A Clockwork Orange - what's so great?

I didn’t like it either. I don’t understand the big hullabaloo about Kubrick either. His style just seems so self-indulgent. It was basically pitched to me as the greatest movie ever made, so that might have affected my judgment. I thought it was an interesting idea he was working with, but the idea never connected for me while I was watching the film. I’m not trying to be a dissenting pain in the ass, I just don’t think he’s amazing.

I hope you feel duly validated, Max.

I wasn’t particularly wowed by Clockwork Orange, but if directing Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lolita, and The Shining doesn’t vault you to the top of directordom, I’m not sure what will.

I think one of the reasons it’s great (or not!) is that just in this thread we have three or for interpretations of what the major theme of the movie is.

Me? I’ll take Bart Simpson dressed as Alex for Halloween, please.

You’re right, very vague phrase. Good art direction and excellent cinematography. Excellent direction. Nothing in the center, intellectually or morally speaking. An Andy Hardy flick had more going for it.

If by that you mean mean-spirited enjoyment of human cruelty, why yes, it is quite pervasive.

It’s not quite clear at all. The ‘experiment’ Alex is forced to undergo struck me as a pathetic straw man, a cheap stand-in for a rational approach to crime prevention instead of the muddled moralistic mess that the film would be advocating if it had any of that clarity you speak of. Which it doesn’t.

I don’t feel the film “advocates” anything. The experiement’s on Alex are a wonderful caricature of the approach it’s easy to take when dealing with the things that offend our sence of justice the most.

The film stands as a warning to that style of thought, not as a suggestion. As people have said it addresses issues that were shocking and offensive, but issues that existed at the time, and perhaps more so today.

I agree with you on the dark, sardonic humor.

I also agree a bit with the intellectually muddled, although I wouldn’t go as far as “muddled.” I’ve always thought that Kubrick, for all his artistic genius, tends to be slightly indifferent to the intellectual cohesiveness of his source material. The book is not intellectually muddled at all. What ends up in the film is what Kubrick selected as having the most emotional and visual impact, and as usual, his eye is right on. The clarity of the book’s intellectual themes didn’t seem to be a priority for him. It’s not that he didn’t get it, or got it wrong … just not overly concerned with it.

I don’t mean for this to be one of those limp excuses for a movie where people say oh, but you’ve got to read the book, because a film should stand on its own almost every time. And this does stand on its own, but its strengths are not the book’s strengths.

Nobody ever mentions the throwaway line when the minister of the interior/inferior is inspecting the prison: they’re developing the Ludovic treatment for violent criminals to free up cell space for political prisoners.

A legitimate critical concern is why Burgess had to pose free will way, way at the other end of the spectrum, with kids robbing, raping and beating people. Couldn’t they just stick firecrackers into mailboxes? But I guess Burgess had to reconcile his lapsed but resolute Catholicism (where everyone, not matter how bad, has a redeemable soul) with his wife’s assault by a gang of AWOL American GI’s. So it could have been worse - he could have written the Dirty Dozen.

Does anyone know why Burgess chose the name “Ludovic” for the treatment?

I’m a fan of the book, but I found the film annoying - Malcolm Macdowell and his gang strike me as coked-up public school boys more than anything; I know that ‘ultraviolence’ is supposed to be like a futuristic past-time, but they come across like a university ‘rag-week’ or something.

The most terrifying aspect of the film is the over-acting.

One of the main themes for me had to do with not just free-will, but the idea that a little conflict and violence are essential components of human nature, you remove them and you’re left with Switzerland and the cuckoo clock.

I haven’t seen the movie since high school though. I doubt I’d like it as much today, but it was the first movie I recall seeing with such graphic rape scenes.

You still don’t see disturbing rape scenes in movies very often.

Well, the name is an echo of “Ludwig,” as in Beethoven. And this may be a stretch, but given Burgess’s penchant for Joycean wordplay, I wouldn’t be surprised if he consciously intended something like play (Latin ludus; British board game Ludo) + vice or vicious.

