A Clockwork Orange is a 1971 film by Stanley Kubrick based on a 1962 novella by Anthony Burgess. In a dystopic future where street crime is rampant and youths are uncontrollable, teenage sociopath Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and his "Droogs" prowl the night spreading terror and destruction wherever they go. By daybreak, Alex returns home to his vapid parents, who turn a blind eye to his activities, and enjoys his second favorite thing in the world: classical music. On one particular night, his gang brutalizes some people they find on the street, then steal a sports car and drive out to an isolated mansion to torture and rape the resident couple. They finish the night off at their local watering hole, where they sip milk laced with narcotics.Things are going swimmingly for Alex until his gang begins to chafe under his leadership. Alex is still content with pointless violence, but the gang is starting to grow up and think about making a profit. After a fight for supremacy, he reasserts himself as the leader, but bows to the gang's interest in robbing a wealthy widow's house. Alex takes the lead in the robbery, but the widow discovers him, leading to a fight. As the gang flees, they betray Alex and leave him for the police to apprehend. At the station, the police inform Alex that the widow died of her injuries, making him a murderer. He is quickly sentenced to a lengthy prison term.In prison, Alex settles into his old habits, pretending to be a model prisoner while plotting his return to violence. When he discovers that the government is planning to test an experimental treatment on a prisoner in exchange for freedom, Alex jumps at the opportunity. The prison chaplain warns him not to volunteer, claiming that no external force can turn a man good, but Alex is only interested in getting free and returning to his murderous ways.The treatment turns out to be a nightmare. Alex is constantly injected with drugs that make him sick while watching scenes of violence in a theater. His mind soon associates violence and sex with the sickness, causing a Pavlovian response. Particularly abhorrent is the fact that he inadvertently relates the classical music on the soundtrack with the sickness as well. When the procedure is complete, Alex cannot even think about violence, physical or sexual, without suffering from crippling illness, rendering him harmless to society. He also can't listen to his favorite music without intense pain.Alex's case is controversial. His own prison chaplain argues against the procedure, and other critics agree that removing Alex's capacity for moral choice has not turned him good, but reduced him into a programmable machine. The government, however, is only interested in the bottom line of cutting down crime. They release Alex into the world, still evil to his core, but without the ability to defend himself against all his enemies and former victims. His fate ultimately proves the self-defeating nature of the government's program.Infamously, the film cuts out the epilogue that was present in the original version of the story due to it being removed from many editions of the book in its early international release. It involved major Character Development and something resembling a Happy Ending for Alex. Though Burgess apparently contacted Kubrick towards the end of production, the director preferred the ending that he had left planned, claiming the original diluted the message in the story. Whether this was a good move on Kubrick's part varies from viewer to viewer.
This film provides examples of:
Adult Fear: The "Singing in the Rain" scene is designed to send chills down the spine of any adult. The themes of absolute evil and of a manipulative government attempting to rob people of free will and using the cover of mental health to silence dissidents are pretty chilling on a more subtle level as well, and were surely even more so during the Cold War era in which the film (and novel) were made.
Age Lift: Alex is 15 at the start of the book (in the film, he's 17). In the film, he's played by 27-year-old Malcolm McDowell, though he's supposed to still be of school age.
Ambiguously Gay: Mr. Deltoid seems just a tad too enthusiastic to hold Alex in his arms, cradle him on a bed, and grab his genitals, all whilst Alex is in incredibly tight briefs.
Most of the people that aren't Alex and members of his gang have phallic symbolism in their domains and dress or act gay, some less subtle than others.
An Aesop: Human goodness must come from free will; as such it is intrinsically wrong to deny even the vilest of individuals their capacity for moral choice.
Anti-Villain: The government (Type III). We can certainly sympathize with their desire to cut down crime by any means necessary, but by robbing people of moral choice and then covering their own ass from the fallout they made themselves out to be as bad as Alex and the droogs themselves.
The Bad Guy Wins: Alex is, arguably, at large, a sociopath again and is made a propaganda icon/martyr by the increasingly totalitarian government in a move to avoid or even reverse its downfall.
Bilingual Bonus: Much of the characters' slang is actually of Slavic origin.
Black Comedy: Kubrick's film, in comparison to the book, has an overt layer of black comedy, including a number of outright slapstick moments.
Blatant Lies: When Alex breaks into the Cat Lady's house in the film, his excuse for being there is that he is taking part in a contest to see which school can sell the most magazines.
Book Ends: The film begins with a slow zoom out from Alex's face. Its penultimate shot is a slow zoom in on his face.
Bottle Episode: Part of the reason Kubrick worked on this movie was because after how much 2001: A Space Odyssey had cost, the executives required that his next movie be filmed on a much lower budget.
