ADSactly Cinema: Cult Movies - A Clockwork Orange
Hello, dear @adsactly readers and cinema lovers. Today we continue our exploration of the best cult movies ever made with Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 ’A Clockwork Orange’, a surrealistic tale of an ultra-violent dystopian future and the dangers of psychological reconditioning. Based on Anthony Burgess’ novel of the same title, the movie follows the story of a young sociopath, Alex DeLarge, played by Malcolm McDowell, who, together with his friends, commits a series of vile crimes.
Its title is out there, on any cult movies list, although it is an unlikely candidate. Whereas most cult movies flopped on their original release and hardly made any money, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ did fairly well at the box-office and was nominated for the most important awards in the film industry. However, it is considered today as a cult movie mainly because of the controversies it generated and the fact it was banned in many countries on account of its extreme violence and graphic sex scenes.
It is hard to define the future depicted in the movie. Alex calls his friends droogs, term inspired from the Russian word for friend. Their slang is heavily based on Russian, while the street art seems inspired by Soviet realist art. All this made many say the dystopian society Alex lives in is communist. However, the Minister of the Interior who subjects Alex to aversion therapy is a definitely right-wing character. Both are totalitarian regimes and the differences between are insignificant. As Kubrick himself said ‘They differ only in their dogma. Their means and ends are hardly distinguishable.’
The film’s main moral questions are the nature of goodness and free-will.
In Kubrick’s own words, the movie is:
‘A social satire dealing with the question of whether behavioral psychology and psychological conditioning are dangerous new weapons for a totalitarian government to use to impose vast controls on its citizens and turn them into little more than robots.’
Kubrick shares Anthony Burgess’ loathing of behavioral psychology, very popular at the time. According to psychologist B.F.Skinner the key to creating an ideal society was to be found in operant conditioning, that is learned behaviors via rewards and punishment techniques.
Following the murder of the ‘cat lady’, the film’s protagonist is sent to jail. Two years into his sentence, Alex is offered the chance to be cured of his violent behavior, by undergoing the newest treatment invented by the Ministry of the Interior, the Ludovico technique, a form of aversion therapy.
Strapped to a chair, injected with drugs, Alex is forced to watch violent scenes while listening to the music of his favorite composer, Ludwig van Beethoven, until he is pronounced cured.
’It is a story of the dubious redemption of a teenage delinquent by condition-reflex therapy. It is, at the same time, a running lecture on free-will.’
Is Alex’s newly-found goodness for real? The Ministry believes the Ludovico cure will cut crime, while a priest in the movie points out Alex has been robbed of his free-will, which makes his good behavior without any real merit. It does not come from his heart.
Kubrick’s adaptation is fairly faithful to the novel, but the ending deviates from it, omitting the book’s redemptive final chapter. Whereas, in the book, we are left with Alex contemplating a reformed life, the movie ends with the protagonist realizing the therapy has failed and his violent nature is still there.
A brief description of the plot is enough to understand the controversies the movie generated. While some critics called it a ‘beautiful, but dangerous’ work of art, others vilified Kubrick for the film’s pornography. Some pointed out that, by focusing on the protagonist’s suffering, his victims are dehumanized. On its initial release, the film was X-rated in the US, while Catholic organizations banned their members from watching it.
In the United Kingdom, a string of violent crimes were blamed on the movie, making Kubrick to withdraw the film. The film was re-released only in 1999, following the death of Stanley Kubrick. The same thing happened in many other countries.
However, by the time authorities around the world deemed the film acceptable, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ already enjoyed a strong following of devoted fans. The film circulated on VHS tapes and later on DVDs, its popularity growing by word of mouth, especially among the young. Not surprising, since the movie is centered on a group of young men.Even if Alex and his droogs express their anger by means of sickening crimes, what motivates them is rebellion. And it is the privilege of the young to rebel against the established norms of a society. The movie’s social conditioning technique is grossly exaggerated, but it certainly rang a bell to the film’s young fans, worried that society is trying to do the same to them, albeit in more subtle ways. It is not surprising that the movie’s poster could be found in students’ dorms around the world and young people everywhere held midnight viewing parties.
At the same time, many punk bands emerging in the 1980s modeled their stage outfits on the movie’s costumes and the young listeners in the crowd had no trouble recognizing the reference.
David Bowie, dressed as Alex DeLarge
David Bowie used Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the beginning of his concerts from the Ziggy Stardust period, while his stage costumes where inspired from the movie. John Bonham of Led Zeppelin also appeared on stage dressed like Alex. Later on, Gun N’Roses referenced the Ludovico technique by having Axl Rose strapped to a chair forced to watch violent images in the 1987 video for ‘Welcome to the Jungle’. Marilyn Manson also dressed up as Alex DeLarge, in his 2018 video for ‘Tattooed in Reverse’.The late Heath Ledger stated he was inspired by the character of Alex in his portrayal of the Joker in ‘The Dark Night’(2008).
Kubrick’s film is referenced is countless other movies, animated series, novels and even video games. All this only goes to show why‘A Clockwork Orange’ is one of the greatest cult movies ever made and Stanley Kubrick one of the most influential directors of the 20th century.