Based on Anthony Burgess’ novel, Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange dives into a satirical (murderous) discourse on the nature of humanity and free will. Along the way, it’ll question where a person can be forced to be good or if goodness can only be determined by the actions a person makes on their own. It’s a troubling display, with a depth of potential if audiences are willing to wade into the grime covering leading man Malcolm McDowell’s Alex DeLarge.
Between Spartacus and Dr. Strangelove on one side, and The Shining and Full Metal Jacket on the other, Kubrick delivered this controversial piece of cinema in 1971. It’s a dystopian drama that’s as disturbing as Mad Max but that lacks the hope of The Book of Eli. (In fact, one of the author’s issues with the film is that the final chapter, one that established some hope of the future, was left out of American versions of the novel and Kubrick’s film.)
Now, on this ultra clear version of the film, McDowell and historian Nick Redman provide commentary, while special features like “Turning the Clockwork,” “Still Tickin,'” and others provide more insight into the making of the film and how it has been received over time. It’s considered a work of art for Kubrick’s eye behind the camera, but what are the actual lessons one can take away from this pessimistic look at the world and the way that humanity is headed?
It’s… hard to say.
From a Christian perspective, and Burgess considered himself a lapsed Catholic, it’s a film that seems to highlight how evil the inclinations of the human heart are. While DeLarge is put through conversion therapy later on in the film, it doesn’t actually cure him of his violent inclinations. He’s not a good person, but he seems to actually enjoy the evil he commits. No matter what he’s exposed to, he dives in deeper, drawing pleasure from the trouble he causes. Forcefully trying to break him of the violence (and alternatively using the violence), the government seems to be of two minds about the need for violence, making the conversion more about utilitarian means than actual social morality.
The overall vibe is creepy, and tragic. We vacillate between physically recoiling from DeLarge, and feeling sorry for him. He’s a warning about tomorrow’s youth, stuck between what could be and what is, what young people are told and what they’re pointed toward. This is especially true when we consider the way violence in wartime works, or the expectations on one level for law enforcement push into conflict, or on a smaller level the approach we have toward sports and competition. In the end, it’s not abundantly clear as we survey the violent world we live in that Burgess and Kubrick haven’t told a story that in its own way has come true.