Breaking the Fourth Wall: The opening shot shows Alex staring directly into the camera. A few scenes later, he whistles to the soundtrack music while walking home.
Brown Note: Due to it being used as the background music to his treatment, Alex ends up associating his favorite song, Beethoven's 9th Symphony, with the violence of the procedure. This causes him to become severely ill and virtually paralyzed whenever he hears it, the same effect as if he had attempted violence.
But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Played with, initially inverted as Alex remembers the house but the writer doesn't recognize him because he wore a mask, but Frank realizes who his guest is when Alex carelessly begins to sing Singing in the Rain the song he sung while he assaulted Frank and raped his wife.
Comically Missing the Point: The prison chaplain believes Alex is finding religion. Alex discusses how he likes the parts of the Bible where folks fight and murder each other before sleeping with their wives' handmaidens. He didn't like the whole "preachy" part of the book.
Contrived Coincidence: In a single succession of events, the day Alex is released from treatment he's kicked out of his parents' house, is found and assaulted by the vagrant, the two policemen who are about to help him are his former cronies who then proceed to brutalize him more, and he finally limps and takes refuge in the house of the writer. It works well when viewed as compressed narrative setting up a Humiliation Conga.
Cool Car: The "Durango 95." In the film they use a Probe-16, a real supercar built in 1969.
Costume Porn: The Droogs wear long white underwear, huge codpieces over padded briefs, suspenders, and somewhat effeminate makeup, and they wield canes as weapons. (Also see Nice Hat.) A rival gang with whom they brawl has a Nazi/military sartorial theme.
Crazy Cat Lady: Well, she's not so much "crazy" as she is ill-tempered and into really kinky art.
Demoted to Extra: Pete. In the book he shows up towards the end having moved on and having a normal life (he's even engaged). As the film cuts off the ending this is lost so Pete's sole character moment was lost.
The Dog Bites Back: The last third of the film examines the complex moral footing of Alex's former enemies brutalizing him while he is unable to defend himself due to the Ludovico Treatment. Alex deserves punishment, but is this really justice?
Downer Ending: Without the epilogue, the film ends with Alex, presumably, ready to resume his life of crime uninterrupted.
Driven to Suicide: Attempted by Alex himself near the end, after a long period of suicidal feeling and the actions of some sick-minded former victims.
Et Tu, Brute?: Dim and the other droogs betrays Alex by smashing a pint bottle of milk onto his face, leaving him to be arrested by the police.
Extreme Doormat: Thanks to the treatment, Alex becomes incapable even of reasonable self-defense.
Eye Scream: During the treatment, Alex attached to an apparatus that holds his eyelids open while being forced to watch the movies. This is actually performed without special effects in the film. The doctor administering eyedrops to actor Malcolm McDowell was a real doctor, yet the ordeal still temporarily blinded him.
Fan Disservice: There are several quite explicit rape or near-rape scenes.
Fanservice Extra: Alex's fantasies tend to involve beautiful naked women. Then there's the very good-looking woman who's brought out onstage to demonstrate the effect of the Ludovico Treatment on Alex.
Faux Affably Evil: Our humble protagonist often maintains a breezy, chipper and friendly personality, though it's just a facade. He's a ruthless sadist who enjoys toying with his victims and dominating his droogs.
The Film of the Book: An interesting example. Anthony Burgess's novel included a closing chapter in which Alex matures and grows out of his sociopathy. However, the American edition of the novel did not include that chapter, and that version is what Kubrick filmed.
Gratuitous Russian: Sort of. A lot of the slang in the book is derived from Russian, but distorted. For example, "horrorshow" is derived from хорошо ("khorosho"), meaning "good."
Groin Attack: Mr. Deltoid punches Alex in the groin in his first scene.
Happily Ever Before: An example of the "cut the happier ending" variant. As noted, the book ended with Alex straightening himself out and settling down. The film strongly implies that he'll continue his criminal, sociopathic ways.
Heel-Faith Turn: Subverted. The audience is set up to believe that Alex is experiencing a religious epiphany in prison, only to find that he is actually fantasizing about participating in the battles, tortures and sex described in parts of the Bible.
He's Back: Alex's smirk at the end, realising that the Ludovico technique no longer affects him.
To be fair, Alexander's body guard Julian made it pretty clear through his glances that he was going to eat/drink one way or another, and his jabbering about the Ninth was probably Alex trying to charm his way out of the situation.
This film is one of the trope namers. The opening shot is a close-up of Alex's face, sneering at the camera from beneath his eyebrows while a synthesized funeral march blares in the soundtrack.
