Badass Digest Presents: A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

Director Stanley Kubrick
Year 1971
Starring Malcolm McDowell, Michael Bates
Rating R
Run Time 136min
Age Policy

18 and up; Children 6 and up will be allowed only with a parent guardian. No children under the age of 6 will be allowed.

More Info IMDb

The Wendy Carlos electronic music. The quiet decay of a future London. The sharp, cruel designs of the droogs’ outfits. The melodious, almost impenetrable sounds of Nadsat rolling off Malcolm McDowell’s tongue. The thrill - and the regret - of the violence.

A Clockwork Orange exists as a thousand iconic moments of sound and vision, a movie that has exploded beyond the frame to take on meaning in our pop culture, to be misunderstood both by those who see it as a manual and by those who think it’s simplistic. It’s not Stanley Kubrick’s masterwork, but it’s his most engaging film, and it’s the film in his canon that most changes with you as you grow and learn about life.

It’s fascinating that A Clockwork Orange was Kubrick’s follow-up to 2001: A Space Odyssey. He made a movie about the possibility of human spiritual and physical evolution and then made a movie about the most base, horrible aspects of humanity... and how we cannot repress them without losing that humanity. Which is it, Stanley? Is it the grand future of the Starchild heading to Earth or is it the doomed depravity of Alex cavorting sexually, goaded on by a crowd? It’s the genius of Kubrick that it’s both, that he understood the basic duality of human nature.

Kubrick almost didn’t make the movie; when Terry Southern handed him Anthony Burgess’ novel while they were shooting Dr. Strangelove the director was turned off by the thick, made-up teenage jargon. Burgess, a linguist, had created his own near-future argot made up of Cockney rhyming slang, gypsy speak and Russian. Nadsat - basically Russian for ‘teen’ - is as much a character as Alex and the droogs, and while the language can be overwhelming at first it eventually makes sense. It eventually seeps in until you find yourself casually saying ‘Viddy well’ and other Alex-isms.

The film version didn’t use a traditional script. Kubrick just brought the book to set and figured out how to shoot it, page by page. It’s possible that the movie would have never worked without Malcolm McDowell, who Kubrick had seen in Lindsay Anderson’s seminal youth rebellion film If...; McDowell has the eyes of a sociopath set deep in a face full of charm. That mix is what makes you able to stay with him, even after the brutal, horrible and despicable rape scene set to Singin’ In The Rain (that song choice, by the way, was an improv. It was the only song McDowell was able to sing on demand, and now the main theme to Gene Kelly’s masterpiece has been forever tainted). Kubrick has a reputation as being a controlled perfectionist, but the making of A Clockwork Orange shows that his style was really to prepare as much as possible and then allow something unique and unplanned to happen on set.

Burgess wasn’t a fan of the movie because it’s based on the American version of the novel. The US publisher didn’t like the final chapter because he felt the ending was too ‘happy,’ and so it was excised. Burgess had originally written 21 chapters on purpose, with 21 being the age of majority and the point where we cross over to adulthood. That was Alex’s journey, but without that final chapter taken into consideration, Kubrick’s film has a very different meaning than Burgess’ book.

A Clockwork Orange is a stunning examination of the nature of freedom versus safety, a topic that resonates with us more and more every year. Is a safe world without freedom one worth living in? Is a human being who is not allowed to make bad choices a human being at all anymore? This is a movie that grows with you, that excites you with its transgressions when you’re young and troubles you with its musings on the nature of choice when you’re older. And if that’s not enough, it’s a damn good time at the movies. (Devin Faraci)

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