Last night, I happened to notice that TCM Romania and TCM Poland were broadcasting “A Clockwork Orange” (1971). This was the first time I watched this movie right to the end, without giving up out of boredom.
I could never read the book (too eccentric to my taste), but Kubrick’s movie is even more famous, and it’s certainly quite ingenious in terms of artistic expression. Still, I can’t understand why are so many people loving “A Clockwork Orange” — Rotten Tomatoes gives it 89% from the critics, 93% from the public. But why?!
I’ve found the movie obscenely boring and ridiculously grotesque. But it looks like only dead people agree with me. On February 11, 1972, Roger Ebert rated it 2/4:
Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” is an ideological mess, a paranoid right-wing fantasy masquerading as an Orwellian warning. It pretends to oppose the police state and forced mind control, but all it really does is celebrate the nastiness of its hero, Alex.
I don’t know quite how to explain my disgust at Alex (whom Kubrick likes very much, as his visual style reveals and as we shall see in a moment). Alex is the sort of fearsomely strange person we’ve all run across a few times in our lives — usually when he and we were children, and he was less inclined to conceal his hobbies. He must have been the kind of kid who tore off the wings of flies and ate ants just because that was so disgusting. He was the kid who always seemed to know more about sex than anyone else, too — and especially about how dirty it was.
Alex has grown up in “A Clockwork Orange,” and now he’s a sadistic rapist. I realize that calling him a sadistic rapist — just like that — is to stereotype poor Alex a little. But Kubrick doesn’t give us much more to go on, except that Alex likes Beethoven a lot. Why he likes Beethoven is never explained, but my notion is that Alex likes Beethoven in the same way that Kubrick likes to load his sound track with familiar classical music — to add a cute, cheap, dead-end dimension.
Now Alex isn’t the kind of sat-upon, working-class anti-hero we got in the angry British movies of the early 1960s. No effort is made to explain his inner workings or take apart his society. Indeed, there’s not much to take apart; both Alex and his society are smart-nose pop-art abstractions. Kubrick hasn’t created a future world in his imagination — he’s created a trendy decor. If we fall for the Kubrick line and say Alex is violent because “society offers him no alternative,” weep, sob, we’re just making excuses.
Alex is violent because it is necessary for him to be violent in order for this movie to entertain in the way Kubrick intends. Alex has been made into a sadistic rapist not by society, not by his parents, not by the police state, not by centralization and not by creeping fascism — but by the producer, director and writer of this film, Stanley Kubrick.
What in hell is Kubrick up to here? Does he really want us to identify with the antisocial tilt of Alex’s psychopathic little life? In a world where society is criminal, of course, a good man must live outside the law. But that isn’t what Kubrick is saying, He actually seems to be implying something simpler and more frightening: that in a world where society is criminal, the citizen might as well be a criminal, too.
I don’t know. But they’ve really hyped “A Clockwork Orange” for more than it’s worth, and a lot of people will go if only out of curiosity. Too bad. In addition to the things I’ve mentioned above — things I really got mad about — “A Clockwork Orange” commits another, perhaps even more unforgivable, artistic sin. It is just plain talky and boring. You know there’s something wrong with a movie when the last third feels like the last half.