FILM (1971)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 September, 2010, 12:00am

A Clockwork Orange
Malcolm McDowell, John Clive, Aubrey Morris
Director: Stanley Kubrick

As much mystery surrounds the title as does confusion around the exact nature of director Stanley Kubrick's interpretation of the Anthony Burgess novel, first published in 1962.

It was claimed at one point that Burgess had lifted the title from the Cockney slang phrase 'as queer as a clockwork orange', but there is still debate today about whether this phrase actually existed in the first place. And the writer made a number of claims about what he was getting at - all of which did little more than muddy the picture.

What is known is that Burgess was no great fan of the work Kubrick produced, claiming it had too much sex and violence and not enough about the subtleties of the human condition.

And that may well be the case, but Kubrick regardless gave his audience a thrillingly entertaining piece that has managed to embed itself on humanity's collective consciousness. Play Singin' in the Rain to 10 random strangers, for example, and odds are you'll get some thinking of Gene Kelly dancing down the street and others of the very nasty thug Alex, embodied here by Malcolm McDowell (below), dancing to a different tune entirely.

As with everything Kubrick touched, the film is steely cold in its emotional content, reflecting we can assume the very nature of a man who kept society - indeed life - at arm's length for much of his acclaimed career. Whether it be in the likes of The Shining through to Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick loved to make his audience squirm by tapping into the feeling we all must encounter at some stage that we don't really belong.

And no one, in this film, seems to belong to anything much at all.

Set in a futuristic London, Clockwork follows Alex and his thugs - who are committed to crime, sex and violence as they rampage across the city and countryside. There seems all at once no cause for their anger and no need for the extent to which they go to put others through pain and torment. And retribution - when it comes to Alex once the game is up - is truly frightening.

But the genius in Kubrick's vision here is the humour - which you cannot escape, no matter how ugly the images he places in front of you. It is all utterly absurd - the fights, the punishment, and the therapy.

It is only at the film's crunching denouement that we realise of all the characters we meet, Alex is the only one who stays true to himself - rightly or wrongly. The nasty message that lingers is that perhaps we can never change who we really are. And that's the most frightening aspect of all.