60/60 Review #32: A Clockwork Orange.

So, Dylan suggested I read the book before I watched the movie in this particular case. I had looked at the book quite a while back and noticed the language used and the difficulty therein. I was slightly hesitant, but figured why not? Because the movie was coming up quickly on the list, I didn't have time to go out and get the book and then read it, so instead, I downloaded the audiobook right to my Kindle and listened to it. At first, the language was quite difficult to get past and I literally had no idea what was going on for the first 2-3 chapters. But after a while, I got used to it and--as long as I was paying close attention (and there were times I was not, sadly)--I could follow it well.

Now, I knew going into the movie that Kubrick based it on the American release, which did not include the controversial 21st chapter, which gave us not only a mostly happy ending, but one that wraps up the themes and entire point of the novel. Instead, he went with the darker, more open ending that ends with chapter 20, leaving out any character growth or the overarching theme. Granted, there was the theme of "choice is what makes one human," but it's not really explored in the film as it is in the book. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

For those unawares, A Clockwork Orange tells the story of Alex (Malcolm McDowell), a young boy who runs a gang in a dystopian future of ultraviolence from teens that rule the night. But after he's caught and sent to jail, he's volunteered to join an experimental treatment that will ultimately cure him--though it's a controversial matter, as it seems to take away his choice to be good or bad and, thus, takes away his humanity.

Let's get the book comparisons out of the way first. First and most obvious is the fact that we have guys around 30 playing 14-year-olds. Though that's not really bothersome, as the acting (particularly by Malcolm McDowell) is done quite well. The movie also uses the nadsat language much less frequently than the book (where it's almost entirely in it). The biggest difference I noticed, especially early on, is that the tone is a bit different. Mostly thanks to Alex's constant narration, the book is saturated with dark humor. The film has it, too, but it's done differently--it's a more visual style than a verbal style. And that's a rather obvious change considering the medium. I just found it a much different type of dark humor than the book had. And the movie is not nearly as disturbing as the book, where some truly messed up stuff happens and/or is described.

Otherwise, I've already mentioned the cutting of the final chapter. And there were the little changes or cuts here and there that will happen with any adaptation (the smallest though strangest of which, in this case, was the alteration of his prison number from 6655321 to 655321, when they just pronounce it 6-double 5-3-2-1, giving it the same amount of syllables as if just saying the original number). They also cut out practically every reference to the title itself--A Clockwork Orange. In the novel, it's a book being written by one of the characters that Alex stumbles across early on. After that point, he ponders the title at different junctures throughout the novel, which ties it in with one of the primary themes. But that's all missing from the film.

There's also the minor complaints that I totally didn't picture certain things as they were portrayed in the film that always happens in book-to-film adaptations. But this leads into something that's not quite an adaptation/personal issue. The story is supposed to be this dystopian future, but it still looks totally 70s.

The visual style on the whole, though, was pretty fascinating. The camera angles made everything feel uncomfortable and dreamlike. There were either very close, tight shots from lower angles or very wide shots with large, empty rooms and spaces. It was a strange feeling throughout the film. But I'm sure it was all deliberate, adding to the absurdity and craziness of the story and characters.

The musical selections were pretty obvious, going with Beethoven and classical music. It's a huge part of the book, so using it throughout the film was almost a no-brainer. It set the tone of a lot of scenes, adding a lot of emotion as only classical music can do.

This is my 4th Kubrick film, 3rd for this project, and so far it's the one I've liked the most in its entirety (though I still have one to go for the List). The first half of Full Metal Jacket is excellent, though its second half about falls apart and doesn't live up to the first half. I appreciated but didn't care for Dr. Strangelove. And we all know my feelings on 2001: A Space Odyssey. He's definitely an interesting visual director--I just can't say I'm a huge fan of his films as a whole. But pulling it back to this one, perhaps it's because I did read the book beforehand, or maybe not... just like the book, it took me the first few "chapters" of stuff to get used to it (in this case the visual style, whereas the book it was the language)... but after that, I got into it pretty well. As they say, the book is better, but it's still a well made movie. Real horrorshow.

A Keanu 'Whoa'

(P.S. This is probably the most mainstream of the films this month, and it's known for being quite messed up. However, this was probably the tamest film so far, next to Freaks.)


  1. Have not read the book so it's interesting to get your take. I didn't realize until recently that there was more to the book than where the film ends.

    It's odd, but I love the way Kubrick ends this film. It seems proper, in a very demented way.

    Easily my favorite Kubrick.

  2. I really like this movie a lot. It might be my favorite Kubrick, and if not, it's a close second. The soundtrack may have obvious selections, but the Walter Carlos electronica versions are so weird and weirdly appropriate for this film that the experience is much less without them.

  3. I need to re-watch this. Had mixed feelings the first time around.

    Nice review.

  4. Not one of my favourite Kubrick films, as I don’t feel it’s aged particularly well (probably the only Kubrick film that HASN’T aged well). Personally I prefer LOLITA, DR. STRANGELOVE, FULL METAL JACKET and, my absolute favourite, THE SHINING. Be sure to check that one out Nick; it makes damn little sense, but my god is it mesmerizing

  5. James: Yeah, the way he ends it is in the book, but there's still a chapter after that.

    Steve: Yeah, the music was very appropriate.

    Duke: I had some mixed feelings, too, but overall I think Kubrick did a good job. Not sure how I would have felt had I not read the book first, though.

    Tom: Funny, since I think it's aged particularly well. The story alone is prophetic to how kids act today. And The Shining is on my list for October.

  6. I agree that the story is still relevant. I meant more that it hadn't aged well visually. When you compare it to Kubrick's vision of the future in 2001, or even to other science fiction films made around that time, I think CLOCKWORK looks really dated and a bit silly.

    Hope you enjoy THE SHINING!

  7. Glad you at least kinda read the book. Too bad you didn't have time to give it the full run, since it's a pretty great book. In fact, considering how much we heap praise on modern books and pooh-pooh the movies, I'm a bit shocked at the contrast in credit - seems like Kubrick gets a shitload for Clockwork, when really it's just a pretty faithful adaptation of a literary classic.

    I dug the visual style of the flick - even if it's a bit dated now, it's a pretty cool look at the future. I mean, it's no Logan's Run...you want a dated, 70s-looking future, that's your movie.

  8. Tom: Right. I can agree with that. Like I said in the review, it came off very 70s despite it meaning to be futuristic. So yeah, it's pretty dated and silly at times.

    Dylan: I did give it a full run! Beginning to end!

  9. But you said yourself that you weren't giving it your full attention. It's not a book that you can not pay attention to (as you kinda learned).

  10. One of my most favorite films ever. I've just read the book and loved it. I was fortunate enough to see it on the big scren twenty years ago and have mesmerized by it ever since.
    I actually found the book really easy to get into and was into the slang within the first page.
    It is one of the rare times when the book and the film are as good as one another. Real horrorshow!!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.