Ultra-violence, drugs, sex, crime, punishment and the human capacity for evil are just a few of the subjects covered by one of the most talked about releases in all of movie history.
With its outlandish characters, outrageous costumes and memorable direction, Stanley Kubrick’s outrageous dystopian pantomime creates a world which is both totally unrealistic and yet unsettlingly familiar. Nothing in this retro-futuristic fantasy looks or sounds quite like the world we know, which helps to keep the viewer off-balance during the whole cinematic experience. Like a blurry photocopy, the costumed facsimile of Alex and his droogs kind of resembles something from our everyday experience, even though it’s a misshapen and fuzzy representation of the reality we all share.
As we follow Alex on his journey from joyously psychotic gang leader, to reluctant prisoner, through willing guinea pig and political patsy, we know we’re watching a psychodrama set in an imagined world, yet that does nothing to quell a strange yet poorly defined feeling of unease this movie often conjures in its audience.
Although the themes are timeless, the grey, brutalist concrete world Alex and his cohorts inhabit is indicative of an era that spawned a whole library of dark, gritty and unrelentingly challenging films. A Clockwork Orange distils, extracts and exemplifies that knowing sense of social unease threaded through movies like Taxi Driver and Dirty Harry as they reflect on a bitter harvest of alienation, violence and social dysfunction sowed by the post-war consensus.
This is why A Clockwork Orange still resonates with audiences to this day. On the subconscious and collective levels, we recognise this film as a by-product of our religious adherence to malleable ideas of progress, re-heated and served back to us in this oddly sour yet compelling cultural concoction. We see the big, difficult questions in the background, while the folly of ignoring them is acted out by the characters portrayed on screen. We may not know Alex in person, but we know only too well where he comes from…although we don’t really like to admit it.
It’s rare for any single movie to be quite so influential on popular culture as A Clockwork Orange, but Kubrick’s expertly off-kilter adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ insightful novella has created some of the most instantly recognisable imagery of the entire twentieth century. The controversy surrounding on-screen violence and real-world murder which swirled around this movie during the 1970s has elevated it to the status of a cultural artefact, rather than just a very well made and oddly disturbing film. Whether it means to or not, A Clockwork Orange says something unsettling about who we are as individuals, governments and societies, and the questions it asks of us are difficult to answer.