Review: A Clockwork Orange (1971)

As I mentioned in my last post, I am using this month to revisit iconic films that I never got around to watching. This week, I was able to watch several films, among them Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Released in 1971 and based on the infamous novel of the same name, A Clockwork Orange is a trippy journey to an alternate Britain, where gangs of young people run wild and crime is on the rise. The film focuses on Alex (Malcolm McDowell), the leader of one such gang, who is eventually imprisoned and “reformed” via a disturbing form of brainwashing. Like the novel, the film thrusts viewers into a world of strange terminology and breathtaking violence, and Kubrick’s visuals match the source material’s tone perfectly.

To address the elephant in the room, yes, the film’s portrayal of women is not great. It contains a number of scenes depicting (attempted) rape, unsurprising as Alex and his gang of droogs enjoy all forms of violence. It includes numerous shots of naked women, particularly focusing on their breasts, which feels unsettling given the lack of women involved in its production and the film industry’s noted issue with the male gazeA Clockwork Orange most definitely does not pass the bechdel test, and the woman with the most screen time is Alex’s hysterical mother (Sheila Raynor)–not exactly an empowering female character. The one positive, however, is the fact that the film’s excellent score was composed by a Wendy Carlos. Taking the film in the context of its time, the lack of awareness surrounding gender representation is not surprising. Regardless, I couldn’t write an honest review of the film without discussing this issue.

That being said, like the majority of critics who reviewed this film before me, I enjoyed it immensely. The fantastic cinematography and beautifully built sets make for a captivating experience. I particularly loved the shots set in the Korova Milk Bar (despite the fact that female mannequins are used as tables and dispensers of Milk Plus). A Clockwork Orange was the first Kubrick film I’ve watched, and I can certainly see why his cinematic style and perspective are so acclaimed. Each shot was beautiful and interesting to look at, even the ones that were depicting horrific acts of violence. Although I’m not typically one for voiceovers, I thoroughly enjoyed Alex’s throughout the film. His narration added humor and darkness to some of the film’s key moments. McDowell’s facial expressions, which might be seen as a bit too over-the-top for today’s actors, were perfectly suited to the movie’s wild atmosphere. And finally, as I already mentioned, the film’s score is absolutely fantastic!

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed watching A Clockwork Orange. Despite the film’s issues with its depictions of women and violence against them, I found it to be true to its source material while also highlighting how film can add new dimensions to stories that we’ve already read.

Gender Representation: ★☆☆☆☆

Diversity: ★☆☆☆☆

Overall Quality: ★★★☆☆

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