A Clockwork Orange (18)
The film business is a funny old world.
Twelve months after the sudden death of auteur Stanley Kubrick as he put the finishing touches to what would be his epitaph, Eyes Wide Shut, the canny studio chiefs at Warner Bros have re-negotiated the ban on Kubrick’s essay on ultraviolence.
A Clockwork Orange has attained near mythic status since Kubrick hauled it from British cinema screens almost 30 years ago, mainly due to the rumour mill which has grown around it and which has been fuelled largely by people who have not seen it.
Adapted from Anthony Burgess’s impenetrable novel, the film follows the journey of ultraviolent thug Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) and his gang of droogs who roam the countryside of a surreal future Britain raping and murdering at will.
Caught and incarcerated by the authorities, Alex is selected as a guinea pig for a new form of extreme aversion therapy known as the Ludovico Treatment, which has been designed to shock criminals into recoiling from violent images, and therefore violence.
Kubrick’s approach is to make Alex and his droogs (among them a young and hefty Warren Clarke from TV’s Dalziel and Pascoe) the core of a story in which the state embodies the real violence, and in which brutality is endemic and the very nature of the politicians and fascist authoritarian rulers ensures physical and sexual violence are always bubbling just beneath the surface.
The film also examines in detail the nature of the human animal and his approach to life and death. Alex, continually on a search for sensation, leads his gang on expeditions in search of sexual gratification and physical exultation.
In one sequence a helpless down-and-out is mercilessly beaten; in another, an old man and his younger wife find themselves powerless to resist as Alex and Co break into their home and rape the wife in front of her husband, who has already received a brutal kicking to the strains of Singin’ in the Rain.
This is stylised, disturbing stuff, expertly realised and delivered by Kubrick as an audacious mixture of farce and horror. Thirty years after its original release, more contemporary films have taken the visceral thrill away from A Clockwork Orange. Nevertheless, some of the shock factor remains.
Kubrick’s genius makes an unfilmable book into a devastating film. As we ease ourselves into the Millennium, it is potentially easy to dismiss A Clockwork Orange as so much old hat – a notorious film of the past that betrays its origins and appears creaky and cobwebbed.
Don’t be fooled. Even three decades on, it offers an intelligent exploration of the nature of free will and self-expression, with McDowell the physical incarnation of the Freudian id running amok.
The movie made McDowell and, indeed, he has spent almost his entire professional career welded to the image of Alex. Only now, with the re-release of this astounding socio-political satire, can modern audiences really understand what all the fuss was about.