A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick, 1971)

Kubrick’s ouvre can be divided into two basic groups: those where his cold, observational style suits his material and those where it doesn’t. Of those in which it doesn’t, perhaps A Clockwork Orange demonstrates why most clearly. The reason the source novel is so effective is that in making teenage antihero Alex so warm and funny – so attractive – we retain more than enough sympathy towards him to believe that his violence must be more than freak pathology. The superego-ego-id framework within which the novel places and discusses him is convincing and therefore disturbing. The notions of individual agency, societal hypocrisy, and so on that are in play in the novel are elevated to a state of real urgency. In Kubrick’s movie, Alex and his droogs are exotic beings coolly observed at distance, and the world he lives in and the actions he commits are therefore a diverting but arbitrary fantasy. Any cultural, political, or psychological comment is lost. Symptomatically, as Alex Malcolm McDowell was either miscast as someone far too old to convince as a teenager or simply was not intended to: despite his strong performance, either is a mistake. He, like the movie, is visually captivating but not at all relatable. Accordingly, the movie as a whole is memorable on a technical level alone.

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