A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
Stanley Kubrick maybe had the most dark and sardonic view of humanity of any director ever. Dr Strangelove, where the end of the world is treated as a giant theatre of the absurd, is one of the most blackly funny films ever made. In Full Metal Jacket (1987), the Vietnam War receives the same gallows humour treatment. Even 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) has its wondrously transcendent visions of spaceflight undercut by a bleak vision of humanity being swallowed up by its technology. All manner of sardonic humour likewise runs throughout A Clockwork Orange. Kubrick directs the film as strident farce. The entire cast deliver their performances at the top of their voices, something that only makes the violence seem nastier. Kubrick jabs at every target he can. Dont touch that, its a priceless work of art, says a woman of her sculpture of a giant schlong, shortly before she is battered to death by it; while in prison the Bible becomes a handy source of violent imaginings for the deprived Malcolm McDowell. The psychiatric profession are in for it too there is that unnervingly black moment when Malcolm McDowell genuinely screams that he is cured but the doctors carry on insistent that it be continued for his own good.
What upset everybody at the time the film came out was Stanley Kubricks choreography of art and violence. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick choreographed spaceflight to classical music with extraordinarily poetic results. The first half of A Clockwork Orange does similar things but instead Kubrick choreographs violence with outrageously dazzling artistry such as showing a gang fight to the strains of Rossinis Thieving Magpie (1817). There is also the extremely nasty scene where the droogs conduct a beating and rape during which Malcolm McDowell kicks a victim in the head while singing Singing in the Rain.
A Clockwork Orange is nothing less than a giant black joke on its audience upon Stanley Kubricks part. Kubrick spends half of the film leaving us shocked and horrified at the protagonist and his actions. But then halfway through, Kubrick turns Malcolm McDowell into a figure of sympathy. At first, we do not even notice this. However, as the prison and brainwashing scenes continue, McDowell becomes entirely heartbreaking in the injustices rained upon him. Of course the ending we arrive at where the conditioning is undone and Malcolm McDowell is released and heads out into the world with the camera closing in on him already dreaming of more ultra-violence he can now unleash again is totally outrageous. By this point, Stanley Kubrick has manoeuvered the entire film around to turn Malcolm McDowell into a sympathetic victim. Indeed, Kubrick has been so successful at manipulating audience sympathies that we are cheering McDowell on and celebrating his being allowed to go free and cause more mayhem. This is the genius of Stanley Kubricks grand black joke.
A Clockwork Orange is adapted from a 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess. In the book, Burgess conducted a unique experiment in creating a future street argot which he called Nasdat, importing words from Russian slang some of which survives in the film, albeit less densely than in the book. Anthony Burgess was raised a Roman Catholic and originally wrote A Clockwork Orange as a parable about Christian free will and forgiveness, saying that for a Christian to forgive he must also forgive the most horrifying acts. (The book was based on an incident during WWII where Burgesss wife was assaulted by soldiers and ended up miscarrying). However, the film is as much a black joke on Burgess than anything else. The moral of the story certainly tends to get lost in the film version and most certainly in the ending where Stanley Kubrick upstages and changes Burgesss ending, which has Alex eventually seeing the error of his ways and growing up.
Despite the controversy surrounding it, A Clockwork Orange was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes. Shortly after the film came out, there was media hysteria in England over hooligan attacks that people claimed were inspired by the film. After being personally pilloried in the press for inciting violence and receiving death threats, Stanley Kubrick withdrew A Clockwork Orange from circulation and refused to release it in England until after his death (which occurred in 1999). He also refused a video release, so for a number of years the film developed a flourishing cult through arthouse and midnight screenings of the theatrical print. The film was eventually released to video in 2000.
Other Stanley Kubrick films of genre interest are the aforementioned nuclear war black comedy Dr Strangelove; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the Stephen King haunted hotel adaptation The Shining (1980) and Steven Spielbergs posthumously completed A.I. (2001) about an android boy.