Monday, July 11, 2011

When Film Gets It (Sort Of) Right: A Review of Stanley Kubrick's Clockwork Orange

Title: A Clockwork Orange
Year: 1971
Starring: Malcolm McDowell
Plot: Based on Anthony Burgess' novel of the same name, A Clockwork Orange is the story of violent delinquent Alex and his three droogs. It's also the story of a corrupt government and the harmful ways in which it tries to combat crime. But mostly it's the story of a boy's transformation from criminal to reformed criminal and back again.
Challenges: Books to Movies Challenge

Review: Those of us who are fans of the novel will obviously find fault with some of the things that Kubrick chose to do in this film. The most obvious, of course, is the exclusion of the final chapter of the novel from the film entirely. While this could be excused by the fact that the American edition of the novel was missing that chapter, I'd like to think that Kubrick could've, I don't know, done a little research. And he probably did and simply chose to ignore the last chapter anyway. It makes the film far more chilling that it ends the way it does.

Anyway, even with the little nit-picky points that I could make (for example, why was the writer in a wheelchair and what was up with the oddly-shaped added character of Julian?), this is an insanely good film. It's terrifying, darkly funny, and trippy in a way that only Kubrick knows how to do. It also follows the novel pretty well, oftentimes taking the script directly from the novel. Alex remains as our "humble narrator" and very little is removed from the book for the film.

The cinematography is genius, with strange angles, chilling close-ups, and good use of space. Whoever designed the costumes and hair for the film was probably on acid, but in this case I think that it adds something to the film. It has a seventies' flavor without drawing too much attention to the fact that it was a film made in the seventies. Burgess' intention was to create a novel that would stand the test of time, one that wasn't bogged down by a slang or a setting that belonged too much to one era. I think Kubrick did a good job of keeping that idea intact while still giving his original audience a taste of their own time period.

The soundtrack is, I think, the most incredible aspect of the entire thing. Kubrick sprinkles in quite a bit of Alex's beloved Ludwig Van and throws in some other decent classical pieces as well. The music always fits the scene and it's played in such a way that it manages to be orchestral, synthetic, and creepy all at once. It sets the mood for the film, right from the beginning, just as much as the opening shot of Alex staring into the camera does. Brilliant film-making on Kubrick's part.

I wish that they had used more of the Nadsat that was used in the book, but I think audiences would reject the film if they had, especially those who have never read the book. It's much harder to immerse yourself in a slang that you aren't familiar with if you're watching it on screen than it is to do so if you're reading it in a book. Kubrick uses many of the words ("horrorshow," "kroovy," "rookers," etc.), but does so sparingly, sprinkling them throughout the film rather than using Nadsat as the primary means of communication for Alex and his droogs.

Obviously, there are some things in this film that might upset some people or trigger bad memories. The film, like the book, contains violence and rape, and I wouldn't recommend it if you're overly sensitive to these things. I would recommend it, however, whether or not you liked the book. Malcolm Macdowell is the perfect Alex and his performance is nothing short of amazing. He portrays Alex so close to the way that I pictured him in the novel and adds an even eerier delusional innocence to him than I could have imagined.

If I were reviewing this film simply as a film, I would give it a full five Gabriels. Since, however, I'm looking at it in conjunction with the novel, it gets only 4 out of 5. While the film is arguably one of the best movie adaptations of a novel ever, there are some things that could have been improved upon.



  1. I'm pretty sure I've read somewhere that Anthony Burgess originally wrote the screenplay and included the final chapter but Kubrick didn't like it and rewrote it himself and skipped the final chapter on purpose. I can understand Burgess being annoyed/angry about that, but I do get where Kubrick presumably was coming from, the original ending may have been pretty hard to translate into film without it seeming like one of those "and then everything was right in the world" endings.

    I agree with you on all points here Gabe! The Nadsat, the cinematography, the music, the few weird additions and Oh my lord, Malcolm McDowell. He was fantastic, amazing, mind-blowing etc etc! I've written two papers on this film and all my research basically showed just how much Malcolm threw himself into the role and 'experienced' everything, like those doo-dads holding open his eyes during the 'treatment' and the drowning scene in the trough. He was basically the first actor to do his own 'stunts' and I think that paid off ten-fold!

  2. I agree. While I like the last chapter, I think the film ends right where it needs to. In a book, you're delving deeper into a character's psyche, whereas in a film you can't do that. I think including the end of the book would seem like a cop-out.

    Malcolm McDowell has been one of my favorite actors since I was a kid, long before I saw this film. Even though he sometimes doesn't work on the best films, he tends to be the best thing in whatever he does. He's one of those guys that really "gets" their characters and he's sadly an under-appreciated actor. The whole film is mind-blowing, however, and I don't know if I could have seen it any other way.

    I was thinking, however, about what would happen if, gods forbid, they ever made a remake. I decided that I would only have accepted one about ten or fifteen years ago, when Ewen McGregor would have been young enough to play Alex. I'm sometimes shocked when I watch this film at how much young Malcolm McDowell and young Ewen McGregor resemble one another. Now that he's past the age of, you know, 20, I would never be able to handle a reboot of the film because I can't see anyone else being capable of playing that role.

  3. I've never noticed a similarity between Ewan McGregor and Malcolm Mcdowell, but now that you've mentioned it I can see it and I bet I'll keep noticing it whenever I rewatch the film from now on!

    I really hope they don't remake it, I can't imagine a single director who could tackle this film with the darkness and depth it needs. That said they're always remaking my favourite movies and they very rarely (if ever- I can't think of an example atm)improve it, and more often than not spoil the original for me in the process.

  4. I'm never a fan of remakes, although I make an exception for caper films. I thought Ocean's Eleven and The Italian Job were both decent remakes. Other than that, I can't think of a single reboot that I've liked.

    I was floored the first time I saw the resemblance and I think it took Trainspotting for me to see it. I'm used to sweet, innocent Ewen McGregor, but in that film he was anything but.

  5. Well, now I really do need to watch this movie. The book was great, so I'm not sure why i haven't got around to watching the movie. I'll get back to you...

  6. I've seen the original Italian Job but I never saw the original Oceans so I'll have to take your word for it there, thought I did enjoy George Clooney..gosh he's dashing!

  7. Two Bibliomaniacs: Hope that you enjoy it; it's really a great film. I can't say that I've loved everything that Kubrick's done, but out of all his films, this is my favorite (with Dr. Strangelove in second place).

    Kayleigh: Someday I want to *be* George Clooney. If that's not possible, then I at least want to dress like him in that film. Despite the fact that I'm dirt-poor, I will one day own a closet full of designer suits and swanky ties.

    As for the Italian Job, it sparked my enduring love for Minis...except for those sporty ones and the "what-the-hell-were-they-thinking" convertibles. Why would you do that to what was already a great car? LOL