Sunday, December 24, 2017

What Can I Say About A Clockwork Orange That Hasn't Already Been Said?

Just in time for Christmas, I watched A Clockwork Orange off my DVR. It's available in multiple formats, so I"m OK doing a full-length post on it. Having said that, I'm not certain this is going to be quite a conventional post: I have to admit that while A Clockwork Orange is generally considered a masterpiece, I found that it left me generally cold.

Most people probably already know the basic story. Malcolm McDowell plays Alex, leader of an adolescent gang called the Droogs (which I'd guess comes from the Russian word for "friend", because a lot of badly-pronounced Russian gets used in the movie). They commit what they call "ultraviolence", which as you can guess is more violent than regular violence. Eventually Alex gets caught by the police after one of the violent acts after the rest of the gang revolts against him.

Alex gets sent ot prison, where he becomes a seemingly model prisoner because he wants to get the hell out of there. He's given a chance at parole when scientists come up with a new method of reforming violent criminals that basically involves conditioning physical violence out of people by making them violently ill at the thought of committing violence. However, this conditioning causes problems when Alex gets out of prison.

So why did A Clockwork Orange leave me cold? One thing I already mentioned, the use of badly-pronounced Russian. I happened to major in Russian in college, so I was eventually able to figure out what all of the references were supposed to be, but what I couldn't figure out was what point this proved. Apparently this was from the original Anthony Burgess novel, so I probably shouldn't be too critical of director Stanley Kubrick for using it in the movie. But there doesn't seem to be any good artistic or plot-driven reason for it.

There was a lot in the visual style of the movie that I didn't care for either. A lot of the scenes seemed almost sterile and choreographed, and highly unnatural. It was almost like watching a Busby Berkeley musical minus the music. I was reminded at times of some of the scenes and pacing from The Big Lebowski, another movie that left me cold. Kubrick I think used a similar style (at least to me) in 2001, except that the obviously futuristic nature of that movie makes it work. Even though A Clockwork Orange is supposedly set in a dystopic near-future, the dystopic nature of it probably ought to make the sets look the worse for wear. The lower classes' apartments in Soylent Green, for example, are suitably lousy; Alex and his parents' apartment is much too nice.

The third act of the story was also a problem for me, eventually resulting in an ending I found too abrupt and a final scene that didn't really fit in terms of character development.

The one thing that didn't bother me was the violence. I don't particularly care for sex scenes, of which this has a lot, but that wasn't much of a problem here since they're clearly needed to advance the plot. The violence, while brutal, was also needed to advance the plot. True, a lot of it seems choreographed, but the mere fact that it was violent didn't disturb me the way it apparently did some critics at the time.

Ultimately, I'm glad I finally got around to seeing A Clockwork Orange, but it's not the sort of movie I'm particularly interested in revisiting. Considering the critical praise the movie generally gets however, this is definitely one that other viewers should judge for themselves.

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