The Disappointing Popularity of 'A Clockwork Orange'
by Lily Ekimian
It is not easy to criticise Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. If anything, its popularity is strengthened by the various attempts to bring it down. It is a film that flails its arms in warning of censorship, so those who want to point out its problems become the ‘real’ problem. I watched the film this past April when it was re-released into UK cinemas, and I think that its problem has to do with morals. Do I sound like a square for saying it glorifies violence? Yeah, I probably do, and that’s because the film’s defenders only see it as being cool and controversial in the most basic sense. There is nothing cool, I should hope, about rape. But that is exactly what the film seems to glorify the most.
For those who don’t know it, A Clockwork Orange follows a teen named Alex who commits violent acts in a dystopian society with his gang of ‘droogs.’ They get into street fights, they break into houses, they rape, and Alex eventually commits murder. For this murder, Alex is taken into custody and subsequently reformed to suppress his violent urges. By the end, however, he breaks through the authoritarian system and enjoys violence once again.
Underlying the entire film is a perverse obsession with rape. The subject returns time and time again but the film’s attitude towards it never seems to change, and by that I mean it is never condemned. Take the scene of a woman being attacked on a theatre stage by a group of men. The men, with the intent to rape her, rip the clothing off the woman in a performative and provocative manner, leaving this unnecessarily busty woman completely naked for what is now the audience’s viewing pleasure.
Here is another scene: Alex and his gang invade the home of a writer and his wife. Both are beaten and restrained, and the husband is forced to watch Alex rape his wife. I am a firm believer that an atrocious act does not need to become an atrocious scene in film, but why this one becomes so unforgivable is that it is done in jest: it all takes place while Alex sings, and dances to, ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’ The fact that a clip of this scene on YouTube has over a million views should hint at its light treatment of the subject.
The film is too ‘enjoyable’ for its own good, and to see it in the cinema was to find this out first-hand. When Alex uses a phallic sculpture to murder a woman, the audience laughed - and this scene has over two million views on YouTube. This is just another example of how rape is ever-present in this film without proper acknowledgement: the woman in this scene, while not literally raped, is killed with a large penis. Rape is treated as a motif rather than a subject; it is morally skirted around while visually celebrated.
Apparently in the novel (which I have not read), Alex is raped by a man in prison. Now, why would Kubrick leave this out? There is a sense throughout the film that Kubrick is coddling his character; violence towards Alex is treated as the worst kind of violence. And that is the biggest mistake of the film: that Alex is valued above all those whom he devalues.
Sure, A Clockwork Orange looks great, but that’s its problem: the film is too stylish for its content. If you watch this film and fully comprehend it (and you yourself do not condone violence), then you cannot like it. If you do, however, like the film (and also do not condone violence), then I would say you have not fully comprehended it.