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A Clockwork Orange (1971) is a dystopian movie produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick. The film is adapted from Anthony’s Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (1962). “In the future, a sadistic gang leader is imprisoned and volunteers for a conduct-aversion experiment, but it doesn’t go as planned,” said Scott Cooper of Florida.
Alex de Large, the central character, is played by Malcolm McDowell. He’s an antisocial yet charismatic delinquent. His self-professed interests are classical music (Beethoven in particular), committing rape, theft, and “ultra-violence”.
Alex heads up a band of thugs he calls his droogs (from the Russian word for friend or buddy).
The movie charts the mayhem caused by Alex, Pete, Dim, and Georgie. The action then shifts to the experimental conditioning used for rehabilitation, the Ludovico Technique.
Alex narrates using Nadsat, a form of slang based on Slavic languages and English with a smattering of cockney rhyming slang.
Clockwork Orange Plot
The action takes place in Britain in the near future with Alex and his band of droogs running amok.
After an evening of ultra-violence fueled by the narcotic “milk-plus” they drink, the first fight with a rival gang. Next, the droogs head to the home of a writer where they beat him to the extent he’s crippled for life. Alex proceeds to rape his wife as he sings “Singin’ In The Rain”.
The next day, Alex is apprehended at home while truanting from school. His probation officer Deltoid pulls him up.
Alex’s droogs start demanding better remuneration and more equality. Alex’s response is to attack them.
While invading the home of a “cat lady”, Alex kills her. When he tries to flee, Dim smashes him in the face with a bottle and he is left waiting to be arrested.
Alex is in custody where he learns from Deltoid that the cat lady is dead. He’s sentenced to 14 years for murder.
When he’s 2 years into his jail sentence, Alex signs up willingly for the experimental Ludovico Technique, a new form of aversion therapy. His is strapped down, injected with drugs, and his eyes clamped upon. He is then left with no choice but to watch the grotesque images of sex and violence unfolding on screen. The images are accompanied by a soundtrack of his favorite music by Mozart. Alex is sickened by what he sees and begs for the treatment to end.
A fortnight later, Alex is wheeled out by the Minister to demonstrate the efficacy of the new therapy to a gathering of officials. When he is unable to fight back against an actor who cruelly taunts him and becomes ill when a topless woman comes onto him, the chaplain states that Alex has been robbed of free will. The Minister proclaims the Ludovico a resounding success that will slash crime and help relieve prison overcrowding.
Released as a free man, Alex discovers all his possessions have been sold to compensate his victims while his parents have rented out his room.
Alex is attacked by a vagrant he attacked years before. Rescued by two policemen, these turn out to be his old droogs, Georgie and Dim. They drive Alex to the countryside where they beat him and almost drown him before leaving him for dead. Alex pitches up at the home of the writer he crippled. Although the writer does not recognize Alex, he sees him as a political weapon.
Alex attempts suicide by jumping out of the window. He wakes in the hospital with broken bones. Subjected to a battery of psychological tests, he discovers he is no longer averse to sex and violence.
When the Minister arrives, he apologizes to Alex offering to take care of him with a job as long as he cooperates. The movie ends with Alex stating, “I was cured, all right!”
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McDowell was chosen for the role of Alex after Kubrick saw him in the film if…. (1968). He also helped Kubrick on the uniform of Alex’s gang, when he showed Kubrick the cricket whites he had. Kubrick asked him to put the box (jockstrap) not under but on top of the costume.
During the filming of the Ludovico technique scene, McDowell scratched a cornea and was temporarily blinded. The doctor standing next to him in the scene, dropping saline solution into Alex’s forced-open eyes, was a real physician present to prevent the actor’s eyes from drying. McDowell also cracked some ribs filming the humiliation stage show. A unique special effect technique was used when Alex jumps out of the window in an attempt to commit suicide and the viewer sees the ground approaching the camera until collision, i.e., as if from Alex’s point of view. This effect was achieved by dropping a Newman Sinclair clockwork camera in a box, lens-first, from the third story of the Corus Hotel. To Kubrick’s surprise, the camera survived six takes.
On 24 February 1971, the last day of shooting, Progress Report No. 113 has a summary of all the footage shot to date: 39,880 feet wasted, 377,090 feet exposed, 13,120 feet remain as short ends with a total of 452,960 feet used. Sound: 225,880 feet printed from 288 1/4″ reel to reel tapes.
