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Where do you even begin when exploring Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, an infamous film on many levels. This is a movie that would become a part of cinematic folklore, its complex and uncomfortable themes continuing to burrow into the minds of new viewers, causing a mix of excitement, disgust and intrigue. Here the sheer genius of the man who brought it to the big screen continues to haunt both the public and critical view of its place in cinematic history.
Based on Anthony Burgess’s novel of the same name, Kubrick’s adaptation encapsulated the slow-burning fears of the era in which it was born. Here, growing concerns of increasing crime and youth rebellion dovetailed with a sense of urgent social revolution. In Britain, the hope and optimism of the 1960s were fading in a new period of social change. While in the United States, the Vietnam conflict and a lack of equality had sparked massive social unrest. Kubrick was, of course, no stranger to socially reflective filmmaking. But, in choosing to adapt the work of Burgess, Kubrick would create a film that would challenge the very foundations of cinema.
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Kubrick laches onto a sense of youthful rebellion and change by dissecting the utopian modernist vision of the 1960s. The vast and sprawling concrete housing estates supposed to bring happiness transformed into monolithic mazes of crime and violence. Indeed, this vision would become a reality in many British 60s housing estates by the late 1970s and early 1980s. Kubrick’s dystopian world, inspired mainly by Orwell, viewed society as a place where increased violence fed increased governmental control, again foretelling a rise in government intervention and public fear of uncontrollable young people.
But Kubrick didn’t stop there by allowing controversial themes of what we now call toxic masculinity to invade the cinema screen. Here the large codpieces worn by Alex and his band of goons sit alongside themes of male social conditioning as shocking sexual violence takes centre stage. In the dystopian society, Kubrick’s male violence is rewarded and punished, urging us to question the constructs of male behaviour, sexuality and power.
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 viewer to search their moral compass in assessing Alex and his actions. Here its core themes are still relevant today as our society attempts to dissect toxic masculinity and issues of social freedom, crime and choice against a backdrop of increased social surveillance and state intervention. The result is one of the most complex social horrors ever committed to celluloid—an uncomfortable, challenging dissection of the individual and state that continues to wield extraordinary power.