they trick him and punish him. Every dangerous place Alex ends up in (Prison, Frank's house the second time) is directly after some sort of punishment or revenge from his Droogs.
To be a good leader, you have to keep your men happy.

2) He sings during his attack on Frank Alexander.
The attack on Frank Alexander is particularly savage. He cuts Frank's wife's clothes off and rapes her stopping only to repeatedly kick Frank with his heavy boots. Throughout this attack he wisely hides his face behind a mask. Yet he sings. In his joy he sings Singing in the Rain. If you are to do this.... don't then sing it in the bath 2 years later when seeking refuge in the same man's house...

I will mention the third point shortly, because the turning point of this film is when Alex, tired of being in jail, undergoes radical aversion therapy, and the third point is tied into that. For me the scenes of the aversion therapy (or torture) are almost as horrific as seeing Alex relish in the pain he causes. Really dark scenes of him being forced to watch graphic images whilst being poisoned. So that any thoughts of anger or violence or lust would trigger the same sick poisoned feel.
Not only is Alex unable to attack, he is unable to defend himself. He leaves prison weak. But he also leaves with a personally heartbreaking disability

3) The Music used in the torture videos.
Sadly - As well as feeling sick whenever he wants to fight or rape... he also feels ill when he hears Ludwig Van's Glorious 9th.

  • Finally freed from prison, Alex suffers the worst day in the history of the world.
  • He is kicked out of his home as his parents now have a lodger
  • He meets a homeless man he once tortured and is subsequently attacked
  • Somehow SOMEHOW (seriously... how?!) His Droogs have become policemen. They torture him.
  • He ends up back at Frank Alexander's house and (STUPIDLY) sings Singing in the Rain.
  • He is driven to suicide for both Frank's Revenge but also in an attempt to belittle the government

What is amazing is that this series of events made me sympathise for Alex. It is not fair that he should suffer so much cruelty. Yet, he is a horrible human being. The only reason he isn't out attacking and raping is that he physically can't.

That is the film's true strength, that you can follow a truly unlikable character and come out rooting for him. It shows Kubrick's skill as a film maker and also Malcolm McDowell's skill in performing the role of Alex. Of course you are punished for the trust in the final moments. Alex's wicked smile creeps over his face and the final line which is both a triumphant cry and a chilling warning to the rest of the world.

I was cured, all right!

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