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A Clock Work Orange is considered one of the greatest films made by critically acclaimed director Stanley Kubrick. Based on the 1962 book by Anthony Burgess, the film tells the tale of the disturbed psychopath Alex and his violent gang of thugs he calls the droogs. Alex and his gang engage in a series of violent assaults and rapes, which they call “ultra violence,” in a not so distant dystopic future. The turn of the film occurs when Alex is arrested by police for a particularly violent murder and is forced to undergo a process of forced rehabilitation. The absolute brilliance of Kubrick’s film is that he forces the audience to feel pity and empathy for the what would otherwise be a truly disgusting character as Alex is tortured and made to suffer. The film uses standard science-fiction conventions to investigate several interesting topics, including the nature of justice an free will. Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 masterpiece A Clock Work Orange is a brilliant cinematic masterpiece due its ability to not only feel revulsion towards their own prejudices, but also for its ability to make the viewer empathize with a truly barbaric and disgusting character.
A Clock Work Orange greatest effect is the sense of moral revulsion that it creates in its viewer. The film does a magnificent job of challenging the viewer’s cultural assumptions about morality by juxtaposing a brutal character like Alex with the torture that he endures after undergoing the Ludivico Technique. Within the first 20 minutes of the film Alex steals a car, cripples a man, rapes his wife, has sex with two underage girls, and finally murders a woman in cold blood. In every conceivable manner, Kubrick molds Alex as the despicable villain character type. He kills, steals, and rapes without regard to any human life other than his own. Even when he enters the prison system, he attempts to adopt religion to manipulate the Chaplain into giving him time off for good behavior. His only goal is to make it seem as if he has been reformed, that way be can be released and continue his sadistic campaign of “ultra-violence”. The audience is made to feel disgust for the character by Kubrick, which slowly turns into a desire to see Alex receive his just deserts for his actions.
Kubrick then turns the audience’s disgust for the character against them when Alex is forced to undergo a torturous process that makes him unable to engage in either sex or violence. As Alex faces retribution for his previous evil actions in satiation of the audience’s blood lust, something begins to change in the viewer. They begin to feel a sense of sympathy for the character. Alex is completely vulnerable in his conditioned state, unable to defend himself from the mercilessly vicious attacks perpetrated by those he had previously wronged. Alex is driven to such desperation that he even attempts to end his own life by jumping out of a window. The film forces the viewer to endure another bout of ultra-violence, but this time it is directed at Alex, and the viewer finds that it is not as fulfilling as they thought it would be.
Thus the viewer is faced with two ethical dilemmas. The first being whether it is justified to make a human suffer due to the suffering they have caused others, and the second being whether if goodness that is not done by choice is truly goodness at all. The film does an excellent job of making the audience confront these two issues and answer the questions themselves. At the end the viewer is shown that if Alex is allowed to revert from his conditioned state, he will simply return to the violent and sadistic lifestyle that he engaged in before. This forces the audience to explore their feelings along two diametrically opposed extremes. Should an individual be free to make their own decisions even if those decisions are the wrong one? And is revenge truly justice? And this is the brilliance of the film, Kubrick forces the viewer to intellectually engage with the film by shocking their sense of right and wrong.
For me this technique was highly effective. As the film began I found myself absolutely disgusted by Alex. I wanted the film to hurt him as much as he had hurt others, and the film was more than happy to satiate my blood lust. Yet as I watched the absolute brutality of how Alex was treated, I became disgusted by someone else, myself. I, like the angry mob in the film, had wanted to subject pain and suffering to another human being. I thought that it would be justice, but it served as little more than revenge. This is a highly powerful effect that I have never before seen used in a movie. The film turns your own prejudices against you, and this allows you to truly listen to what the film is trying to say to you about the nature of justice and free will
The film also uses recurring motifs to expound and expand on its themes. One of the recurring motifs in the film is the use of Nadsat. Nadsat is a slang that is made up of a combination of Russian and Cockney English, Alex uses nadsat to describe the dystopic world and situations that he finds himself in. As the viewer is introduced to the strange lingo of the droogs, nadsat seems confusing and lacks meaning. It creates a sense of alienation between the viewer and the film’s characters, as the use of heavy lingo makes it difficult for the audience to relate. The words lack easily definable meaning. As the movie progresses the viewer is given a better look at the world of the droogs, a world of random chaos and violence, a place where bad things happen to good people for no particular reason at all. The senselessness of the nadsat language perfectly captures the nihilistic violence inherent in the film,
Kubrick’s adaption of a Clockwork Orange is not only brilliant for its engaging philosophical themes and subject matter, but also for its technical and innovative use of camera angles and special effects. In one particular scene the movie shows from a first person point of view Alex jumping from a window. This unique effect was achieved by tying a camera to a box and dropping it from a three story window. In one of the film’s most famous scenes, there is a close-up of Alex’s face as he is surrounded by his droogs. He is drinking milk as he unblinkingly stares at the camera. This scene is incredibly powerful, as it strongly implies Alex’s malevolent ability to manipulate and control those around him for his own personal pleasure. The look in the character’s eyes as he sips milk is truly chilling due to the strong juxtaposition between the milk and the violent droogs. Interesting use of camera angles such as these are what make A Clock Work Orange such a great film.
Genre wise, A Clock Work Orange is mostly science-fiction. While science-fiction movies tend to involve futuristic or alien technologies, their main focus is to use these technologies to either challenge conventional thinking or to illustrate something about human nature. A Clock Work Orange uses the science-fictionesque Ludivico Technique as a convention to challenge the viewer’s conception of what is right and wrong. If such a device were to exist, would forcing an individual to commit good deeds make that person good? Is making a person be good against their will evil? The film doesn’t answer these questions, instead forcing the audience to come to terms with the ethical implications of such technology. And that’s exactly what a great science-fiction movie should do. In that regard A Clock Work Orange is very much like the movie Blade Runner, even though it lacks many of the heavy futuristic science-fiction elements. Blade Runner asks the question, what makes a human human? If a machine can feel, cry, and love, is it alive? The move is not about the technology per-se, but about the ethical and moral considerations brought up by the existence of such technology. Like Blade Runner, A Clock Work Orange does a terrific job of using science-fiction conventions to challenge the viewer’s assumptions about themselves and the world.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film A Clockwork Orange is one of the greatest cinematic masterpieces to ever be put to film. The film never insults the intelligence of its viewing audience, instead making their experience an integral part of the film. The character of Alex is used as a tool to force the viewer to confront their own ideas on freewill, justice, and revenge. Though Alex is shown as an unrepentant psychopath, the film asks, “Are the other characters justified in taking away his freewill? If free will is removed, than can any of Alex’s actions truly be called good? Is it justice to inflict pain and suffering on an individual just because they have done the same to others?”” The film provides the viewer with no sure answer to any of these questions, instead trusting the viewer to be intelligent enough to grapple with these issues themselves. The film perfectly uses the conventions of the science-fiction genre to challenge the viewer’s conventional thinking on morality. Not only is the film philosophically engaging, but it is also technically interesting as well. Kubrick pioneered several unique technological methods to create interesting and engaging scenes. One of the most standout examples is Kubrick’s technique of throwing a camera in a box out of a three story building to capture the first person view of falling. The film is a considered one of the greats of cinema for good reason, it lives up to its potential as one of the greatest science-fiction movies of all time.
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