Friday, January 7, 2011

A Clockwork Orange (1971)
--- science fiction

Dir: Stanley Kubrick

Never has the future looked so creepy, bleak, and in hindsight unnervingly believable but it's a far cry from apocalyptic. Though, in some scenarios, other people can be considerably worse than no people. Based on the controversial 1962 novella by Anthony Burgess, "A Clockwork Orange" certainly set the standard for dystopian films. The novel and the film pose the question of what exactly is freewill? How can one judge another human being when we all have fallen from certain subjective morals? Taking a long dark look into the iris of our collective youth, this masterpiece from director Stanley Kubrick, continues to be an alarm clock to society.

Taking place in the near-future in England, the film focuses on teenage juvenile delinquent Alex DeLarge, (played by a young and blankly sinister Malcolm McDowell) who leads a gang called "droogs" that goes terrorizing upper class citizens. They do not go to any formal kind of school and adorned in white rugby suits, black bowlers and canes, they spend most of their time drinking "milk plus" (a concoction of milk mixed with drugs) at the Korova Milk Bar, brutally torturing or molesting random innocent people. With a penchant for Ludwig Von Beethoven and violent carousing, Alex is a classified menace to society, but he isn't alone. Alex and his "droogs" also get into fights with other gangs. Alex and his "droogs" partake in what we would now legally classify as "Home invasion" on an older couple brutally beating the husband and raping his wife.

Later, Alex uncovers dissension in his group of "droogs", and takes care of the rabble-rousers himself in an alpha-male effort to regain control of the gang. They decide to go out for another night of harassment and mark an older woman's home. Alex is the one who breaks into the flat solo, and beats the woman to death with a large sculpture of a penis. He frantically escapes at the sound of sirens and and makes it outside to his gang of "droogs", who turn on him by knocking him upside the head with a bottle of milk. Alex is taken into the authorities. Here, he is informed by his probation officer that the woman died, and that he's going to serve time. Off to the prison Alex goes.

In prison he is forced to read and learn the bible and sings Christian songs along with the other unrepentant inmates, but Alex begins to feel he needs more. When questioned by Alex on how to go further in repentance, the chaplain informs him of an experimental scientific process that will rehabilitate him to unconditionally reform himself. He agrees to undergo the state-funded experiment. Submitting to a torturous viewing of violent footage while droplets of a liquid serum are put in his forced-open eyes, Alex does become rehabilitated. Violence completely turns him off, even his favorite Ludwig Von becomes detestable to him. Upon release, Alex is a new man. He also has a dubious celebrity status, as all the news reports of his so-called miraculous government-funded change. The world is a little less believing in him as he is. His family has all but forgotten him, not even keeping his room for him. There's also by chance or happenstance the comedic karma of running into people he once did wrong, like a homeless drunkard he harassed, his old "droogies" who are now bona fide policemen, and one of the victims he crippled. This all leads to a conclusion that surprises us, as Alex appears to once again find himself.

Stanely Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" is essentially a gangster film with EC comics sentimentalism. It could easily be shown in a marathon along with "Goodfellas", "Menace to Society", or "Boyz n Hood", and fit right in. Yet the film remains a satiric commentary on societal youth in revolt, and we get the underwhelming feeling the kids will not be alright after all. "A Clockwork Orange"will never go down in history in but a descriptive few words, it ends up allowing the audience to not just be disgusted by the terrible actions of Alex, but the subjugation he submits to under the hands of the governmental scientists. You cannot easily take a side with this film, there ends up being a sympathy for Alex leading up the finale. This parallels the deep discussions we all get into about Capital Punishment and Abortion.

Chock full of Kubrick's painfully beautiful shots and verve of classical music swimming throughout the piece. Malcolm McDowell's unflinching bad boy performance of Alex allows us a no-holds-barred almost documentary peek into this dystopian mindset. Burgess' strange yet credible poppy dialogue may have went on to inspire even Philip K. Dick's "Cityspeak" from "Blade Runner". The future in this film inspired a darker prophecy, with such things as the "punk/goth", "gangsta/hip-hop"movements, and others. The fact is we were warned. As a science fiction film, the film isn't as revolutionary as Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey". He deliberately had a lesser budget and like Godard's "Alphaville", used contemporary beat-up London as a stand-in for a dilapidated future. The technology is far outdated by now, and the production has a strict kinda Sixties futurism design to it. The fact is, if you're looking for all that, you're completely missing the point.