Remember how I said that Real Genius was one of the silliest, most enjoyable things I’ve watched all year? Well, apparently my subconscious wanted me to see the polar opposite of that movie, so I followed up Val Kilmer with this:
. . . wow, it’s fucked up.
If you’ve seen this film, then you either know or are probably not surprised to discover that it was originally rated an X. I may make mention to certain adult scenes, so if that’s not something you really need to read, you may want to skip this review.
This story takes place in a dystopian, vaguely futuristic Britain. Our charming narrator is Alex (Malcolm McDowell), a little teenage sociopath who likes to break into homes, beat the shit out of people, and rape terrified women. Eventually, he has to go to jail for this, but he’s selected for a new experimental therapy that’s supposed to cure him of his violent behavior. Naturally, there are some side effects. There are always, always side effects.
1. I’ve never read A Clockwork Orange, and I really didn’t have any idea what the movie was about. All I knew going in was that it starred Malcolm McDowell, and he wasn’t supposed to be terribly likable. I did have a strong gut feeling, though, that I wasn’t going to enjoy this one much, and as an incentive for watching the movie, I opened the Cherry Coke that I had been saving for a rainy day.
Good Christ, did I need it. The film gets a bit more bearable maybe forty-five minutes into the movie . . . but those may have been the longest forty-five minutes of my entire life. If this film had not been a part of my sci fi challenge, I think—no, I’m almost positive—I would have given up in the first twenty minutes.
2. Cause, you see, I like the female form as much as the next gal, but sweet Jesus. If you include the mannequins in the opening scene with their brightly colored hair down there, I do believe I got to see twelve different bushes in the first fifteen minutes. I’m pretty sure I could have watched a porn and seen less genitalia.
3. And while I’m normally all for using classic, wholesome songs in conjunction with brutal violence, watching Alex belt out, “Singin in the Rain” while raping this poor woman . . . yeah, there’s only so much of that I’m willing to take. And, if you want, we can get into that discussion about how not every movie’s supposed to be enjoyable, blah blah blah, but there’s a certain level of discomfort I’m okay with, and then there’s the God, I need a bath and the last two hours of my life erased level of discomfort. A decent chunk of the film fell under that category.
4. Here’s a funny thing: while I didn’t understand half the dialogue in this film, I didn’t spend much time trying to figure it out, either. It didn’t even occur to me that Alex wasn’t speaking, you know, British the whole time. (I blame this on China Mieville’s Kraken. I’m struggling through that right now, desperately wishing for a Universal Translator of some kind for all the dialogue that makes no FREAKING sense to me.) If pressed, I probably would have said that it was a stylized, vaguely futuristic Cockney-esque vocab, but I didn’t realize how big of a deal the whole Nadsat thing was, or that it was comprised of both English and Russian.
The only word I did get tripped up on was “gulliver,” mainly because I kept trying to apply it to different anatomical parts throughout the course of the film. But otherwise, I didn’t find the dialogue distracting or detracting in any way. I understood the basic gist, and that was enough for me.
5. I do know that I was ready to beat Malcolm McDowell upside the head with a spiked tennis racket if I had to hear the words, “Oh my brother,” one more time, though.
6. I can also say that Malcolm McDowell is very convincing as a sadistic little fuck
McDowell has always been sort of a hit or miss actor for me (more miss when you get right down to it, honestly) but I think his performance here is probably one of the more worthwhile things about this film. In general, all of the performances are very good in this movie . . .
. . . except Patrick Magee (playing Mr. Frank Alexander), who is ridiculously over-the-top and, you know, not in the good way. Yes, I know this was a deliberate choice by Kubrick and all, but the way Magee chews the scenery . . . apologies, the way he demolishes and then upchucks the scenery . . . kind of takes out the emotion inherit in the situation and just turns him into a crazy, unsympathetic old bastard.
Actually, I figure that’s what Kubrick wanted to do all along, surround Alex with even less likable characters than he is in order to manipulate the audience into feeling sympathy for their “hero”. Not that I think this worked. Alex could very well be the least sympathetic protagonist I’ve ever had to watch, and a supporting cast of vexing victims and enemies did nothing to endear me towards his better nature or the film as a whole.
7. Biblical sociopathic visions, though, are somewhat enjoyable. This, I must admit.
8. One of the better scenes in this movie is also one of the more iconic shots in the whole film, the “therapy” scene:
I do like the idea of the treatment. Actually, I like many of the ideas in the movie—more of which will be discussed in the Spoiler Section—but I don’t know that they all translated well or that they were enough to save the film from the other problems I had with it. Still, this scene in particular was pretty cool. Clamping open eyeballs? Yeah, that’s always creepy.
