Thursday, 10 June 2010

No Time For The Ol' In-Out, Love, I've Just Come To Read The Meter.

Many people still believe that A Clockwork Orange was in fact banned in the UK until 2000, but that isn't the case. It was released in early 1972, but withdrawn from distribution in 1973 by Stanley Kubrick, with him vowing it wouldn't be released until after his death. Apparently this is due to a number of death threats relating to the film that he and his family received - not surprising, really, considering the subject matter.

Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is the leader of his pack of 'droogs', a gang of violent social miscreants whose primary past-times involved getting high on milk-plus and engaging in a little of the in-out and ultra-violence. In the near future they wander the streets of London with little to fear, armed with simple weapons but incredible passion and enormous belief in their own superiority. Upon returning home, Alex will abuse his parents, engage in threesomes, and get himself motivated with some Ludwig van blaring through his state-of-the-art sound system.

Eventually, Alex gets nabbed by the police. After a couple of years and attempts to curry favour by getting close to the prison chaplain, a volunteer is requested for a new, experimental aversion therapy called the Ludovico technique, and with the promise of being released in a matter of weeks, Alex puts his hand up. The therapy involved being straightjacketed in front of a screen, with his eyes being held open whilst horrible scenes are played to soundtracks while drugs are given to him to create a sickened reaction. Similar to the Pavlovian experiments, where dogs could be trained to salivate at the sound of a bell, Alex is being conditioned to have a physical reaction to acts of violence or sexual arousement. It also has the unfortunate side effect of conditioning him to be repulsed by Beethoven.

After his treatment he is pronounced as cured, though the prison chaplain protests that he has lost any free will he might otherwise have had. This point is all to quickly realised in the outside world when Alex comes across two of his former droogs, who are now police officers and therefore superior to their once abusive leader. The take Alex out to the country and set upon him, with Alex not only unable to fight back, but ill simply at the blows landing upon his body. His two former droogs finally release him, almost dead, and he crawls to the house of a man he assaulted some years before, who doesn't immediately recognise him. When he does realise who Alex is, however, he locks him in a room on the upper floor of his and begins to play Beethoven downstairs at high volume with the speakers pointed to the ceiling. Alex cannot take it and attempts suicide by throwing himself out of the window.

In hospital, in traction, the Minister of the Interior comes to Alex and apologises for their inhumane treatment, and Alex realises that his treatment has been reversed. As a sign of regret Alex is offered an important government job... but is it really a good idea?

McDowell is iconic in this role. He would never really go on to do anything approaching this again. The fact that, almost forty years down the track, he is still recognised for this role speaks volumes as to how well he got into the skin of this character. Patrick Magee has a supporting role as the man in the country initially assaulted by Alex who then drives him to suicide, heightening his performance to match the extreme nature of the film. Kubrick of course is Kubrick, fastidious Kubrick, incredible Kubrick. You can see and feel him in every scene, every shot, every line delivery. The look of the production, deisgned by John Barry, was beautiful, incorporating many artworks from Kubrick's current wife Christiane, and it was all captured beautifully once again by John Alcott. Kubrick again received three Oscar nominations for the film, for Picture, Director and Screenplay adapted from Anthony Burgess' source material. In addition Bill Butler received notice for his editing.

Violent, shocking, yes. But an incredible and everlasting piece of cinema as well. Sickening, maybe. But it goes far beyond sickening. The film is not sanctioning violence through Alex's actions, the effects of what he does are all too surely displayed. But curing violence is maybe not the answer. It may not even be possible. Removing the perpetrators ability to choose, crushing his own power to like or dislike, is only going to open him up to subsequent victimisation. Lock him away, sure, but rehabilitation can be a slippery slope. 5 stars.

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