The cinematic adaptation of A Clockwork Orange (1962) was not initially planned. Screenplay writer Terry Southern gave Kubrick a copy of the novel, but, as he was developing a Napoleon Bonaparte-related project, Kubrick put it aside. Kubrick’s wife, in an interview, stated she then gave him the novel after having read it. It had an immediate impact. Of his enthusiasm for it, Kubrick said, “I was excited by everything about it: the plot, the ideas, the characters, and, of course, the language. The story functions, of course, on several levels: political, sociological, philosophical, and, what’s most important, on a dreamlike psychological-symbolic level.” Kubrick wrote a screenplay faithful to the novel, saying, “I think whatever Burgess had to say about the story was said in the book, but I did invent a few useful narrative ideas and reshape some of the scenes.” Kubrick based the script on the shortened US edition of the book, which omitted the final chapter.
Kubrick was a perfectionist who researched meticulously, with thousands of photographs taken of potential locations, as well as many scenes took; however, per Malcolm McDowell, he usually “got it right” early on, so there were few takers. So meticulous was Kubrick that McDowell stated “If Kubrick hadn’t been a film director he’d have been a General Chief of Staff of the US Forces. No matter what it is—even if it’s a question of buying a shampoo it goes through him. He just likes total control.”Filming took place between September 1970 and April 1971, making A Clockwork Orange the quickest film shoot in his career. Technically, to achieve and convey the fantastic, dream-like quality of the story, he filmed with extremely wide-angle lenses such as the Kinoptik Tegea 9.8mm for 35mm Arriflex cameras.
A Clockwork Orange was released to critical acclaim.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 88%.
The film was a box-office success grossing more than $26 million in the United States and Canada on a budget of $2.2 million.
The film was the most popular film of 1972 in France with 7,611,745 admissions.
The film was re-released in North America in 1973 and earned $1.5 million in rentals.
In the United States, A Clockwork Orange was given an X rating in its original release in 1972. Later, Kubrick replaced approximately 30 seconds of sexually explicit footage from two scenes with less explicit action to obtain an R rating re-release later in 1972. Current DVDs present the original version (reclassified with an “R” rating), and only some of the early 1980s VHS editions are the edited version.
Because of the explicit sex and violence, The National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures rated it C (“Condemned”), a rating which forbade Roman Catholics from seeing the film. In 1982, the Office abolished the “Condemned” rating. Subsequently, films deemed to have unacceptable levels of sex and violence by the Conference of Bishops are rated O, “Morally Offensive”.
Although it was passed uncut for UK cinemas in December 1971, British authorities considered the sexual violence in the film to be extreme.
In March 1972, during the trial of a 14-year-old male accused of the manslaughter of a classmate, the prosecutor referred to A Clockwork Orange, suggesting that the film had a macabre relevance to the case. The film was also linked to the murder of an elderly vagrant by a 16-year-old boy in Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, who pleaded guilty after telling police that friends had told him of the film “and the beating up of an old boy like this one”. Roger Gray QC, for the defense, told the court that “the link between this crime and sensational literature, particularly A Clockwork Orange, is established beyond reasonable doubt”. The press also blamed the film for a rape in which the attackers sang “Singin’ in the Rain” as “Singin’ in the Rape”. Christiane Kubrick, the director’s wife, has said that the family received threats and had protesters outside their homes.
The film was withdrawn from British release in 1973 by Warner Brothers at the request of Kubrick.
Censorship in other countries
In Ireland, the film was banned on 10 April 1973. Warner Bros. decided against appealing the decision. Eventually, the film was passed uncut for cinema on 13 December 1999 and released on 17 March 2000. The re-release poster, a replica of the original British version, was rejected due to the words “ultra-violence” and “rape” in the tagline. Sheamus Smith explained his rejection to the Irish Times:
I believe that the use of those words in the context of advertising would be offensive and inappropriate.
In Singapore, the film was banned for over 30 years, before an attempt at release was made in 2006. However, the submission for an M18 rating was rejected, and the ban was not lifted. The ban was later lifted and the film was shown uncut (with an R21 rating) on 28 October 2011, as part of the Perspectives Film Festival.
In South Africa, it was banned under the apartheid regime for 13 years, then in 1984 was released with one cut and only made available to people over the age of 21. It was banned in South Korea and in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Nova Scotia. The Maritime Film Classification Board also reversed the ban eventually. Both jurisdictions now grant an R rating to the film.