Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Clockwork Orange: A Meta-Review [spoilers]

So I finally got around to watching A Clockwork Orange.  It's a movie I'd heard so much about, I considered it almost superfluous to watch it, but considering that I occasionally mention it in writing (it's on anyone's list of dystopian moves, and I've often noted how rare non-dystopian futuristic movies are, by comparison) I figured I should give it a try.

It was very, very different than I had been led to believe.  Far from a fast-paced orgy of drugs and violence, the movie dragged from time to time.  Kubrick has his points to make about bureaucracy, and in A Clockwork Orange he makes them fairly literally (i.e., prisoner intake is lengthy and laborious, psychiatrist interviews are lengthy and laborious, etc.)

As to the main character, I was again misled.  Most fans of the movie said Kubrick's genius lay in his ability to create a charismatic figure out of a boy who committed unspeakable violence in nearly every scene.  I found Alex to be occasionally comical and about as despicable as his reputation.  I didn't find him nearly as "eerily charming and magnetic" as someone like Hannibal Lecter or Darth Vader, but then I am more turned off by puerile, self-centered "non-conformists" than most so that isn't surprising.

Oddly enough, as the movie wore on I found Kubrick almost understated the violence of Alex and his gang.  They beat up an alcoholic derelict, but they don't kill him even though he begs for it (which he does for personal reasons, before they have hurt him).  Next they take on rival thugs and stop a vicious gang rape, albeit serendipitously.  The barbaric attack on the writer and his wife are when Alex first shows his true colors.  Following this up with an attack on an even older, even more defenseless (and a more cautious and probably more sympathetic) woman, the only reason Alex's arrest feels unfortunate is that three quarters of his gang get away.

While Kubrick doesn't spend too many reels showing Alex as a cold-blooded killer, it's his cinematic handling that generates the most controversy.  The crimes, we are told, look too fun.  This might have bothered me ten years ago, and it surely would have bothered me when I was Alex's age, but as I get older I get more used to the idea of an artist throwing us headlong into the bad guy's point of view.  This may be because, as a hard rightist who is also a former center-leftist who used to associate heavily with leftists, I am quite well acquainted with the bad guy's point of view.  Kubrick's "exciting and fun" camera work never offended me - he was just trying to show how an obnoxious, selfish teenager can throw himself into a life of hardcore evil as a means of entertainment.

So there you have it - I'm one of the ones who didn't misunderstand Kubrick.  (I think.)  Alex is not a nonconformist at all - he's just a prick.  But then again, Kubrick's "bleak, dystopian" future only looks bleak if you're stuck in the Summer of Love (the Brits didn't even have Vietnam to spoil their fun).  From the perspective of 2011, it's not that bad.  There is no interracial violence, the economy seems to be working okay, noöne ever complains about food prices or wonders if her son will ever return from Central Asia.

The awful Ludovico technique into which Alex was forced ... was actually something he chose.  Granted, he was unclear on the details, but between sessions of watching the films (about as violent as Kubrick's first reel, seems like), he converses normally with psychiatric staff.  During the viewings, eyedrops keep his eyes from drying out.  Only the introduction of the drug causes the violence to as sickening to him as it should be.  The technique seems to be awful mainly by accident - it causes Alex to associate nausea and illness with the one wholesome part of his character: Beethoven.

The main downside of the world of A Clockwork Orange is that leftists are still stupid.  And this brings me to the crux of this post, and the deep sickness of modern leftism betrayed by reaction to the movie: all the praise and condemnation I have heard for this movie concentrates on the ethically questionable anti-crime activities that form the movie's middle.  The demonstrably pro-crime, pro-barbarism activities that form the movie's coda never warrant a mention.  It's like "thank goodness he's cured, and he can be an edgy non-conformist again."  Questionable means can't be purified by a laudable goal, but apparently using the same means (spooky experimental psychiatry) is just fine if your goal is to turn a defenseless young man into a monster.

The plot arc of Mr. Alexander, the writer character who is an apparent alter-ego of Anthony Burgess, seems to be a pretty obvious indictment of the liberal's critique of the Ludovico technique.  The writer, like the audience, is steadfastly opposed to this "brutal" technique, only he changes his mind when he realizes Alex is the same boy who had invaded his house and brutalized its occupants, years ago.  It seems that when crime victims remain an abstraction, the liberal finds it easy and even laudable to sympathize with the criminal, no matter how brutal.  Alex's ill-considered rendition of "Singin' in the Rain" turns Mr. Alexander into a conservative, as it were.

In my experience, the film's audience is not so easily moved.  The truly dystopian ending to the movie, in which it is hinted that the anti-crime party has taken to enlisting thugs to intimidate political opponents, was lost on most of the people I've known who have discussed the movie.  The idea that their beloved state, far from using "spooky mind control" to turn thugs into well-spoken young gentlemen, is turning impressionable youths into narcissistic, hypersexualized political footballs is just too horrible for the leftist to contemplate.

And that is leftism in a nutshell.  It surprised me not at all to find that Burgess was a rightist and a monarchist.

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