Kubrick in Reverse- A Clockwork Orange: A Clockwork Bore-ange? by Kyle Anderson
I think I’ve reached a fatigue point in my Kubrick-watching. After three relatively easy viewings, I last watched Barry Lyndon which took it out of me. This week when I sat down to watch A Clockwork Orange, which is one of my very favorites of his. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen it probably five or six times already but I lost interest very quickly. The horrifying images of Alex’s exploits have lost their punch, which is troubling. Should I not always be affected by seeing scenes of rape and violence? I think it’s in this way that Kubrick’s 1971 film was, like most of his films, well ahead of its time.
This is the story a young man so disconnected from society that he’s become depraved. It’s important to note that Alex is not insane, he’s just a degenerate. He thinks nothing of going out nightly to rape and torture because he has been desensitized to it by the world around him. I have now seen the film enough times as to remove the shocking quality from it. Kubrick is his innovativeness predicted a world where people would be desensitized to the darker parts of life, as the news tells us about every single day. This is a film so controversial upon its release that Kubrick himself pulled the film from theaters for fear of inciting too many riots and here it is 40 years on and I can watch it and not only not be affected by it, but actually be bored by it because I’ve seen it so many times.
I have to believe this is the filmmaker’s doing. The style and method he uses to tell the story of a truly frightening individual is such that it makes his actions perfunctory and commonplace, and even the cheerful first person narration and use of classical music works to dull the viewer’s senses. During the first portion of the film, wherein Alex and his droogs’ nightly escapades give us some truly horrendous and Joker-like activities, Kubrick shoots everything with very wide angle lenses well back from the action. The effect this has is two-fold: Firstly, it presents the violence in a very matter of fact, almost snuff-film style. It doesn’t glorify it but it also doesn’t vilify it. It just IS. Secondly, it makes the audience feel like they’re watching something they probably shouldn’t, forcing them to be an unwitting voyeur of Alex’s deranged mind.
While this is going on, we hear Alex’s narration as well as Beethoven and other very well-respected pieces of Classical music which puts us in the mind of the dangerous young man. We’re told that Beethoven conjures images of things Alex loves, like destruction, murder, and sexual assault; all while visions of himself as a vampire flash during the proceedings. This creates in the viewers the connection between these pieces of classical music and the things Alex does. This is later reflected in Alex’s subjection to the Ludovico technique where drugs and forced repeated viewings of similar actions, coupled with Beethoven’s 9th Symphony lead to a Pavlovian response in Alex, making him physically ill. And it seems to have worked. I can’t hear the 9th without thinking of A Clockwork Orange, though I don’t get sick.
I think I’ve finally gotten to the point where there’s nothing more for me to ascertain by watching A Clockwork Orange. If the Kubrick in Reverse articles have taught me anything it’s that, while Kubrick’s films benefit from repeat viewings, they also benefit from time. Perhaps I needed more time with Clockwork before I could feel anywhere approaching as strongly about it as I had the first few viewings. The previous time I’d seen it was sitting on the lawn of a cemetery with hundreds of others, watching the film projected onto the side of a mausoleum. I might now be spoiled and need to watch it in such fantastic circumstances every time. Or, perhaps more likely, the effect of such a film diminishes over time. I may have inadvertently cured myself.