9. Also creepy? The codpiece. Actually, so many of Alex’s outfits are disturbing, like the one with the purple jacket and the yellow lace undershirt and the funny buttons, but nothing is going to quite beat out the codpiece.
10. Finally, before our Spoiler Section, I should just like to mention that of course a professional scientific demonstration proving the effectiveness of an experimental treatment would include a topless woman. Of course it would.
Freaking Kubrick, man. Were he still alive, I’d say that he and Roman Polanski should get together and go bowling. Honestly.
Okay, so let’s back up a bit: Alex and his droogs (buddies) like to beat up people and the like, right? Alex is supposed to be the leader of this little band, but there’s a bit of a mutiny going on. Alex tries to quell it by harming and humiliating a few members to show him who’s boss. They, in turn, double cross him, so that after Alex bludgeons a woman over the head with a giant cock statue, his friends incapacitate him and leave him at the crime scene for the cops. She dies, so Alex goes to jail. Again, he goes to jail for killing a woman with a giant cock statue.
For Christ’s sake, Kubrick.
Anyway, after some time in prison, Alex hears about this new experimental treatment the government wants to try out. Supposedly, it will cure a person of all his violent impulses, making them fit to reenter society. Alex gets himself volunteered for the treatment, not realizing that he’s going to be put in a straight jacket, strapped to a chair, and forced to watch videos of murder, rape, nazis, and other icky stuff over and over again. This might not be so bad, of course, except that they also shoot him up with this drug that makes him horribly sick, and over time, he starts feeling horribly sick anytime he tries to hurt or force himself on anyone. (Or whenever Beethoven’s 9th symphony plays, which is especially unfortunate for Alex because he’s a big fan of Ludwig Van.)
After a demonstration proving his newfound goodwill toward mankind (that’s the one with the literal boot-licking and the beautiful topless woman, like good God) Alex is sent free. But things aren’t going too good for him out in the real world. His somewhat useless parents have more or less adopted their smarmy, yuppie lodger, leaving Alex homeless. And then he runs into everyone he’s ever wronged in about the space of three minutes, including a homeless guy he once beat up, two old members of his gang, and an old man, Mr. Alexander, who he paralyzed (and whose wife he raped—and who later died).
Thankfully, Mr. Alexander doesn’t remember Alex because he was wearing a mask last time he came around. So Alex decides to have a Mr. Orange moment—that is, a suicidally STUPID moment—-when he starts singing, “Singin’ in the Rain” while taking a bath in the old man’s place. (I mean, it’s not like he doesn’t remember beating up the old guy and raping the wife. Did he really just forget what song he was singing at the time? Honestly? You’re an IDIOT, Alex.) Anyway, Mr. Alexander certainly remembers, so he and his buddies drug Alex and lock him in an upstairs bedroom with Beethoven’s 9th playing at full volume. Alex can’t stand to listen to it, so he jumps out the window and tries to kill himself.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. Alex ends up at the hospital, where the government—who has faced some very bad press because of all this—apologizes and offers Alex a job. Alex has had some dreams of doctors messing around with his head, and when he doesn’t get sick while listening to Beethoven’s 9th symphony, he knows that he’s back to his good old, violent self. The film ends with Alex’s smug voiceover, “I was cured all right!”
Now, SPOILERS for the novel, but I read how the book ends, and I’m actually glad they changed it for the movie. Yes, I know it sort of ruins the whole Christian allegory about free will and change and whatnot, but I don’t think I’d have ever bought any kind of truly redemptive story for Alex, not in this version, anyway. If I’d had to watch him become a better person and settle down with a wife and kid . . . I don’t know, I think I might have vomited. It wouldn’t fly for me here, not an ending like that. I could never buy Alex’s redemption. In my opinion, the movie’s ending is one of the stronger parts of the film.
But the rest of it . . . oh Christ, I don’t know what the hell to grade this. Like I said before, I found the movie easier to watch after the first hour, but having to sit through Alex’s long bouts of ultra-violence with his friends . . . uck. Not my thing, thank you. It’s a bad sign if you want to give up on the movie less than half an hour in.
And while Kubrick is certainly a master of photography—there are some gorgeous setups and shots in this film—that’s not really enough for me to like it as a film. Some time away for contemplation might allow me to see this movie in a better light, but I highly doubt any amount of reflection will cause me to think that it’s a masterpiece.
THE MOST TENTATIVE GRADE OF ALL TENTATIVE GRADES:
Don’t rape/attack/try to kill people. These people have long memories and will not look kindly on you and your whole forced redemption bit. They will kick you when you’re down . . . and you’ll kind of deserve it.
