Kubrick's Ludovico Treatment - "A Clockwork Orange" Review

Updated on April 22, 2019
Sam Shepards profile image

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction and zombie movies. Pessimistic and survival films I also enjoy a lot.

Reviewing A Clockwork Orange in 2019 is a challenge. The legendary Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece has been inspected, debated, analyzed and dissected to the last detail for the last 40 years, and with plenty of reason.

It wasn’t only very ahead of its time but still remains an amazing piece of cinema thanks to its multiple layers and its fast, entertaining and unforgettable narrative.

The protagonist is Alex (Malcolm McDowell), a young man whose life priorities are Beethoven, rapes, and physical violence. Alex is a virility reaffirmation junkie who ends up being the test subject for an experimental treatment whose purpose is to repress the violent impulses to the point of physical discomfort.

This anti-hero—who in reality is a full blown engaging villain—is undoubtedly one of the best movie characters of all time and one of the main reasons why A Clockwork Orange is a classic.

I've always been fascinated by the fact that A Clockwork Orange is labeled as a dystopia rather than mere fiction. There is no apocalypse, energy crisis, zombie invasion, or aliens.

The governmental presence (fundamental to establish this type of dystopia) is shown through something completely plausible: an experimental treatment to modify violent behaviors. It's a reality that not only may happen tomorrow but probably has already happened in different ways. This nightmare is timeless rather than dystopic.

Of course, politics is at the heart of the conflict. Though not obvious, it's easy to detect by the characters, dialects, and locations that this fictional society is declining after the economic failure of a socialist model and the arrival of a far-right-wing-fascist government.

In A Clockwork Orange, control is demonized in all its presentations, showing it as selfish entities that never really seek the welfare of their citizens.

Perhaps the only thing that A Clockwork Orange has lost over time has been the impact of its portrayal of violence. After online snuff films, Eli Roth's gore, Srđan Spasojević's sadism, or Gaspar Noé's sexual nightmares, it's clear that A Clockwork Orange's stylized violence no longer affects viewers as it did in the 70s.

But even that has worked in its favor: the themes displayed in the film continue to captivate and generate debates because, today more than ever, this film can be enjoyed with the fresher perspective of a more cynical, desensitized audience.

This opinion is shared by the same Malcolm McDowell, who has suggested that it wasn't until the 21st century that audiences saw the film properly as a black comedy.

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From the shot angles to the chosen palette, Kubrick's genius is imprinted on several layers. That's even more evident in his decision to apply his own version of The Ludovico Treatment to us, the audience. In the same way that poor Alex DeLarge can't listen to Beethoven's Ninth without being attacked by physical pain and visions of ultra-violence, Kubrick's audiovisual decisions are so emblematic and powerful that it's impossible not to relate a harmless, positive song like Gene Kelly's "Singing in the rain" with a home invasion/rape or Rossini's William Tell Overture with a fast-motion sexual threesome.

It's the perfect final paradox in a film that precisely criticizes behaviorism.

Movie Details

Title: A Clockwork Orange

Release Year: 1971

Director(s): Stanley Kubrick

Actors: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates, a.o.

5 stars for A Clockwork Orange

© 2019 Sam Shepards

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