‘Goodness is something to be chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man...’
Back in the days before all of pop culture was instantly available at the push of a button, the notoriety of certain films couldn’t be ignored. Titles like The Exorcist, The Evil Dead and A Nightmare on Elm Street haunted my dreams. Occasionally, you might catch a glimpse of one of them at a video shop and that would be enough to inspire sleepless nights. A Clockwork Orange was completely banned until 1999 and so I hadn’t even seen the VHS cover, but it was still a film that was whispered about in classrooms and playgrounds. We knew it was transgressive even when we were too young to understand what being transgressive meant. When I finally did see it, it lived up to the hype…
Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is an ultra-violent nihilistic teenager living in a dystopian near future. Initially content to spend his evenings raping, murdering and drinking odd milk-based drinks, he eventually starts dreaming about something more. After being betrayed by his fellow droogs, Alex is imprisoned and ‘reformed’.
A Clockwork Orange forms a tapestry of essential teenage texts that allows adolescents to feel transgressive and rebellious but in an intellectual way. See also: American Psycho, Fight Club and Pulp Fiction. It’s not surprising that Kubrick’s masterpiece continues to find a home in the hearts of teenagers everywhere. Its visceral power cannot be denied, nor can an electric performance from McDowell who would never come close to capturing the wild-eyed intensity that he conjured up here.
Watching A Clockwork Orange again as an adult was an interesting experience, it still has moments of humour but I mainly felt queasy through the film’s opening 45 minutes and this discomfort is closer to what Kubrick himself intended. Alex DeLarge was never supposed to be a counterculture icon and it was this misreading that led to Kubrick himself withdrawing the film from circulation until his death in 1999.
A Clockwork Orange is just as intensely shocking as it always has been. Pure cinema. Distilled violence. Ferocious sexuality. A classic.