Continuing Simon Augustine's countdown of the Most Disturbing Movies (Read Part 1 for the previous 13). [<< #11]
10. A Clockwork Orange (1971) 10/7
A film of such high artistic merit that I hesitate to place it here, but Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Anthony Burgess's sci-fi novel must grace any list with "disturbing" in the title. Mainstream enough to have been seen by countless neophytes, but twisted enough to be treasured by the more perverse among us, A Clockwork Orange (even the title is unsettling in its somewhat arbitrary and colorful surrealism) evokes a not very distant dystopia that is both absolutely convincing and yet disorienting in its restrained mix of futurism and contemporary realism: Kubrick infuses the early 70s overt, garish style with "things to come" details to create an effect both familiar and strange.
One of the more philosophically complicated statements put on celluloid, the story concerns sadistic gang leader Alex (Malcolm McDowell) who is subjected to "The Ludovico Treatment," a radical therapy that aspires to rid juvenile delinquents of violent tendencies by forcing them to watch horrible, graphic images unto the point of sickness; if they try any actual aggression or sexual indecency, a psychological association is triggered and they are immediately rendered physically ill, inert.
A visceral and thoughtful meditation on the relation between free will, violence, and moral evolution, it became banned in Britain when it tragically seemed to inspire acts of violence around theatres in which it was shown. Kubrick was horrified and willingly withdrew it. In a film of such magnificent design (the gang in a speeding car at night against a background of artificial night; the Korova Milkbar; the famous single eyelash; the small pins holding Alex's eyes wide during the treatment), attention to detail, and feckless interrogation of the delicate structures of a society that nearly demands moral hypocrisy, it is hard to pick one great moment. Lucky for us, Kubrick mostly stopped talking to people, barricaded himself in an English manse, and thought all day about how to make films. The result is an almost unparalleled run: Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and this masterpiece in succession. Like The Beatles, Kubrick changed and mastered every genre he touched.
One of the most heralded, or controversial, scenes is one in which Alex and his droogs invade an academic's home and rape his wife complete with codpieces and masks. Unforgettable: When Malcolm McDowell intones "viddy well" ("look closely") as he peers into the face of the professor, Alexander (Patrick Magee), and a sickening "gong" signals the flourishing of dread. But even more deeply funny and scary is the reaction of Mr. Alexander when he realizes Alex has serendipitously returned to his home and the scene of the crime without knowing it, and comeuppance for the death of his wife is eminent. The scene where Mr. Alexander secretly and silently and literally has a conniption fit of orgasmic rage may be the most chilling, darkly hilarious moment in modern Disturbing Film history.
Throughout his career, Kubrick had a penchant for picking terrific British character actors and perfectly sculpted six foot tall naked women who utter no dialogue; both are featured in this film, which in addition to Magee has the excellent Philip Stone (who would later play Delbert Grady in The Shining) playing Malcolm's father. Walter Carlos, who became Wendy Carlos, provided the "switched on Bach" type, brilliant score.
Note: This and Texas Chainsaw Massacre make a nice starter set for your favorite 15 year old budding young film critic/degenerate.
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