A Clockwork Orange | adaptation review

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Title: A Clockwork Orange
Motion Picture Rating: R
Release Date: February 1972
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Production Co.: Warner Bros.
Runtime: 136 min
My Rating: 4 stars

I’m not very good at reviewing films, but I like to think I am somewhat qualified to review film adaptations of books. Maybe not, but hey, let me pretend. After finally getting around to reading Anthony Burgess’s novel of the same name, my roommate (who had also read it) and I watched Kubrick’s film. I know A Clockwork Orange is a big deal in the film world, but I’m mostly going to discuss why it’s a good adaptation as opposed to a good film, because I am not a film scholar, I am a literary scholar. For my review of the novel, as well as an intro to the plot, read this first.

Burgess’s story is set in a future dystopian-esque society and focuses on 15-year-old Alex, a sociopath whose life revolves around violence and destruction. Malcolm McDowell plays Alex in the film and does a great job of portraying this violent teen. Though 15 in the novel (and supposedly intended to be in the film), Alex appears to be a bit older, perhaps 17 or 18. He seems a lot older in appearance and mannerisms, which is most likely due to the fact that McDowell was 27 years old at the time of filming. I think it’s easier for us as viewers to picture (and accept) an 18-year-old beating and raping people as opposed to a 14-year-old.

Another  change in age occurred with the two girls Alex meets in the music store. In the novel, the girls are 10 years old; Alex takes them to his apartment, drugs them, pushes them around, and then rapes them. A scene like this is very violent and inappropriate, and would probably not go over well with viewers. Kubrick knew this, so he portrayed the girls as young adults, almost looking older than Alex, and had them engage in playful, consensual sex.

There were a few other minor changes to the film (the insecurity of the government, the infamous “Singin’ in the Rain”, Georgie becoming a police officer, etc), but Kubrick manages to stay relatively faithful to the novel. The film is actually quite beautiful and a good adaptation. I noticed a lot of symmetry and balance throughout the film and it was very aesthetically pleasing. The story being set in a strange, futuristic world, it’s hard  to picture the characters and setting when reading the novel. It was interesting to see how everything and everyone looked in the film. The Korova Milk Bar was by far the strangest with it’s tables, chairs, and kegs made out of naked mannequin women. The clothes were especially strange, too; many of the adults women wore bright pastel wigs, different gangs had different uniforms, both men and women wore makeup — it was very interesting and unique.

As I mentioned in my review of the novel, the final chapter is very controversial. Kubrick was almost done filming A Clockwork Orange when he read a version that actually included the 21st chapter. He decided it was unconvincing and inconsistent with the rest of the book, claiming it to be an “extra chapter.” Burgress enjoyed the film despite the omission of the final chapter, putting more blame on his publisher than Kubrick. Burgerss loved McDowell’s portrayal of Alex and especially liked the use of music, which I also picked up on and enjoyed. Burgess called the film “brilliant,” and I have to agree.

Whether reading the novel interests you or not, I would highly recommend the film. There is a lot of violence, profanity, and  nudity, though, so if you aren’t a fan of that stuff, you won’t be a fan of this film. I make it a point to read a book before watching its adaptation, but you can easily enjoy this film without having read Burgess’s book. The story itself is very interesting, but after doing much research, I’ve come to find the facts and stories behind A Clockwork Orange to be just as intriguing. Anthony Burgess is a fascinating guy and the themes and messages behind his story are worth learning about. However, if none of this interests you, at least watch the film because it’s a brilliant one.

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