Great movies always give me goosebumps. I guess it does for everybody. But the concept of what makes a movie great differs from person to person. I usually prefer offbeat movies, movies which are slow, with a heavy theme, intense characters, subtle undertones....the list is endless.
A Clockwork Orange is one such movie which I chanced upon in college. The opportunity cost of watching a two hours fifteen minutes when there was test hanging on my head the next day was pretty high. But boy! was it worth the time or what!! One of Stanley Kubrick's masterpieces was released in 1971 based on the controversial book of the same name by Anthony Burgess.
The name of the movie sounds queer, isnt it? What does cloclwork orange mean? The title probably was inspired by a common East London phrase, "as queer as a clockwork orange" - indicating something bizarre internally, but appearing natural, human, and normal on the surface. The movie goes with the tagline "Being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven." And indeed it does! Graphic violence, vouyeristic sex, dysfunctional teens, mindless crime and dehumanization of criminals....all packeaged into two hours of intense filmmaking. It blows your mind.
The frightening, chilling and tantalizing film raises many thematic questions and presents a thought-provoking parable: How can evil be eradicated in modern society? If the state can deprive an individual of his free will, making him 'a clockwork orange,' what does this say about the nightmarish, behavioral modification technologies of punishment and crime? Do we lose our humanity if we are deprived of the free-will choice between good and evil?
The movie set in futuristic England tells us the story of Alex de Large (Malcolm McDowell) and his droogs. The opening memorable image is an intimate closeup of the blue staring eyes and smirking face of Alex wearing a bowler hat and with one false eyelash (upper and lower) adorning his right eye . His cufflinks and suspenders are ornamentally decorated with a bloody, ripped-out eyeball.
"There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. The Korova milkbar sold milk-plus, milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence."
Their escapades know no bounds. From torturing a old drunkard lying on the sidewalk while singing Molly Malone, to having a gang war with the with Billyboy and his droogs, enjoying the country air in a stolen Durango-95 and the ghstly rape of the elderly Mrs.Alexander. Mr. Alexander is assaulted and kicked on the floor by Alex who ironically punctuates his rhythmic, soft-shoe kick-dance with the lyrics of "Singin' in the Rain." The scene is one of the most disturbing scenes in the film, with its juxtaposition of the familiar lyrics of playful music from a classic film with slapstick comedy, brutality and horrible ultra-violence:
I'm singin' in the rain, Just singin' in the rain...
What a glorious feeling, I'm happy again..
I'm laughing at clouds, so dark up above..
The sun's in my heart, and I'm ready for love.
Let the stormy clouds chase, Everyone from the place
Come on with the rain, I've a smile on my face.
I'll walk down the lane, With a happy refrain
And I'm singin', just singin' in the rain.
All this harmony among the group members is broken when two of his droogs take offence to Alex's overdominace over the group. So when the guys are again on one of their violent sprees, Alex is made the target of their scorn. The murder of the catwoman by Alex using a Beethoven bust turns out to be the turning point of his life. Betrayed by his friends Alex lands into the hands of the police. There inspired by the chaplin to pick up the Bible, Alex relishes the violent bits of the old and new testaments and fantasizes himself to the Roman soldier torturing Jesus to his crucification.
When there is an open offer, for a crimnal rehabilitation program Alex volunteers to get himslelf out of the prison. Fed with an experimental serum, he is forced to watch clips of high violence and pain, with his eyes clamped, straight jacketed and helpless. These repeated images of blood, gore, genocide and rape are shown with Alex's favourite music Beethoven's Fifth symphony played in the background.
"Very soon now, the drug will cause the subject to experience a death-like paralysis, together with deep feelings of terror and helplessness. One of our early test subjects described it as being like death, a sense of stifling or drowning, and it is during this period we have found that the subject will make his most rewarding associations between his catastrophic experience-environment and the violence he sees"
Made "a free man" and trained to become docile and harmless, Alex is destructively robbed of his individuality, personality and humanity by being transformed into a 'clockwork orange' - a compliant and mind-numbed citizen. He is displayed in front of curious audience as a reformed item who now would not hit back at a middleaged homosexual yelling at him or would not be aroused by a shapely naked young female.
He walks back a reformed man, only to find that society thinks otherwise. All his old sins come back to haunt him, his family, the old droogs who are now cops, the old beggar on the road and finally to Mr. Alexander. Fate takes him back to the husband whose wife was raped and murdered infront of him , the husband who drives him to commit suicide. But Alex fails to kill himself and lands up in the hospital all bandaged and wound. Only this time to be manipulated by the goverment minister who uses Alex to prove that the government program was a huge success.
Thus ends the movie. It ends throwing open a lot of questions. Questions about teenage violence, families, the police, rehabilitation of criminals and society as a whole. And the answers? Kubrick leaves them open for the viewers and the society to find........