I first saw Clockwork Orange in 1983. It was still an amazingly groundbreaking film at the time. There was nothing really like it. The imagery was astounding. I think seeing it today for the first time, so far removed from the turmoil of the late sixties that the movie would lose much of its value. I can understand why the Op would be left questioning the reputation of this movie.

I would also like to strongly suggest that Full Metal Jacket be added to the list of Stanley Kubrick’s great films.


Muddled? I think the fact that the movie is not advocating any point of view is the movie’s strength. Alex is an unrepentant psycopath; but the government’s plans for him are possibly an even worse threat to the public … the movie would not be improved by making Alex an innocent victim of an evil government, making the government a benevolent advocate of penal reform, or making the anti-government intellectuals heroic martyrs …

I far prefer the form of thought-provocation used in this movie to being spoon-fed an easy moral. The real point is to get one thinking about the problem, not to provide an easy answer.

Where the movie strays from the book, it redeems itself within leaving things open to people having to think about the consequences of both behavior, society, and “correction” of socially inappropriate behavior. Alex delights in his deviances because they bring him pleasure, but he is not seen as being completely villainous. After his correction, however, he is unable to have any pleasure in violent acts, and thus is eventually victimized by his own physical inability to defend himself. (This, of course, leads to the idea that he’s actually being punished for his “sins” by those whom he “sinned” against.) While the book got into the details a lot deeper and gave you more information to process in order to provoke you into thought over the different issues, movies generally don’t have time for this and tend to try to simplify the plot for best replication of the intended effect. In this treatment, there’s a lot of hyperactive visuals that are intended to stimulate the effect of the passages of the book within a shorter amount of time. Yes, it was groundbreaking and shocking in its time, but modern cinematic horrors have dulled the sense to which one can effectively react to this particular interpretation of the book.

My suggestion is to read the book. Much like the novel Crime and Punishment, any cinematic treatment is going to pale in comparison with the ideas that the author is trying to get the reader to contemplate. Generally with cinematic adaptations of novels that have a heavy cerebral element within the book are not going to be as satisfying as reading the book itself. (IMO, a lot of movies can’t catch the nuances and are about as effective as reading the cliff’s notes instead of the actual novel.)

Interesting viewpoint. By simply avoiding dealing with the moral conflicts that are at the heart of your story, you make your story stronger. I’m sure a LOT of filmmakers are taking notes on that one. Imagine how different Westerns would be:

“Sheriff, Awful Alex and his gang shot up the saloon, killed the preacher and raped the schoolmarm! Let’s get a posse together and shoot those motherfuckers deader’n my chances of winning an Academy Award for this role!”

“Now, just hold on here a minute, Pistol Pete! Suppose we do get up a posse and run Awful Alex down and kill or capture him and his gang. Then what? You know them fuzzy-minded penitentiary boys will just make 'em watch movies and make 'em drink ipecac and listen to that goldurned Yurapeen music until they turn good. You want that?”

“HELL, no!”

“Course not. So here’s what we’re a-gonna do. We’ll just stand around a bit and gaze into the sunset and think about morality and the potential for human redemption and such. Maybe deputize a couple of Alex’s boys. It’s kinda rough on the preacher and the schoolmarm and such, but it’s the human condition. We can’t be expected to actually do anything about it.”

I think if you offer a film with that much rape and violence and you don’t deal with the issues it presents in a thoughtful way, you’re essentially just glorifying in the rape and the violence. You’re no better than one of those films where women get explicitly raped and beaten up for and hour and 15 minutes, but it’s OK because they get their revenge in the last 15 minutes.

So, I’d say “A Clockwork Orange” is morally and intellectually on par with a film like Mothers Day which is to say, very, very low indeed.

