Young Alex DeLarge and his gang of droogs aren’t choosy about whose lives they wreak mindless havoc on. From the down-at-the-heels to the well-heeled, the young thugs attack indiscriminately, mercilessly and irrationally.
One thing leads to another and Alex is charged with murder and sentenced to prison. He’s selected for the fictional Ludivico technique, a program of aversion conditioning that leaves him unable to commit violent or sexual acts, or even listen to his “lovely, lovely Ludvig van,” despite being a connoisseur of classical music.
Confident that Alex has been declawed, the authorities release him. But he finds himself defenceless and homeless, stumbling unwittingly into a series of encounters he’s no longer equipped to handle. It seems Alex is doomed. But not so, my brothers – our humble narrator has a way of landing on his feet.
A Clockwork Orange, released in 1971 and available on DVD at Whitehorse Public Library, was based on the 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess, who set out a parable about free will with a sociopathic youth at its centre.
Located in a London of the dystopian near-future, both the novel and the movie are told in the voice of Alex, partly in the invented language of Nadsat. (Even the writer’s use of English was innovative; words that we use regularly now, such as “horrorshow” and “ultraviolence,” date back to A Clockwork Orange.) Director Stanley Kubrick used the book itself for the script, with actors referring to the novel for their dialogue.
A Clockwork Orange was released in the era when Bonnie and Clyde, Straw Dogs and The Wild Bunch were exploring the limits of explicit violence in film. The violence isn’t as visceral as it is in those films, being instead highly stylized and choreographed, but it still created controversy.
What unsettled viewers then, and still can, is the allure of Alex, who commits heinous acts against men and women with an infectious glee, creating a radical combination of empathy and horror in the viewer.
English actor Malcolm McDowell embraced the chance to repel and seduce viewers at the same time, with his great, big, beautiful, googly eyes and perverse high spirits, popping against the dreary background of a repressed society. Kubrick’s visual images in A Clockwork Orange have become iconic and will seem familiar even to first-time viewers, but McDowell is an integral part of the impact the film continues to have on popular culture, influencing the work of filmmakers, actors and musicians.
McDowell’s charisma as Alex is part of what caused trouble for A Clockwork Orange, which has an odd history of suppression for such a bold film. Soon after it reached the theatres, authorities attributed incidents of violence in the UK to youth emulating Alex and his droogs. Though he protested that “no work of art has ever done social harm,” Kubrick managed to pull the film from circulation in the UK, saying he was concerned for the safety of his family; the embargo was only lifted after his death in 1999.