Friday, April 24, 2009

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

I've been meaning to watch A Clockwork Orange ever since I heard about it over a decade ago. That day has finally come.

Firstly, to sum up the plot. The story is a narrative following the (mis)adventures of a sociopath named Alex, his eventual slip-up which leads to prison, the experimental psycho-pharmaceutical treatment he undergoes to be transformed - by the power of science - into a decent well-adjusted member of society, and his subsequent adventures.

The settings are rather extravagant, architecturally and in terms of fashion - like '70s kitsch taken to the extreme. I thought it was just a style choice initially, but supposedly the story is set in the near future (?), which might explain that. That would also explain the strange dialect of English they speak - the weird words they use, which you pick up on through context. I just thought it was Alex and his gang's own form of hipster slang, but maybe not.

The film definitely has a certain style to it, and it depicts a lot of sex and violence and depravity with a very bright and whimsical tone. Ultimately, I'm not sure whether to take the film as a satire, or a comedy, whether it's pure entertainment, or if it's supposed to have deeper meaning, or what. It's definitely entertaining, and quite humorous, but it also makes a lot of suggestions about good and evil and morals and ethics, and I was looking for some kind of statement in the end, but I was kind of left hanging. I'm not sure if I missed it, or if I wasn't supposed to be looking for it in the first place.

A few words about the experimental treatment Alex undergoes in prison. It seems a form of aversion therapy wherein the subject is given drugs to make him feel sick while being forced to watch films depicting depravity. Essentially, the purpose is to turn a sociopath's enjoyment of depravity into severe displeasure through conditioning. From a practical standpoint, assuming such a process works (as it does in the film), it could turn criminals into well-functioning individuals in society (theoretically, though I guess that doesn't really work out after all), thus reducing crime and also the strain that the incarceration of criminals puts on the rest of society (financially and whatnot). However, from a moral and ethical standpoint, it's really akin to brainwashing - taking away a person's ability to make a decision whether to pursue good or evil (effectively chaining the subject's free will), and forcing that person to adhere to "the will of the state".

Also, a few words on the depravity (sex and violence). I'm not sure if A Clockwork Orange is supposed to be a shocking or disturbing film - if it is, it neither really shocked nor disturbed me. Granted, I've seen a lot of depravity in films, and maybe it's just not as shocking in today's climate. I suspect that maybe the key is not that the sex and violence is disturbing, but that it's treated so whimsically. I don't know if that's supposed to make it more shocking, or if it's some kind of commentary about how we don't take it seriously, or what. I thought the infamous "singing in the rain" scene was quite entertaining, but after seeing Irreversible... well, it was like watching Disney.

I was disappointed that the potentially hottest scene in the film was all sped up. I think the scene worked very well as is, for comedic effect, and if it had played out normally, it would basically have been porn - but, those two chicks were hot (especially the blonde), and come on, the boots... Sigh, I'm kind of disappointed. Ah well.

[Editor's note: After writing this review, I was informed that the movie was based on a version of the original novel that had its final chapter cut. I then tracked down and read the story for comparison.]

Having now read the original story, the movie seems shallow in comparison, missing out on a large part of the point of the story. I mean, they never even explain what the hell a "clockwork orange" is in the movie! Having said that, I can't help feeling that the original ending is kind of sappy. Sure, it shows the character's growth, but after all that's gone on, it's a little hard to swallow. I think I can understand the reasoning behind cutting that part out, even though I still agree that cutting a chapter off of a story is a really stupid thing to do. I daresay, though, that if the movie had used the original ending, it may not have become so popular and hip. Because then all the sex and violence wouldn't be quite so unapologetic, and after all, isn't that what the hip young kids like?

No comments:

Post a Comment