The UnPopular Opinion: A Clockwork Orange
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
**** SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
I'm not going to take the usual route and attempt to articulate the thought that A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is a bad movie or anything. Because it's more or less not, in terms of techincal filmmaking. I don't think I've ever seen Kubrick make a "bad" movie in that sense. But they're all good for different reasons, and as with CITIZEN KANE last week I find A CLOCKWORK ORANGE to be good for all the wrong reasons. "Wrong reasons" in this case too referring to making a movie that is impressive technically but fails at being something I have any interest in watching, finishing, and/or remembering.
Nobody makes a better film than Kubrick, technically speaking. His shot composition is impeccable, his camera and lens use a language unto themselves. His presents his subject matter often utterly unapologetically, and he actively seeks to have his films do something more than simply exist (whether what it's doing is interesting or not is another matter). Which is all both commendable and enviable, and certainly a series of qualities that we could do with more of in today's filmmaking world.
"We were all feeling a bit shagged and fagged and fashed, it being a night of no small expenditure."
That all being said, I just don't like A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. I really really don't, and I'm going to try and tell you why. To me, it's the most sterile, slanted exercise in storytelling I've ever witnessed, and I find nothing about it interesting except for Kubrick's skill at slyly charming generations of people into rooting for the most nasty and empty of characters and the most thinly realized of futures. Alex is not a human being, he is a constructed symbol of the ultimate kind of rebellion. Morals don't apply, rules don't apply, decency doesn't apply, responsibility doesn't apply - all that matters it sticking it to the man through the pursuit of pleasure and the flaunting of anything human, relateable, or sympathetic.
And liking Beethoven doesn't count. It's simply not enough, and a cop-out choice anyway. "Oh, he recognizes that Ludwig van composed beautiful music. It shows he really does have a soul buried deep down there, so it's okay to think what he does and how he does it is cool and entertaining." Except it's not and it's not. Titillating maybe, shocking maybe, or even exciting in a "did that just happen" kind of way, but nothing that Alex does is cool or entertaining. It's not excusable. And it's not "society's fault." Kubrick crafted this character in a certain image and then centered a story/series of camera tricks around him to as to communicate what seems to be relateability when in fact nothing of the kind exists. Not that every main character has to be a bastion of goodness, and there are plenty I'm entertained by and interested in which are not. Richard III. The Joker. The Devil. Oskar (LET THE RIGHT ONE IN). The Driver (DRIVE). But what such characters bear that Alex completely lacks is humanity beyond a tacked on heartstring, grounded needs and fears which drive them to sometimes do questionable things. Alex is none of those things, and as this film is all about Alex that's a bit of a problem.
"One thing I could never stand was to see a filthy, dirty old drunkie, howling away at the filthy songs of his fathers and going blurp blurp in between as it might be a filthy old orchestra in his stinking, rotten guts."
Now some people might think "but that's really not fair to say, Alejandro. Alex is only meant to be a symbol of something, as is the society as depicted in the film. Kubrick is trying to make a point with A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, and the best way to make an extreme condemnation of something is to use extreme examples or symbols." Which is all well and good. But movies, and really stories in general, have to be more than a series of symbols. They have to be, at least for me. Layer upon layer upon layer of symbolism is fine with me (THE MATRIX, THE TREE OF LIFE, and so on) - it's when the movie is lacking anything else that I start to be bothered. And speaking of symbols: when it comes to the title itself, which is perhaps the film's greatest symbol, there isn't any sort of grand statement to be had there. Alex began the film as a clockwork orange, and so to did he end it. Just a more "socially acceptable" version. Which isn't a story I'm interested in seeing, especially considering the terrible journey needed to get there.
And then there's the world/society Alex lives, which is almost a character unto itself yet one just as vapid as he is. Things are strange because they're strange, things are colorful because they're colorful, and design choices are made because why the hell not. Is that a problem with the source material? Maybe, but once the choice is made to commit it to film I'm allowed to gripe about it all I want. And I find the world/society of the film to be nothing more than window dressing, a drab and lifeless manequin masquerading with makeup and flashy clothes in an attempt to be human. Which, again, is fine I suppose if Kubrick meant it to be as such (in terms of being nothing more than a symbol). It's just not what I'm interested in seeing when I settle down for my evening viewing of a morally challenging dystopian future.
"Do you understand, Alex? Have I made myself clear?"
"As an unmuddied lake, Fred. As clear as an azure sky of deepest summer. You can rely on me, Fred."
I believe that stories should be told for a reason, and likewise should the decisions made in how to tell that story be for a reason. Even if the reason's just "it was a fun idea at the time." But for me there's no reason in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. There's no real statement being made, no real philisophical discussion being had, no real cultural commentary being explored, and no real character growth or conflict or dissection going on. It's an excercise in grossly twisted entertainment for grossly twisted entertainment's sake, which was quite the sucker punch when I was hoping for so much more.
Hearkening back to an earlier point, maybe A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is meant to be nothing more than titillating. If so, I don't have any interest in it. This isn't the sort of story I find interesting, nor is the style in which it is told. You want a film that depicts a troubled future which believably creates the characters that live in it and actively works with them to tell a greater story than being simply being a flashy bit o' the old ultraviolence? Go watch CHILDREN OF MEN. Or BLADE RUNNER. Or V FOR VENDETTA. I know I will. Right now, in fact.
I doubt I'll ever find a more apropos picture to use in a review.
Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to email@example.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
|Extra Tidbit:||Malcolm McDowell was nearly blinded in the making of this film. What a shame that would have been, and not just because we might have missed out on more McDowell. Heath Ledger claimed Alex as one of his inspirations for his portrayal of The Joker, something which justifies this film's existence in and of itself.|