AFInity: A Clockwork Orange

By Kim Hollis

October 23, 2009

Probably not the best spokesperson for the Got Milk campaign.

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Another fascinating aspect of A Clockwork Orange is its emphasis on youth versus experience. The young people in the film speak a jargon all their own; it's incomprehensible to someone not in their crowd. (My memories of basic Russian tell me that this vocabulary derives from that language. Therefore, a word like "horrorshow" used to express a positive makes sense to me since it sounds like the Russian "chorosho", which means something akin to "splendid"). The divide between generations is as significant as Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers to my mind, and a prescient foretelling of things to come. The film illustrates the attitudes that can lead to a generation gap.

Along with the themes of the film, A Clockwork Orange has a singular look and sound. The characters are dressed in things like codpieces and black top hats, and Alex wears fake eyelashes on one eye. When they disguise themselves for criminal activity, they wear odd masks with long noses or other strange exaggerations. A rival gang has its own look. Various set pieces serve to give the film a futuristic feel. It's a story that could happen any time, but we're very aware that it's set at some not-so-distant time.

The music also contributes to the atmosphere of the movie, with the music of "Ludwig Van" taking center stage. Like most young people, Alex loves music, but rather than having an obsession with some modern flavor of the day, he's particularly attached to Beethoven's Ninth. Fragments of this symphony play throughout the film, and they're modernized with Walter Carlos's moog synthesizer updates at various points (it's impossible to experience this film without having the moog synth version of the Fourth movement getting stuck in your head for days). The piece proves to be extremely important to the plot of the movie, though I won't reveal the reasons why for those who have yet to view A Clockwork Orange for themselves.


Along with the direction, the movie's success rides largely on the performance of Malcolm McDowell as Alex. It's remarkable how he is able to be charismatic and appealing even as his character is completely repulsive. You're not rooting for him, precisely, but there is an undeniable energy whenever he is onscreen that precludes you from looking away. In a lot of ways, Alex DeLarge is the granddaddy of such characters as American Psycho's Patrick Bateman and even Heath Ledger's Joker.

Interestingly, the more I've reflected on the film as I've written this article, the more I've come back to my original conclusion that it's a brilliant piece of celluloid. The violence (particularly against women) is so disgusting that it's difficult to call A Clockwork Orange a re-watchable movie, but it's also not as though these actions are being condoned. To the contrary, even if Alex is appealing, we're revolted by him. I like that I was originally captivated by its thematic use of music, but 20 years later, I'm more intrigued by A Clockwork Orange's examination of "goodness" and the schism between generations. Ultimately, that's exactly the sort of thing an excellent movie should do - grow with you.

Kim's AFInity Project Big Board

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