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Britflix: A Clockwork Orange

The Purge: Anarchy is set to hit theaters and to celebrate, we at Entertainment Fuse will look at a classic dystopia that sees the worst of society run amok, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of A Clockwork Orange.

Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is a teenage gang leader who enjoy Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, rape and a bit of the old ultra-violence. His gang causes terror across the town and local villages and commits the most heinous of crimes. But after Alex is betrayed by his gang he ends up going to prison for murder. Two years into his sentence Alex is given a chance for an early release and be unable to commit a crime ever again.

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A Clockwork Orange is one of Stanley Kubrick’s most famous movies and is essential viewing for anyone who considers themselves to be a film fan. It is one of his most controversial movies, which is staggering seeing that his filmography includes Lolita and Eyes Wide Shut. It earned an X-Rating in the USA and Kubrick withdrew it from release in the UK due to reports of copycat attacks (though if someone is willing to commit a violent act because of some media they were not the most well adjusted person to begin with). A Clockwork Orange was only re-released in the UK after Kubrick’s death. The notoriety of the ban helped secure A Clockwork Orange‘s cult status in the UK.

One of the main themes of A Clockwork Orange is the moral dilemmas it presents. Is it better to have free will even if you use it to be bad or be conditioned to be good but have no self-control? It is a complex philosophical debate to be had. Along with the micro issues, Kubrick and Burgess touch on a wider issue of the government becoming more authoritarian, suppressing freedoms as it chases popularity. It is a debate that we are still having due to the War of Terror between security and civil liberties.

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Burgess was a practicing Catholic and his religious beliefs plays a major part of the morality and philosophy in the world of A Clockwork Orange. The politics of the world is not just based on the left and right but also on different theological ideas of whether redemption could be forced or needs to be earned.

Many dystopias show a world of an oppressive government. A Clockwork Orange‘s approach is different, looking at the world from the bottom up. Law and order is collapsing as the police are unable to handle the youth violence; but society is functioning as people have jobs, homes, go shopping etc… A Clockwork Orange is deservedly seen as a standard bearer for movies about youth violence and ground level dystopias.

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The ideas of psychologist B.F. Skinner are prevalent. Operant Conditional was used on Alex, he was given a drug that made him feel sick and watched films of violence and sex, leading him to associate those activities with illness. The case study of John Watson and baby Albert was an influence, a case where a baby was conditioned to fear rabbits, but also feared men with white beards: Alex associates his sickness with the  classical music he loves as well as crimes.

Kubrick brings a surreal quality to his adaptation, using many dream sequences as Alex fantasizes about violence, his encounter with his patrol officer (Aubrey Morris) and his attempts to be violent and sexual after receiving the treatment. Kubrick’s comedy is not just dark, its pitch black. But it never undercuts the serious nature of the movie and its messages as he realize this dark concrete world of violence. The ironic music by Walter Carlos (now Wendy Carlos), a synthesized sound, adds to the darkness and the surreal nature of A Clockwork Orange.

As an adaptation of the novel A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick is faithful. Most of the changes are minor, the story and themes are intact. One change that was needed was in the novel Alex gets two 10-year-old girls drunk and rapes them: as you can imagine that would never be allowed to be filmed. The only major change is the ending because Kubrick had read the American version of the novel which ended a chapter early. So the film version ends on a darker note then the British version of the novel.

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The role of Alex is one of Malcolm McDowell’s most famous. With Kubrick’s direction and the great source McDowell is able to turn someone so despicable into a engaging screen presence. Alex is charismatic, he is intelligent and he sees himself as sophisticated and cultured despite his vile actions. McDowell was also surrounded by a strong cast, many of them having long careers in the UK: Warren Clarke who played Dim ended up starring in the police procedural programme Dalziel and Pascoe, Patrick Magee was in Barry Lyndon and then bodybuilder David Prowse ended up becoming the physical form of Darth Vader. The chief prison guard Michael Bates appeared on British television before his untimely death. Bates shrieking performance would have made him perfect to play Hitler.

A Clockwork Orange is a cultural icon of a movie, being referenced and parodied numerous times, with iconography being featured in The Simpsons and Belinda Webb writing a comparison novel A Clockwork Apple. I have dressed up a Droog for a costume party and have A Clockwork Orange T-Shirt.

A Clockwork Orange deserves its status as masterpiece, working as a loyal adaptation of a great novel, a dark and twisted look at humanity and society at its worst.

Viddy well little brother. Viddy well.

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