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From Under A Rock: A Clockwork Orange

May 7, 2016 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
A Clockwork Orange
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From Under A Rock: A Clockwork Orange  


This week’s pick is a heavy one. I (Michael) chose it because it’s one of the most fascinating character arcs I’ve ever seen. I also haven’t loved many of the Kubrick movies I’ve seen, yet with this one, I had a profound viewing experience. It’s not a joy to watch, it’s not “feel-good” in any way, but it’s an incredible cinematic tale with as much style as there is darkness.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron didn’t like Michael when he was angry during The Incredible Hulk. This week Michael takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock by bashing his head in with the metaphorical penis sculpture that is A Clockwork Orange.

A Clockwork Orange
Released: December 19th, 1971
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick
Based on: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Malcolm McDowell as Alex DeLarge
Patrick Magee as Mr. Frank Alexander

Michael Ornelas: I hate to be “that guy” because I don’t gravitate toward the morbid…but I truly love this film. I know I’m contradicting myself because I said it’s not “enjoyable” (it’s certainly not for the faint of heart), but I’m able to separate the dastardly deeds in this film from reality and truly love Alex’s arc, even when he’s at his most depraved. Thematically and cinematically, this is a masterpiece. It was only my second viewing, but I felt the exact same way both times: that I had just watched greatness.

Aaron Hubbard: This is the third Stanley Kubrick film I’ve watched in the last few months, with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Full Metal Jacket being the others. It’s been an interesting journey studying this master filmmaker at work, and this is one that I had been intending to see for a while. And now I’ll never be able to forget this movie, and not necessarily for pleasant reasons. But it’s certainly a fascinating piece of art.
The Nature of Being Bad
Michael: So it seems as though the primary theme that ties this movie together is “Where does being bad (or good) come from? Within, societal conditioning, or a mixture of both?” We get to see that idea attacked from every angle and it literally makes our protagonist Alex DeLarge (geniusly portrayed by Malcolm McDowell) nauseous, as he’s on such a roller-coaster of emotions, thought processes, and inclinations. We start the film with Alex and his “droogs” beating a drunk beggar, saving a girl from being raped by a gang, and then breaking into a home and proceeding to rape someone else while crippling her husband. Then he returns home to enjoy some Beethoven. What are we supposed to make of this? Are we supposed to like Alex? Despise him? I think it’s clear that he’s a troubled and complex human being. It’s such a unique and pitch-perfect way to introduce us to this character, because we know through his narration that he’s compelled towards evil, and when he’s finally locked up to pay his debt to society, he jumps at the opportunity to undergo some “alternative” treatments in order to be let go early. The trade off is a compromising of his compulsion. He wants to be evil, but he gets physically ill whenever he tries. His very existence is being tortured and…we feel sympathetic for him? How did Stanley Kubrick put us in such a position that we sympathize with someone who wants to do evil things but can’t? It speaks to the importance and value of being allowed to just be yourself, and for as unrelatable Alex is to the majority of this movie’s viewers, we can all identify with wanting to be comfortable in our own skin.

Aaron: I don’t know if sympathy is quite the word for my experience, as I found myself somewhat emotionally detached from this film. I feel like I need to give it a rewatch already, as it was difficult for me to connect with anything on the initial viewing due to something similar to shock. I find it easy to relate to Alex when he’s forced to watch the horrible films and made to suffer through it, as I felt like this film’s depravity was being thrown at me like an assault that I couldn’t escape from. Which, I think is the point: Alex is intended to be evil incarnate but the government, the prison system, and the everyday civilians in this society are rotten to the core. If it takes a village to raise a child, then this child was raised by a truly horrible village. One visual that real stuck out to me was Alex’s long-nosed mask. It’s meant to remind us of Pinocchio and let us know he’s a liar, but I also got the idea that we are supposed to read that he is a puppet; he’s not a “real boy”, but a warped perversion of what young men should be like in a healthy society. That happens before he starts being overtly controlled by the prison system and Ludovico test, but it certainly informed my appraisal of the character.

Michael: The entire movie is loaded with clues to the nature of Alex and his role in the society around him. It’s certainly cyclical in the question of “Was he evil all along or is he a product of his surroundings?” Both just serve to amplify the other. When Mr. Alexander becomes hell-bent on getting revenge on a reformed Alex, it drives him to a suicide attempt, and ultimately a relapse to his evil ways where he can go to do more harm to men like Mr. Alexander, who will in turn seek more revenge. He’s doomed to live this way forever and it’s really tragic, but so very fascinating to watch.
Ultra-Violence and Sex As A Weapon
Aaron: It’s hard to find more than a few minutes of this film that aren’t drenched in some kind of sexuality. Most of it is overt, from the milk bar to pornographic photos that casually adorn everyone’s walls, not to mention the actual sex going on. And yet, none of the sexual imagery is intended to be titillating to the audience, I feel; it’s meant to overwhelm us and keep the idea in our minds throughout our entire viewing experience. There’s so much negativity surrounding the sexual content of this film; Alex being molested in his parents’ bed by a person who’s obviously supposed to take care of him, and many scenes of men forcing themselves on women. My personal experience was one of nausea, and then a certain numbness to it towards the end of the film; it was almost hard to view anyone as an actual person. It was a deeply unsettling experience for me, and not something I see used much in film. Alien comes to mind, but that film utilizes its sexual imagery more subliminally.

