Looking back at A Clockwork Orange

Stanley Kubrick’s classic adaption of The Clockwork Orange hit American theaters 40 years ago today, on February 2, 1972.

The film – based on Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel of the same name – tells the story of Alex (Malcolm McDowell) who leads a gang of thugs (Pete, Georgie, and Dim) the protagonist refers to as his droogs. 

Alex is portrayed as a charismatic, psychopathic delinquent whose hobbies include classical music (especially Beethoven), rape and “ultra-violence.”

After engaging in a prolonged crime spree, he is apprehended and sentenced to 14 years in prison. 

The protagonist later volunteers to undergo treatment via the controversial Ludovico Technique, which involves drugging the subject, strapping him to a chair, propping the eyelids open, and forcing him to watch violent movies.

Mike Kaplan, who worked with Kubrick on the film, recently told The Atlantic that A Clockwork Orange can’t really be categorized as belonging to any particular genre – even though critic Pauline Kael dubbed the film “a porno-violent sci-fi comedy.” 

“He [Kubrick] was incapable of making a pure genre movie – too smart – though many were mistakenly promoted that way,” Kaplan explained.

“Clockwork doesn’t fit into the traditional ‘science fiction’ or ‘violent’ category, which was attempted to expand the audience after its successful initial campaign. Everyone wanted to fit Stanley and the film in a pigeonhole.”

Unsurprisingly, British officials branded A Clockwork Orange with an X-rating and Kubrick was later forced to withdraw the film in the UK after a number of alleged copycat crimes. The ban was finally lifted in 1999. 

However, as Adam Chandler of The Atlantic notes, between the humor, aestheticized violence and the innovative use of music, A Clockwork Orange managed to offer up a host of techniques that have been plundered ever since. 

“Despite so many gruesome acts, Kubrick makes it possible to see Alex’s impulses in a way that’s less reflective of Hannibal Lecter than the villains who were villains because of their very nature: the Shark in Jaws, the Martians in War of the Worlds, and a personal favorite, Man in Bambi… As brutally unfamiliar as Alex’s world was made to seem, somehow it still cosmically linked to ours.”