‘What’s it going to be then, eh?’ – this was the very phrase that sprang to mind when I was wondering which film to write about next and, as those who have seen Stanley Kubrick‘s seminal A Clockwork Orange (1971) or read Anthony Burgess‘s equally brilliant novel (of which it is the first line) will know, this is just about the only utterance by young Alex Delarge (Malcolm McDowell) in the film that is not touched by Nadsat, the blend of classical/literary references and street argot that is spoken by Alex and his ‘droogs’ (friends) in the Britain of the future that forms the story’s setting.
Did I say ‘future’? Well, let’s just say that the film and novel are set ‘the day after tomorrow’ and, as anyone who knows the narrative and modern British society will tell you, the horrors on display here are more likely a lot closer than that.
Alex is a streetwise, charismatic and intelligent young man who, along with enjoying ‘a bit of the old in-out, in-out’ and more than his fair share of ‘ultraviolence’ is also a huge fans of the work of Ludvig Van Beethoven – his Mum (Sheila Raynor) and Dad (Philip Stone) are (almost) blissfully unaware of their son’s nocturnal activities, but the authorities are closing in and, when Alex goes a little too far and murders the solitary oddball ‘Catlady’ (Miriam Karlin), before being deserted by his droogs Dim (Warren Clarke), Georgie (James Marcus) and Deltoid (Aubrey Morris), he is sent to jail for life. But, when he hears about the new ‘reclamation therapy’ Ludovico Treatment that is being touted as a way of dealing with the bestial urges of youth, Alex sees it as nothing more than a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. He couldn’t be more wrong…
Kubrick’s film works so very well, for this reviewer, because of its peerless combination of moods, mores and subversion – as with all the very best films that deal with the notion of the complicit observing audience, there is more than enough sex and violence served to satisfy the Peeping Tom in us all, but then Kubrick’s daring places us as viewers into a very uncomfortable position. Simply put, we know that we should not have any sympathy for the sociopathic Alex but, such is the tyranny of the society that is his captor, we have little choice and, by the time that the film ends (‘I was cured, alright’), the audience is left in a complete moral dilemma.
In addition, A Clockwork Orange is filled with set-pieces that could only be Kubrick – the ‘Vellocet Bar’ opening, the murder of Catlady, the truly disturbing rape (Viddy well, little brother…’) of the wife of the kindly Mr Alexander (Patrick Magee) who foolishly lets Alex and Co. into his country house, the fast-motion congress between Alex and two young girls with the William Tell Overture as a backdrop and the Ludovico Treatment itself, all could only ever have been committed to film by Kubrick – no other director would have had the guts.
And, while I should perhaps be ashamed to admit it, the movie as a whole is simply riotous fun. Don’t agree with me? ‘Well, come and get one in the yarbles, if ya have any yarbles, you eunuch jelly thou!’