tek's rating: ½

A Clockwork Orange (R)
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This is based on the 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess, which I haven't read (but I do own). It came out in 1971 (four years before I was born). It was directed by Stanley Kubrick. I believe I first saw it in a film class in college, around 1995 or 96. I'm writing this review after seeing it again on DVD in 2020. Um... so, I could easily file it under "weird movies," but I'm going with dystopian, because I think pretty much every angle from which characters (or viewers) can possibly look at it is dystopian, not really good for anybody. I don't understand too much about the society in which it's set, but crime does seem to be rampant. The focus is on a teenager named Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell), who is the leader of a group of four delinquents (including himself), who are fond of engaging in "ultraviolence," including badly beating people and raping women. At one point, a woman Alex beats ends up dying, and he goes to jail for murder. Eventually, he gets accepted into an experimental program that would allow him to be released early. Basically, he gets brainwashed so that he feels terribly sick whenever he wants to hurt anyone, physically or sexually. There are some people who are very opposed to this procedure, as it negates free will and doesn't really make bad people "good." Also, I think there is some fear that the government could use it against their own citizens, but that's where my understanding gets fuzzy. All I know is that Alex becomes a pawn for political purposes.

Well. There were rather few bits that I have always remembered about the movie. Like, it has some really good music (and I own the soundtrack). And Alex is particularly fond of Ludwig van Beethoven, especially his 9th Symphony. And one point I particularly recalled was that the brainwashing played that in the background at one point, which horrified Alex because he realized it meant he'd never be able to listen to it again without being sick. In fact, that point gets used against him later, but I hadn't remembered that. Other things I remembered about the movie included the Korova milk bar, where Alex and his droogs (i.e., friends) liked to hang out. And speaking of droogs, perhaps the most memorable thing about the movie is all the slang people use, most of it derived from Russian words. Some words can easily be understood by context, others kind of went over my head. But it doesn't matter, it just sounds cool, whether spoken by characters or heard in Alex's narration of the film. I also remembered Alex's droogs turning on him at one point after his release from prison (I had forgotten that they turned on him before he went to prison, and that he himself had sort of turned on them before that, just to keep them from staging a sort of coup against him. But the most notable thing about the second time they turn on him is that they (or at least two of them) have become police, which seemed pretty ironic and improbable to me, the first time I watched the movie. Now I see it as part of the dystopian nature of the film, how such brutal people can become police, but I no longer see it as particularly ironic, because I've since come to realize how common that sort of thing is in the real world (which itself can be rather dystopian).

Anyway, the whole movie is weird, and the whole society is disturbing. And I don't really understand the actual "message" of the movie, if there even is one. Like, I think both factions of the government, I mean rival political parties, which we don't get to know much about, are pretty bad. I believe the brainwashing itself is bad, but un-brainwashing Alex is also a bad idea, because... well, we don't get to see what will ultimately come of that, but I can't believe it would lead to anything but Alex going back to his old ways. So any way you slice it, things are pretty terrible. Yet somehow, it manages to be sort of a fun (if deeply disturbing) movie... which it really shouldn't be. It's all because Alex is fun to listen to, I think. He's a horrible human being who just happens to be sort of fascinating. Partly I think it's because McDowell does such a great job portraying him, and partly... like I said, the slang is cool. And really, the people who want to use or abuse him are just as bad, in their own ways.


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