A Clockwork Orange – A Retrospective

Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is a film I have a tricky past with. I struggled to get through Anthony Burgess’ novel due to the outlandish language and the first time I ever tried to watch the film adaptation, I turned it off about 25 minutes in. Maybe the violence was too much for my sensitive 17-year-old self or maybe I just wasn’t ready to appreciate it. Either way, I didn’t finish it and had no real intention of ever doing so. However, it’s re-release in cinemas for its 48th birthday gave me the kick up the backside I needed. And I’m glad to be proven wrong. It’s just as violent and disturbing as I remembered it being but in the best possible way.

This kind of narrative and world is the perfect playground for Kubrick to work in. A director famed for his meticulous attention to detail in all areas of his production, the world of A Clockwork Orange is endlessly layered. A bizarre amalgamation of a dystopian police state and 70’s London. The unintelligible language of the droogs mixes in with the pornographic art that lines every wall that blends into the unrelenting tones of Beethoven – it all assembles into a space that feels like another planet whilst still being somewhat familiar. The cinematography and set design will never look better than on the big screen.

What’s perhaps most impressive about A Clockwork Orange is the simultaneous breadth and narrowness of its scope. On the one hand, it’s a story about the broad themes of nihilism, anti-establishment and the corruption of authority. Yet at the same time, this is a singular narrative about the life of a boy. A boy played superbly by Malcolm McDowell, who we all regretfully see the worst parts of ourselves within him. A flawed, in fact, flat out monstrous protagonist that an audience can still feel sympathy towards is a difficult thing to achieve, but even after all his misdeeds and villainy, Alex is still relatable to us, which is perhaps the most damning idea of all.

There are many elements that have given this film it’s longevity – nearly 50 years later and it hasn’t left the public consciousness. Of course, the controversy and malignment of it being withdrawn from cinemas at the request of Burgess in the past probably helps. But for me, A Clockwork Orange has stood the test of time because it is able to appeal to new generations in different ways. People were initially drawn to the shock factor. These days the violence is perhaps a little more palatable – there’s more blood and guts in an episode of Game of Thrones – but the physiological and mental violence is just as off-putting as ever. I defy anyone not to wince and squirm during Alex’s Ludovico treatment. The resentment of government and those who abuse their power also feels particularly timely in the current political climate. It’s interesting to see that a film that felt very much of a moment can still have a finger on the pulse all these years later.

If you get the chance to catch A Clockwork Orange on the big screen, I highly recommend it. It completely changed my thoughts about the film and deserves to be enjoyed by a new generation.

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