After “2001…” Kubrick seemed to go for nothing but extremes with this film, which takes duality of man and reversals of roles to his orgasmic zenith. The movie goes so far outside of any realm known up to this point, and since, that it’s hard to quite distinguish what it is. It’s a violent film, it’s a political film, it’s a science-fiction film, it’s even considered a comedy, there’s hardly any genre it fits perfectly into. Yet, the movie also is the first film to note of gang violence, some twenty or so years before it would become a popular term. The opening sequences involves the film’s, and I use this term exceptionally satirically, “hero,” Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and his gang of droods, (the film stays true to the Anthony Burgess’s “Nadsat,” language he created in the book, a mix of English, Russian and slang) as they spend time at a Milkbar in a semi-futuristic London, where milk is dispensed from statues of naked girls. They then beat up an old man under a bridge, get in a gangfight in a casino with another gang, drive to the country, causing half a dozen car wrecks, before going to a house where they beat up and gag and old man as Alex rapes his wife, and forever altering the meaning to the lyrics of “Singin’ in the Rain.” That’s the first six minutes. Alex is one of the most maniacal villains in film history. A lover of the ultra-violence, a sadistic rapist, who goes off on these crime spree adventures, for no other purpose other than because he wants to and can. Yet, he is a lover of Beethoven, particularly the Ninth, even hitting his own droods, when they make fun of a woman singing it.
Eventually Alex kills a woman, using, a blatantly phallic object, to understates it severely, and sent to prison, where he undergoes Ludovico treatments which attempt to have him lose all of his urges to do evil, and become a good person in society. Now sprout with feelings of desperate pain at even the thought of doing “evil,” activities like violence and rape, he is now subject to the animalistic natures of the supposedly civilized society. Are we supposed to suddenly look at this degenerate among degenerates as the film’s human? He is our humble narrate-tor, but either way, Kubrick doesn’t seem to give us much choice, like Hitchcock, forcing us to see the film through his eyes, manipulating the screen, with such shots including bizarre angles on faces of characters, with acting that seems sardonically detached, and even a comically fast-forwarded orgy done to the William Tell overture.
I think that's where ultimately "A Clockwork Orange" continues to lose it's power for me. Kubrick's main theme was the duality of man, and of course, it's arguably explored more here in this film that in any other he's done, but the problem is that it's too simplistic. The only thing that's explored is whether or not society created Alex or whether Alex alters society and nothing else in particular. The movie itself, ends only 2/3rds the way through where the book does, which shows a more character arc for Alex, and here, Alex isn't so much a character as a construct. a representation. He's that in the book, but in the novel it's more of a parable for growing up as a society and a person, taken to extremes but here however, he's more a representative of the two extremes of human nature, and there is no third level.
Of course it wasn't Kubrick's intention to make us care or sympathize with Alex, or even with his victims, which is why I’m still in the camp that this film is one of Kubrick’s best, but it’s subjective alright. I have to be as detached from the film as the characters in the film, which not only was Kubrick's intention, but, essentially what the film is about. It's always a good idea when it's somebody else we're talking about....