Michael: Yeah, I’d say that the only moment in the film of “fun” sexuality is the threesome he has set to William Tell overture, and the music largely determines that. Even the closing shot of the film where he’s having sex with a woman who seems to be enjoying herself is made uncomfortable by his narration in which he implies he’s feeling “normal” again, which obviously has bad implications. But I completely agree — there’s a certain detachment that comes along with the sexuality in this movie because just as this section’s title implies, it’s being used as a weapon.

Aaron: The more I think about this, the more I realize why so many people connect to Alex’s character, even if they feel sort of ugly inside for sympathizing or relating to a sociopathic murderer and rapist. The movie, to me anyway, feels like a Ludovico test. How much abuse can the viewer’s mind take before it finds things revolting? After all, we often go to movies to see sex and violence, so it feels off when a movie takes the enjoyment out of those things for us. It ceases to be entertainment, and makes us deal with ugly reality.
Every Frame Is Art
Michael: Every shot was meticulously composed and blocked in A Clockwork Orange. While you’re looking at content that is so reprehensible, I find it almost uncomfortable that you have to see it set against environments so beautiful. One that stands out to me is the shot composition of the stairs while Mr. Frank Alexander is carried down to where Alex is eating spaghetti. The camera doesn’t cut and we see a character move from the background to the foreground as we’re given time to enjoy the frame. Sharp angles create a frame that is visually stimulating at any given point in the sequence. The background is also used to full effect when Alex’s eyes are being pried open and we see the wide shot of him sitting there with the scientists behind him at the top of the theater. These are just two examples but almost every last shot is composed with artistry in mind and I think that’s what will drive me to want to watch this movie many more times in the future.

Aaron: Kubrick is a perfectionist, and he knows how to make films that are eye-catching and memorable. Thankfully he doesn’t hold our eyes open with clamps, but it is equally difficult for me to look away from the screen. I’ve had the same general reaction to his other films. One thing I particularly enjoyed was how he would visual callbacks to tie certain scenes together. When Alex has his crotch grabbed by Mr. Deltoid, he is positioned in the same way as the tables in the milk bar (with a wig in the background to reinforce this similarity). We see a woman in the process of being raped by soldiers on what appears to be a theater stage, and later, Alex is on a theater stage as the doctors demonstrate how they have “cured” Alex. In both cases, Alex is being subjected to the same dehumanization: controlled, used for other people’s means, and “raped” of his personhood. There are other examples, but those two stand out for me.

Michael: My last little favorite piece of imagery, while not necessarily anything that adds to the story, is the soundtrack for 2001: A Space Odyssey being placed at the end of the records that Alex rummages through before his threesome. But even that entire scene is visually overstimulating with all the rainbow colors and phallic popsicles. Simply put: this movie is visually captivating.

Aaron: A Clockwork Orange strikes me as a movie that I need to rewatch a couple of times to fully comprehend. Kubrick’s beliefs on politics, religion, the nature of good and evil, nature vs. nurture… there’s a lot to unpack here. And a film like that really shouldn’t work, but Stanley Kubrick is a master storyteller. He knows how to present the themes in a way that will connect with us, but without preaching to us. The film has a clear narrative structure and is strikingly presented, which makes it accessible, despite the broad and thought-provoking themes that may or may not connect with general audiences.


Michael: Rewatching this movie definitely raised its stock with me. I definitely thought it was great after the first time, but this second viewing put it into “masterpiece” territory for me. There’s so much going on thematically, visually, musically, and in every other regard as well. The performances are excellent — there is no word to accurately describe how good McDowell is in this), the edits are perfect…I can’t given this movie anything but the highest grade.


Aaron: Let’s skip this, who reads it anyway.

Michael: I don’t know, I like to think that this two lines of weekly banter is the highlight of somebody’s week.

Aaron: Yeah. Yours.

Michael: Don’t take this from me.

Is this Kubrick’s masterpiece?

Next week:

Aaron: Next week is a movie that I consider to be a sort of “guilty pleasure”, which is an odd thing to say about a Best Picture winner. But, I have a soft spot for good musicals, and I enjoy more than just the music in this one.
Michael: Never saw it, and I never really had interest. That said, I trust your judgment and actually have high expectations for next week.

Aaron: This was actually the first film I watched in my “Intro to Film” class that got me started on the whole movie critic thing. I’m excited to give it a rewatch.

What was the first film that got you thinking critically about movies?

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Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk, A Clockwork Orange

Cactus Reviewed as a Sex Toy
Michael’s Spin on Things is a comedic YouTube product review parody channel in which Michael Ornelas will review ANYTHING and EVERYTHING in accordance to the criteria provided by the spin of a wheel.

In this week’s episode, Michael reviews a cactus. Full disclosure: it was pretty rough. The wheel landed on “Sex Toy” and…yeah it’s not a good time. Or is it? I don’t know. Watch and discover the answer to that for yourself!

The final score: review Virtually Perfect
The 411
Trying to sum up A Clockwork Orange is no easy task; it's a multi-layered masterpiece of cinema that's stayed in the public conscience for over 45 years now. Malcolm McDowell turns in a star-making, iconic performance as the deeply troubled Adam DeLarge, while Stanley Kubrick's direction brings the story to life through stunning, gorgeous but disturbing images. It's one of the best films we've reviewed, but also one that could probably be dissected further. A lot further. It's a classic, though not for the faint-hearted.