Dissecting a Clockwork Orange

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“You men need to tuck away your penises and surrogate penises (guns), because you will never get anywhere with them. Masculinity is a myth and a dead end.” - Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 classic A Clockwork Orange is an interesting beast. The film has been vilified, banned, condemned on artistic grounds and yet it survives. The film’s hallucinatory visuals depicting a strange, narcissistic modernistic society, steeped in seventies art deco and harsh, contrasting lighting, paint a bleak, uncompromising picture. Kubrick’s use of implied violence, death and cultural destruction throw the viewer into a hellish, emotional marsh of pessimism and hate. Reviewed by Tim Dirks the title of the film is explained: “The controversial film's title and other names in the film have meaning. The title alludes to: a clockwork (mechanical, artificial, robotic) human being. Orange - similar to orangutan, a hairy ape-like creature, and the Cockney phrase from East London, "as queer as a clockwork orange" - indicating something bizarre internally, but appearing natural, human, and normal on the surface” This film plays with violence in an intellectually seductive way. It's done in such a slow, heavy style that those prepared to like it, can treat its puzzling aspects as insightful. Yet we’re complicit in the violence as Alex (Malcolm McDowell) narrates the story to us as if we are his friends, the only ones he can open up to. Alex enjoys stealing, stomping, raping, and destroying until he kills a woman and is sent to prison for fourteen years. It is in this that the violence becomes sanitized (after two years of imprisonment), that we don’t necessarily feel guilty, or pity the victims of Alex’s senseless crimes. Kubrick isn’t telling us that violence is “okay”. He’s telling the viewer that masculinity is a broken concept. The violence is an indication of pent-up sexual frustration, delivered callously and cowardly to anyone that gets in the way. Alex Jack, in his essay on Kubrick commented that the director flaunted the idea that ‘masculinity is a sick idealized myth’. This is interesting because of the phallic symbols, rape and mother theme ‘A Clockwork Orange’ plays around with. Here, sex and violence are not two essentially seperate entities that just so happen occur at the same time: sex equals violence, and this relates to the very opposing view that Kubrick was a misogynist. “The film can easily be interpreted as an ambiguous mystery play, a visionary warning against "the Establishment" if it were in society. There are a many ways to justify identifying with Alex: Alex is fighting repression; he's alone against the system. What he does isn't nearly as bad as what the government does (both in the movie and in most current governments). Why shouldn't he be violent? That's all “the Establishment” has ever taught him (and us) to be. The point of the book was that we must be as men, that we must be able to take responsibility for what we are. The point of the movie is much more aware of what is going on in society.” And this is key concept. Before he is caught by the cops, Alex perpetrates four separate violent acts. Only one of which is 'morally justified'. This is the second episode where Alex and his Droog’s confront another juvenile gang getting ready to gang rape a girl. Rescue has nothing to do with it. He fights because he wants to. Within minutes he's getting set to rape someone else, famously 'singing in the rain', which is the key scene to illustrate the violence and Alex being portrayed as the alpha-male. The reason for the fascination and the revulsion: Alex likes violence. So do we. That's it. But whatever social controls are instilled in most of us are absent in Alex. He enjoys violence; either sexual or otherwise. There's a complete absence of empathy. We usually watch violent movies without any moral uneasiness precisely because the story sets up a situation in which the hero is compelled to act violently for...
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