I have to be fair here. I thought “The Shining” was phenomenal, and I’m not a horror fan. I haven’t seen 2001: A Space Odyssey but I’ve seen eleven million parodies of it. I just don’t like the way he let the camera sit on the same damn thing forever in “A Clockwork Orange.” There was an underlying subtext: “Look! Isn’t this such a controversial movie? Look! A woman’s getting raped! Look! Gratuitous violence! Did you notice how controversial and intellectual it is? Did you notice, did you?” It doesn’t work for me.

So, any movie which, unlike a Western, does not have good guys wearing white hats fighting bad guys wearing black hats is morally suspect?

I guess you didn’t like Unforgiven. :stuck_out_tongue:

Do you really think that the message of Clockwork Orange is that we should not fight evil because evil is just too darn ambiguous? I thought the movie was thought provoking, but I can’t fault the movie for provoking silly thoughts.

You are entiltled to your opinion. I do not share it, needless to say.

To my mind, the violence in Clockwork Orange was an integral part of the plot, raises and is intended to raise important issues, and is thus far from pornographic.

What exactly do you mean by “thoughtful way”? Your Western analogy leads me to believe that a revenge by the “good guys” is something you would approve of as morally “unmuddled” and thus good. :dubious:

They weren’t ignored; it’s just that they weren’t oversimplified into black and white. Are moral issues simple in real life?

Westerns are great fun, I’m sure, but for the most part, I don’t consider the genre to be thought-provoking cinema. If you think A Clockwork Orange should have been as transparent as a spaghetti western, I can see why you didn’t like it.

The fact that it avoids simplistic moralizing is precisely the reason it’s a great story. To borrow a phrase out of a synopsis I read, the story is an “ironic fable about a future in which men lose their capacity for moral choice”. If you wonder why there’s no morality in the story, you have completely missed the point of the film.

And what Kubric did with it was quite impressive. The juxtposition of scenes of graphic violence over happy, joyful music creates a really interesting surreal effect. The electronic music probably sounds dated now, but it was cutting-edge at the time. I think he did a great job of capturing the essence of the stark future socialist society in which the story takes place. In the eerie prison and hospital scenes especially, he gives life to the dystopia envisioned in the book.

I can’t really judge the movie on its own as far as how much sense it makes, etc, because I read the book before I saw the movie, so I already understood the internal logic and philosopies, etc that were in the movie. Kind of like the original movie version of Dune… people who had read the book saw it as an audiovisual summary of a story they knew. People who hadn’t read the book had a hard time following wtf was going on. Not sure to what degree ACO fits into that category.

That said, I really enjoyed both the book and the movie.

Wow. I’d have to say that A Clockwork Orange is very much about the issues presented: it’s practically a morality tale, in that the strongest point of the movie is not simply what takes place, but the moral and political consequences and responsibilities of what takes place. I’d have to say that your understanding–even your experience–of this movie is about 180 degrees from mine. It’s possible that the fact that the rape takes such a central importance for you, to the extent that it blots out all other considerations, is kind of revealing.


In any case, I don’t think anyone could “get” this movie 100% unless they were in the audience the year it opened, it’s so much a product of its time. To see it later, the more effort one makes to be familiar with that historical context, the more one is likely to get out of it. If you see it thirty years after the fact, with zero consideration of its historical context, you’re not likely to get anything out of it at all. There’s a spectrum there, I think. Visually, for example, the more you know about Warhol and Lichtenstein and the Op Art movement and all that, and the more you realize that the visuals were pretty avante garde for the day, the more likely you are to see them as intended: a vision of a future culture in which “today’s” ultramodern style has become the old-fashioned style of old people. A vast oversimplification, but that’s just one point about the visuals. The issues of war and torture that were part of every evening’s Viet Nam War coverage on the news were a major backdrop for this movie, as was the deteriorating false-optimism of the “flower child” sensibility of the late sixties. This film is very much a satire of its day, and the more conscious you are of that while watching it the more sense it makes.

To judge it simply as stand-alone entertainment is to miss a great deal of its significance.

(It’s also interesting to consider it against the original version: Kubrick’s was kind of a remake; Andy Warhol had done a version of the Burgess novel, titled Vinyl, six years before.)