A Clockwork Orange

 
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Release Date: Dec. 19, 1971

Based on: A Clockwork Orange (1962 novel by Anthony Burgess)

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri, Miriam Karlin

Budget: $2.2 million

Box Office: $26.6 million (domestic)

In a dystopic future rampant with street crime and out-of-control youths, Alex DeLarge and his gang wander the night reaping terror. When they betray him, Alex is sentenced to prison where he becomes a guinea pig in an experimental treatment.

Though strange and dealing with very heavy subject matter, A Clockwork Orange is a great film. It revolves around the characterization of its main character, Alex, who is a violent sociopath and will do anything he finds suitable if it means someone else is being terrorized. From assaulting a drunk homeless man or breaking into a couple’s home, incapacitating the husband and raping the wife, the film makes it clear he's only committing these acts for the sheer glee of doing it rather than making money, as his gang starts to want to do. Their desire  leads to them betraying him and him winding up in prison. There he wants to get out to continue committing crimes, leading to an experimental treatment where doctors seek to remove his capacity for evil choices.

Through all of this, the film's main theme about choice and morality comes into play. It seems Kubrick is exploring if a man can truly be good if the choice to do evil is unavailable. The government in their experimental treatment makes it so whenever Alex has any inkling of violence or rape, or if he hears Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, he becomes violently ill and incapacitated. Nevertheless, it doesn’t necessarily make him a good person. All it really does is make it so he has the desire for evil, but can’t carry out those desires.

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However, what they do to him also makes it so he can’t even fight back to defend himself. The homeless man he assaulted earlier gathers his friends and retaliates and when the police disperse them, they end up being old members of the gang who continue attacking and try to drown him. This shows Alex's capacity to choose to be a person and survive have been taken away along with his capacity for choice. It's also demonstrated later on in the film when Alex is manipulated by the man whose wife he raped earlier for the sole purpose of going against the government.

In the end, Alex's characterization comes full circle when the conditioning placed upon him is removed and it's shown he never actually changed as a person. He began and ended the film as an amoral sociopath, only changing when his capacity for making evil choices is removed. His experiences at the mercy of the homeless, the police and Mr. Alexander, when he becomes as helpless as he made his victims, does nothing for him either. Upon once again receiving the capacity to make evil choices, the first thing he thinks about is having the chance to commit crimes once again. In all, it’s a fascinating progression of characterization.

The film is wonderful stylistically, too. The first frame of the film, pulling back on Alex and the gang in the milk bar presents the first inkling of who Alex is. He stares straight at the camera, sneering and drinks his narcotic laced milk, showing how devoid and sociopathic he really is.

Awards

Won

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA - Saturn Awards

  • Best DVD Collection (As part of "Stanley Kubrick: The Essential Collection.")

Hugo Awards

  • Best Dramatic Presentation

Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists

  • Best Foreign Director

Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Film

New York Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Film
  • Best Director

Online Film & Television Association Awards

  • OFTA Film Hall of Fame - Motion Picture

Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards 

  • Best DVD Commentary

Venice Film Festival Awards

  • Pasinetti Award - Foreign Film

Nominated

Academy Awards

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
  • Best Film Editing

BAFTA Awards

  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Direction
  • Best Film
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Screenplay
  • Best Sound Track

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA - Saturn Awards

  • Best DVD Collection (As part of "Stanley Kubrick: Warner Home Video Directors Series.")

Directors Guild of America, USA Awards

  • Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures

Golden Globe Awards

  • Best Motion Picture - Drama
  • Best Director - Motion Picture
  • Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama (Malcolm McDowell)

National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA

  • Best Film
  • Best Director
  • Best Actor (Malcolm McDowell)

New York Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Actor (Malcolm McDowell)

Satellite Awards

  • Best Classic DVD (40th Anniversary Edition

Writers Guild of America, USA Awards

  • Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium