A Clockwork Orange

AFI Rank: #46
Year Released: 1971
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Actors: Malcolm McDowell

I've seen A Clockwork Orange several times, at different stages in life. I recently re-watched it in order to see it fresh, as part of my watching of all AFI Top 100 movies. A Clockwork Orange ranks #46 on that list. Released in 1971, this movie was unlike anything that had come before and still stands quite unique in the realm of movies. It nearly creates its own new language and immerses the watcher in a bizarre but entirely understandable alternate reality.

The scene is a futuristic / alternate version of England where gangs of miscreants roam around with little to stop them. Some would say this isn't *too* far off from reality. Malcolm McDowell plays a school-age gang leader who by day lives with his parents and talks fairly respectfully to the adults in his life. He keeps a neat room, loves his pet snake, and listens to classical music. By night, he and his friends dress up in matching outfits and go out violently raping and killing people. They get great joy out of their violence, singing and laughing while they do it.

It's the adoration of violence which is so powerful here. They don't just "fight" the opposing gang members, they bludgeon them into jelly. They don't just "rape" women, they laugh while they brutalize them. It's hard to watch. And the scenes are choreographed to classic music, making the viewing of it even more complex.

It brings to mind what came up in another movie we recently watched. In The Third Man, a dialogue talks about how the peace and calm of the Swiss only produced the cuckoo clock, while the anarchy and violence of the Italian Renaissance created a wealth of wonders, music, and art.

The government tries to "fix" Malcolm's brain by doing experiments to tie any glimpse of violence with enormous nausea and depression. There's some brief discussion about free will here, but in the end we see that the police are violent, the government is violent, and that the street gangs are just one small part of a larger, dysfunctional whole.

It's challenging for me to watch this movie. There is full body nudity of several women who are violently gang raped. It is disturbing to watch. And there's little sense that anything is going to change in this society. The men will go around gang raping women, and those women will be brutalized and perhaps slain. The only two females in the movie besides the many victims are the mom, who one could say is an emotional victim, and the nurse. So this movie definitely fails the Bechdel test.

I do appreciate the brilliance of how the movie immerses us in an alternate reality that is both very different from our own and at the same time quite similar. I appreciate the acting, the dialogue, and the themes being investigated. But it is so full of gratuitous violence and rape that I'm just not sure I'll watch this one again. I think this was the last time.

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AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100