Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Review of a Clockwork Orange

Here's another Stanley Kubrick entry on AFI's list. I've seen this movie before and enjoyed it quite a lot. Since then, I've read the book and I'm afraid this viewing confirms my suspicion: the book is just better.

Firstly, there is the fact that this movie was based on a version of the book that was incomplete. For some reason, Anthony Burgess' New York publisher thought that Americans wouldn't get the ending. You know, the part that actually makes the book make sense. If I was an American, I'd be insulted that some New York bigshot thought I was too stupid to understand an ending where somebody decides to give up violence.

And what an ending it missed. Therein is contained a fundamental message of truth. It's about youth. Permit me to quote:

...No, it is not just being an animal so much as being like one of these malenky toys you viddy being sold in the streets, like little chellovecks made out of tin and with a spring inside and then a winding handle on the outside and you wind it up grrr grrr grrr and off it itties, like walking, O my brothers. But it itties in a straight line and bangs straight into things bang bang and it cannot help what it is doing. Being young is like being like one of these malenky machines.

My son, my son. When I had my son I would explain all that to him when he was starry enough to like understand. But then I knew he would not understand or would not want to understand at all and would do all the veshches I had done, yes perhaps even killing some poor starry forella surrounded with mewing kots and koshkas, and I would not be able to really stop him. And nor would he be able to stop his own son, brothers.

This is the message that lies at the heart of A Clockwork Orange. Apologies to Anthony Burgess, who seems to be embarassed of his novella, but I think it's brilliant and truthful writing. It's also not in the movie.

This movie misses yet another fundamental truth, not related to the ending. About mid-film, antihero Alex undergoes brainwashing that makes him feel violently ill whenever he thinks about violence or sex. However, he discovers that because Beethoven's 9th Symphony was playing during the brainwashing, listening to it makes him ill as well. Beethoven's 9th specifically.

Not so in the book. After Alex's brainwashing, all music makes him ill. What Burgess is trying to say is that music taps into violent emotions within the human psyche. It comes from the same place as violence and sex. This may seem like an odd quibble, but it's very important to me as a musician. What was the point of this cinematic change? What difference does it make other than remove an important message from the story?

All this being said, A Clockwork Orange is still a good movie of its own merit, assuming you can stomach the violence and rape. Many of the book's important messages are still tapped and the cinematograpy is fantastic. It revels in that odd feeling of dramatic tension skirting the border between comedy and terror, a tension that Kubrick does very well in his other movies, The Shining and Full Metal Jacket.

4 cracks in the gulliver out of 5