When researching my doctoral dissertation, The Costumed Catholic: Catholics, Whiteness, and the Movies, 1928-1973(2013), my quest for information brought me to Georgetown University. In the special collections department of their library are the papers of Martin Quigley, a sort of early film critic who published a few semi-influential periodicals on the motion picture industry. I found myself pouring through boxes of his personal correspondence because he was a staunch Catholic and a founding member of the Legion of Decency. I have discussed this organization in other reviews, and the cover image for The Legionnaire’s blog site came from them. As for Quigley, his position as a publisher of movie trade magazines and influence over one of the most powerful film watchdog groups of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, meant that he was somebody with whom I had to come to terms. For two weeks, for eight hours a day, I poured over his pictures, documents, and letters. One of the more interesting finds was a set of missives exchanged between him and one of the most highly regarded directors of all time, Stanley Kubrick. In 1962, Kubrick released his telling of the controversial Vladimir Nabokov novel Lolita (1955), a story that features a twelve-year-old girl being sexually molested by a middle-aged man. Quigley steadfastly warned Kubrick against making the film. When Kubrick persisted, Quigley tried to come up with ways of relating such a terrible story without resorting to filth. It was all pretense. Kubrick ignored virtually all of Quigley’s suggestions.
Today’s film is another Kubrick film, A Clockwork Orange (1971). I do not know where experts rank it in his catalog that features such classics as Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Shining (1980), and Full Metal Jacket (1987). I also do not care. I have seen all the movies (now, anyway), and of them The Shining is the most interesting. For years, I had been hearing about A Clockwork Orange from many different quarters. Sometimes you see fringe groups, punk culture for example, lauding the exploits of the main character, Alex DeLarge (Malcolm MacDowell). This review will not contain a full summary of the plot because it is far too vulgar to describe. Yet, given some of the more extreme reaches of punk culture, you can draw your own conclusions as to why the two would be associated. Film critics then and now acknowledge its vulgarity, but praise it all the same. Only in a post-modern world where we are increasingly disconnected from the Faith that has nurtured more than it has harmed (yet we only seem to remember the bad) can we have a film where murder, torture, rape, and promiscuity (to name a few) are celebrated as art. And it is not one scene where these things occur, but a constant barrage of images that had me covering my eyes early and often for its two hour plus run time. When it is not showing you female or male nudity, the art that “decorates” the homes the characters inhabit is filled with obscene images. It should probably come as no surprise that footage of Nazi rallies also appears amongst this ocean of filth. After finally see it for the first time, I cannot understand why anyone enjoys it, or would want anyone else to see it.
What I will say about A Clockwork Orange is that it is not completely, utterly pointless, unlike some other films that have been reviewed on The Legionnaire. Given the little I have said about Alex’s actions, it is little wonder that he ends up in prison. While there, he “befriends” the Church of England prison chaplain (Godfrey Quigley). He praises Alex for his behavior, which is really just a ruse by the young man in a desperate attempt to not be confined anymore. One day, Alex learns about something called the “Ludovico treatment,” a questionable procedure designed to make criminals good. The chaplain cautions Alex against it, even though taking part in it will mean that he can leave jail in two weeks rather than serving his fourteen-year sentence. The chaplain makes an excellent point about Faith in his arguments, rightly saying that the treatment will rob people of choice. To force people to be good, it tortures them into submission. The result is a physical aversion towards any deviant behavior, in Alex’s case violence in particular. Choice is central to Faith. To practice it involves daily choosing God rather than following our own base desires. Alex would rather give in to his impulses, which is what lands him prison. He thinks that the treatment is an easy ticket out of incarceration, and is quite shaken when the procedure works as the chaplain predicted. He also finds a society, including his parents, who have turned their backs on him. I wish I could pity him more. He might have been on the way to earning more, especially after he attempts to jump to his death after undergoing further torture at the hands of one of his early victims. Yet, the film ends with him in several casts still thinking the same awful thoughts that had led him to that position in the first place.
There is no reason to watch A Clockwork Orange. There is nothing of value in it. The brief moment with the chaplain does not make up for the rest of the movie. Supposedly it is set in the future, although I did not get too much of a futuristic feel. There is some anti-government message in it as well, though it is veiled in the awful images it repeatedly throws at you. Finally, unless you are well-versed in British slang, with a little Shakespearean lingo mixed in for good measure, you will find a lot of the dialog difficult to follow. At one point, I almost turned it off before it was over. I probably should have done so. Please do not watch this movie.