Also: experimental therapy? Never a good idea.
22 thoughts on ““Appy-polly-loggies!””
I initially thought he was a gigantic idiot for singing that in the bathtub too, but someone pointed out that he probably really doesn’t remember, because for him, there was absolutely nothing special about the night he’d spent there earlier, it would’ve been the sort of thing he’d done lots of times.
Yeah, I thought that was a possibility. I just, I don’t know. Maybe if he sang that song more often during the film, like it was a favorite or something (despite not being Beethoven). It seemed a little too coincidental to me that he would remember the night but wouldn’t remember the song but would of course choose to sing that song of all songs in the tub.
That’s true. You’re basically left with a choice between Alex being a moron of truly gigantic proportions and that scene being pretty contrived – especially on top of him happening upon four people who’d want revenge on him, over the course of about a day.
It’s not that hard to believe that he would run into them all. He was wandering around in the same area that bum lived before. Dim and the other one who had become cops were serving in that same area as well, so no big surprise he’d run into them either. As for his being recognized by that old man, Kubrick seemed to make it pretty obvious that he was recognized from the beginning. He was on the phone to his friends before Alex started singing. The singing just made the old man really lose it. I’m not sure why he would go to that house, though. Maybe he figured that he couldn’t go to the scene of his last crime, but the next to last because he couldn’t remember any of the ones that came before. Hard to believe he could think he’d be allowed in again, and of course he was banking on their not having moved house. (I think if what happened to those people had happened to me, I’d want to move.)
It’s not that hard to believe that he would run into them all eventually, sure. But the fact that he runs into pretty much every person you’ve seen him wrong in under ten minutes? Come on, that’s a little funny. I mean, it’s not one of my serious problems with the film, but I don’t mind snarking at it, either. It’s kind of like the Ghost of Christmas Past taking a shovel to Alex’s face, then jumping up and down on him while he’s unconscious, and then just pissing on body for good measure.
As far as the old man knowing about Alex immediately, that’s not how I took the scene. I think he was on the phone with his friends because he wanted to use Alex in their little social agenda to denounce the government. When Alex started singing, the old man figured out who he was, went a little (super) psycho, and decided to kill two birds with one stone.
I’m a big believer in reading the book before seeing the film adaptation, and I still haven’t had a chance to read the book. But one of my friends brought over A Clockwork Orange and basically demanded that I watch it. I was already in a bad mood that day; there was a lot of drama going on with my family and whatnot, and I was often distracted throughout the movie because of other stuff that was going on in my house. Because of that, I ended up being very underwhelmed by A Clockwork Orange.
I’ve really enjoyed the other Kubrick films that I’ve seen, though. The Shining is one of the greatest horror movies of all time. Dr. Strangelove was fantastic and had me laughing my ass off. Full Metal Jacket is excellent, especially the first half. I even really enjoyed Lolita, which seems to be the one people like the least. I think I probably owe A Clockwork Orange a re-watch.
Full Metal Jacket was his weakest picture. Hartman was funny and there are a few good moments later on, but overall it’s pretty lame.
I hated The Shining. For one, Shelly Duvall? HORRIBLE. Jack Nicholson setting the tone for all future over-the-top performances. The book was much better.
I’m actually there with you. I do want to give The Shining another go at some point, but I was pretty underwhelmed by The Shining when I watched it a few years ago. I wanted to strangle Shelly Duvall in that movie. I actually wanted her character to die. And while I don’t know that I had a big problem with Jack Nicholson’s over-the-top-ness (I do kind of love the busting through the door with the fire axe scene) I actually had some sympathy for his character in the book. None here. Hell, even the damn kid got on my nerves.
I haven’t seen it yet, but did you ever see the miniseries with Stephen Weber? That’s supposed to stick much closer to the novel.
King is just hard to transfer to the screen, small or big. I think Carrie will always be the best adaptation of his novels, for me at least. I never did see all of the miniseries with Stephen Weber and I think Rebecca de Mornay? Not sure if that came before or after The Stand, miniseries wise, ’cause The Stand also pretty much biased me against any adaptations. So I didn’t give The Shining miniseries a chance, really. The Stand wasn’t awful, I just felt some of the casting was off.
I think my favorite adaptations tend to be from his less genre work, like The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me. I particularly like the changes they make in Stand By Me. The Body itself isn’t a bad read, but the end is a little jump petey jump, if you know what I mean.
And one might be tempted to say, oh, Hollywood, always taking the easy way out, but it’s pretty much the opposite situation with The Mist. I actually think that’s a pretty good adaptation too . . . but wow, are there some changes toward to end.
