Friday, January 1, 2010

1972 Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation – A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

Ah, no better way to celebrate New Year's than with a bit of the old ultra-violence.

Kubrick directed three of the first four films to win Hugos, and three of his films in a row have racked up wins.

This is shocking and disturbing film. The first third follows a mod gang as they fight, rob, rape, and murder their way through a dystopian future. Kubrick doesn’t shy away from showing us some fairly extreme sexual violence (the film was rated X in the US and banned in Britain for decades). The film is narrated by one of the thugs, Alex (Malcolm McDowell), who is bloodthirsty and nihilistic. Alex is arrested and sentenced to a long prison sentence. He eventually signs up for a Pavlovian experiment that will make him averse to violence. He is forced to watch hours of ultraviolence while he’s given drugs to make him ill.

It’s a bit hard to sympathize with Alex, which I’d say is the biggest stumbling block of the film (though certainly an intentional and well-executed one). Alex's awfulness provides the viewer with an interesting ethical dilemma. Is it right to basically neuter Alex with aversion therapy? Is Alex good if he only behaves because he has to? These are interesting and challenging questions.

The film’s biggest achievement is probably visual, which is not surprising for a Kubrick film. There are some amazing shots, and Kubrick creates a vibrant stylized world. It does look a bit like a futuristic vision from the sixties (which it basically is) – everything is colorful, sexualized, and very mod. But it is a compelling and believable vision.

A Clockwork Orange is not for the weak-stomached, but it’s certainly a filmmaking achievement. I do like that the WorldCon voters were willing to opt for something like this.

Grade: A-

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