Removed from British screens by its director just two years after its release. A Clockwork Orange has become part of cinematic folklore. It’s complicated and uncomfortable themes continuing to burrow into the minds of new audiences 49 years later; the sheer genius of the man who brought it to the big screen haunting the public and critical opinion of its worth. Coupled with a 26-year ban of the film here in the UK that only acted as a lightning rod in furthering its appeal.
Based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, Kubrick’s adaptation encapsulated the fears of the era to which it was born. By reflecting growing concerns of increasing crime, violence and poverty; the hopes and optimism of the 1960s fading in a new era of social change. With Kubrick layering this reflection with a dissection of the utopian modernist vision of the 1960s; a decade that had led to sprawling concrete housing estates and a declining standard of living. His view of the future based on a society where random acts of violence were laced with misogyny and increased governmental control; a vision that remains tough, relentless and foreboding to this day.
But Kubrick didn’t stop there, ensuring the themes of masculinity and social conditioning present in the book made it to the screen. From the large codpieces worn by Alex and his band of goons, through to the conditioning of young men as sexual and violent creatures. In a society that both rewarded male violence and also refuted it. In turn, creating a film that duly unpicked masculinity in the face of social change. While questioning our very constructs of male position, sexuality and conditioning.
A Clockwork Orange was designed to upset and challenge, by reflecting the very worse effects of individual violence and unbridled state control. While in turn, asking each and viewer to search their moral compass in assessing Alex and his actions. Creating a film where the core themes continue to echo down the years. As societies continue to struggle with the interface between freedom, choice, crime and masculinity.
Maybe it is due to this that Kubrick’s masterpiece continues to divide public opinion and challenge our world view. Within a story that remains both unnerving and compelling in equal measure. Its depictions of mindless violence and humiliation reflected in modern society. At the same time, as our vision on how to combat these has become wrapped in a digital world, where states only seek to increase public monitoring further. If this is indeed the case, then A Clockwork Orange was way ahead of its time, its themes still acting as a mirror to a society blindly walking off a cliff.
Whatever thoughts and feelings you may have on Kubrick’s masterpiece, including whether you love it or hate it. A Clockwork Orange continues to be one of the most discussed and dissected films of the 1970s. Ensuring each viewer walks away with something new, different or upsetting from its dystopian nightmare. Ultimately creating an atmosphere of both dismay and empathy for Alex that continues to unsettle viewers to this day.
Director: Stanley Kubrick