Cult Film: A Clockwork Orange

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee
Year: 1971


by Emma Guinness

Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ novel A Clockwork Orange is, in my opinion, the quintessential cult film. Upon its release in 1971, the film was banned in America due to its violent and sexually explicit content. Despite its notorious reputation, this film is not one which is centred on debase subject matter, but a question which will always be relevant to mankind: what is the true nature of ‘goodness’? This is, however, just one of the many reasons why A Clockwork Orange is worth watching; other unusual features such as the culture which exists amongst its portrayals of inhuman brutality, and the captivating way it has been filmed have obtained it cult status – Alex and his gang’s outfits, for example, symbolise its sexually explicit nature through the codpieces they wear.

A Clockwork Orange’s plot is centred on the teenage anti-hero Alex DeLarge. A disturbed young man marauding through a future dystopian society with his three droogs, (told using the slang language of ‘Nadsat’, the word ‘droog’ being the Russian word for ‘friend’), they commit some heinous crimes, including vicious rapes. As instigator of most of the activities, it is Alex who is eventually caught out. Instead of being incarcerated, Alex agrees to be a guinea-pig for the sinister ‘Ludovico technique’, which promises to cure and reform violent criminals permanently. This technique is disturbing as it removes Alex’s capacity to make a moral choice, though it ostensibly appears to make him into a model citizen. The film follows Alex’s subsequent journey after undergoing the Ludovico Technique, and the effects it has upon his ability to choose between good and evil – a choice which is integral to the individual’s humanity.

This film has become a cult classic largely due to its unusual content, such as the culture that exists amongst its portrayals of inhuman brutality. Alex’s fascination with Beethoven, for example, provides a stark contrast between the innocent nature of music, and the acts of violence which he carries out. Indeed, although Beethoven is played at various points throughout, it is most poignant when it is played as Alex commits heinous crimes. The visual aspects of A Clockwork Orange are also particularly effective as although it is set in a future society, it is not a distant future as seen in sci-fi films, but one that can be related to – a tomorrow not far from today. It is because of this that the film’s questioning of the nature of ‘goodness’ has remained relevant to modern audiences, and emphasizes that moral choice is of key importance in any society, regardless of whether it is 1970 or 2070.

Ultimately, A Clockwork Orange is worth watching because of the poignant comment it makes about human nature. It will always be relevant because it reveals that it is the choice between good and evil which makes the individual human – without this choice, they become something mechanical and clockwork. This adaptation of Burgess’ novel possesses many qualities which the book does not, and in my opinion, it is these qualities, such as Alex and his gang’s outfits, which have obtained it cult status. Therefore, if you are willing to look past A Clockwork Orange’s notorious reputation, you will be rewarded with a film that is both captivating and complex, and it is because of this that it is worth recommending.