I’m torn on the worst adaptation ever. Probably Needful Things or Dreamcatcher.
The Shining is one of my favorite books, and I think it’s by far Stephen King’s scariest (at least of the ones I’ve read, and I’ve read a majority of his stuff). The first time I saw the film, I was very annoyed with how different it is from the book. Jack being crazy from the very beginning was my biggest problem with it. In the book, it’s a slow transformation; he’s haunted by his past, by the “ghost” of his alcoholic father, and he slowly turns into everything he hated about his father. In the book, Jack was a very sympathetic character, imo.
After seeing the movie a few more times, though, I’ve grown to love and appreciate it in its own right. It’s incredibly creepy. The scene with the naked woman in the tub, the twins in the hall, the random perverts in their creepy masks, the waterfall of blood that falls from the elevator shaft . . . There’s a lot of unnerving imagery in the movie. Kubrick keeps thing unpredictable for people who read the book. SPOILER–Readers think Dick Hallorann is going to save the day, only to die as soon as he arrives at the hotel—END SPOILER. I’m glad Kubrick omitted the part with the hedge animals coming to life and attacking Jack, because even in the book that was pretty silly, and it would’ve looked even sillier on film.
It seems that the people who dislike the movie are people who had read the book first. The people who had never read the book, however, tend to love the film. IMO, I think it helps to view the film as something that was inspired from the book, not adapted.
I did make a point of reading the book before I saw the movie. I liked The Shining, although I don’t know I would call it a favorite—it’s nothing I’ve ever had much interest in rereading, not like other S.K. novels I’ve read. Now that’s it been a few years and the novel isn’t so fresh in my mind, I might try the film again sometime and see if it’s just the differences that bother me, or if I just dislike the film as a whole. Obviously, the movie has some creepy elements, visually speaking.
But I do suspect I’ll still want to murder Shelly Duval the entire time I’m watching it.
Shelly Duvall played it perfectly. What kind of woman would have stayed with this guy? Only a weak-willed dolt. Even before he went batshit because of the hotel he was a giant douche.
I liked Wendy in the book, so I think Duvall’s performance of her was even more aggravating. But even if I hadn’t read the book, I’m not sure I would have liked her anyway. There are ways to play weak women and still make them likable or sympathetic or something. Duvall did not accomplish that. I don’t think you’re supposed to actively hope that your lead female characters get killed.
And while you don’t have to like or feel sorry for every character in a story, it’s helpful to have someone you care about. I didn’t even like the kid in The Shining.
This is why it’s sometimes good to read the book after the movie. In fact it’s usually the better policy. While there might be exceptions, the book is almost always better. I didn’t mind the kid. I wonder, do you think you could name a few movies where an actress was able to play a weak, stupid woman without her being irritating? I’m not saying it can’t be done but I personally can’t think of any examples.
Well, I think part of my problem with the question is that I don’t think Wendy has to be stupid. You can argue how weak she is or must be, given the situation, but there are plenty of intelligent women out there who get trapped in emotionally or physically abusive relationships. Although as an outsider looking in, it’s hard not to want to shake these women sometime and ask, Why don’t you just leave him? Don’t you understand that it’s never going to stop? Of course, I don’t think that’s ever actually helped anyone.
As far as weak female characters, though—a couple come to mind, although none of them are in the same situation, and a lot of them get stronger at the end because that’s usually the arc of the story. Until the end of the film, Carrie from, you know, Carrie is a pretty pathetic character, but I think you feel sympathy for her. At least I did. In Heathers, you can certainly argue Veronica is a weak character for a lot of the film. She’s smart, sure, but she just does whatever her friends want, and then she does what boyfriend wants, until she finally does what she wants. And Heather McNamara certainly isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but I think you feel a little sorry for her before the end. And away from teenagers, Buttercup from The Princess Bride is utterly useless, but you still kind of like her. She isn’t completely irritating. Anyway, if someone ran in and randomly stabbed her in the middle of the film, I’d feel bad for Buttercup. The same cannot be said for Wendy in The Shining, however.
I felt bad for the black guy, though. Going to all that trouble to get there, and then he’s taken out as soon as he walks in the door? I definitely prefer the book ending for that character!
I wrote my big ass final paper on the movie A Clockwork Orange for english last semester. I analyzed the crap out of it and everything it was trying to say and my review was much kinder than your review-but to be honest this isn’t a movie i’d ever watch for entertainment ever again.
What bothered me about this film was the short shorts of that weird bodyguard and also when the two gangs fight and they’re breaking furniture over each other which is obviously movie breakaway prop furniture which isn’t hurting them at all. I’ve never had someone hit me with a table, but I think it would hurt.
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