Removed from British screens by its director just two years after its release. A Clockwork Orange has become part of cinematic folklore. Its complicated and uncomfortable themes continue 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. And when coupled with a 26-year ban of the film here in the UK, this only acted as a lightning rod to further its appeal.
Based on Anthony Burgess’s novel, Kubrick’s adaptation encapsulated the fears of the era to which it was born. Reflecting growing concerns of increasing crime, violence and poverty, the hope and optimism of the 1960s fading in a new period of 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 future vision was based on a society where random acts of violence were laced with misogyny and increased governmental control, an image that remains tough, relentless, and foreboding.
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. At the same time, questioning our very constructs of male position, sexuality and conditioning.
A Clockwork Orange was designed to upset and challenge by reflecting the 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, core themes that continue to echo down the years. Our modern society continuing to struggle with the interface between freedom, choice, crime and masculinity.
Maybe it is because Kubrick’s masterpiece continues to divide public opinion and challenge our world view that it remains so relevant. Its story both terrifying and compelling in equal measure. Meanwhile, its depictions of mindless violence and humiliation continue to be reflected in modern society. The only difference now is that these themes are wrapped in a digital world, where states seek to increase public monitoring. 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 hatred and empathy that continues to unsettle viewers to this day.
Director: Stanley Kubrick