An interesting inversion appears near the end, with Frank Alexander making a similar facial expression◊ while looking up at the room where Alex is being tortured. This was specifically done to seem reminiscent of portraits of Beethoven.
Patrick Magee as the writer, Mr. Alexander seems to develop a cornucopia of nervous tics after being beaten half to death and watching his wife's rape/murder. Kubrick instructed Magee to exaggerate further and further with every take, to the point that he once leaned over between takes to ask Malcolm McDowell: "I think I'm overdoing it — is this really what he wants? It feels to me like I'm trying to take a massive shit this whole time!"
Lighter and Softer: For all of its reputation for shocking violence, the film is actually lighter than the book. In the book, Alex is even younger and more violently depraved. Most notably, the sex scene in the film was originally Alex raping two 10-year-olds (whereas in the film they are clearly the same age as Alex and have consensual sex with him ). The film also lightens things up with occasional slapstick humor. Likewise, in the book after he is free from the Ludovico treatment he fantasizes about rampaging around the world committing ultraviolence, whereas in the film he imagines having sex with one woman.
Leitmotif: The synthetic cover of The Funeral of Queen Mary in the opening scene is perhaps one of the most iconic film scores of all time.
Male Gaze: During his treatment, Alex is faced with a naked woman on stage. The camera lingers on her breasts from his POV.
"La Gazza Ladra" goes together with the tremendously violent action during the fight of Alex and his droogs against a rival gang in an abandoned theatre.
During the "Singin In The Rain" scene, the line "I am ready for love" is ominously repeated several times and Alex does some Punctuated Pounding, kicking the writer in perfect sync with several beats of the song.
Monochrome Casting: Despite the fact that Britain had already become a multiracial society by the 1970s, and that this film is set in the far future, only two black characters are seen: a gang member in the Korova Milk Bar and one of the inmates at the prison.
Mood Whiplash: When the Chaplain is giving his sermon in prison, he announces very dramatically and ominously the reality of Hell, saying there’s proof: he saw it. In a dream.
Murder Simulators: A gang sang "Singin' in the Rain" during a rape, arguably as a result of the film's influence. Apparently, it also inspired a murder known as "The Clockwork Orange Murder", where a boy killed his best friend in his backyard. Indignant over the allegations, Kubrick had Warner Brothers withdraw the film from distribution in Britain until after his death.
Named by the Adaptation: In the novel Alex has no surname given but at one point he calls himself "Alexander the Large" in an allusion to his penis after he injected himself with an aphrodisiac. However the film makes DeLarge an actual surname, revealed while he's in custody being processed for prison. In a form of creator allusion, the newspapers report his name as Alex Burgess.
Nice Hat: Alex and Dim have bowler hats. Georgie (The Dragon) wears a top hat, and Pete sports a beret. In one of the films Alex is forced to watch while in prison, an actor playing a thug and rapist wears a pirate hat.
Number of the Beast: During the scene where Alex is being dragged into the woods to be beaten by Dim and Georgie, we see that on either side of him, their Police collar numbers read #665 and #667, respectively.
Alex, when he bumps into Georgie and Dim, who are now police officers. Made worse for Alex when he's in no position to defend himself and Georgie and Dim want to enact their revenge on their former leader.
The Cat Lady, right before Alex bashes her skull in with the phallic sculpture.
Oireland: The drunken tramp who is beaten by Alex and his gang in the film's first action sequence.
Out-Gambitted: Frank Alexander drives Alex to suicide in hopes of using his death as a symbol of the governments corruption. Not only does Alex survive, but then the government decides to use him as their new poster boy, effectively destroying Alexander's credibility.
Pet the Dog: Alex with Basil, his pet snake, though the trope only kicks in at the start of the third act when Alex shows concern and sadness for the animal. Curiously, Basil was added to the plot when Stanley Kubrick found out Malcolm McDowell had a fear for reptiles.
Phallic Weapon: In this case, the weapon is literally a [sculpted] phallus.
Playing Sick: Alex easily avoids school and fools his parents by feigning a pain in the gulliver so he can fully commit to his nocturnal activities.
The cops at the prison dress vaguely like concentration camp guards, and one particularly sadistic guard, who despises Alex, sports a strikingly Hitler-like moustache.
The biker gang who nearly rape the girl in the theater also favor Nazi paraphernalia.
Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Alex has a pet snake, Basil. Of course a monster like Alex would not own something cute and cuddly. It's subverted when Alex returns home and is sympathetically upset to learn that his parents have killed Basil. Kubrick supposedly included the snake because McDowell was afraid of them, and when filming the scene where Alex takes Basil out of the drawer for some fresh air, Basil had somehow escaped, causing everyone to freak out.
Science Is Bad: Played with, the new treatment attempts to erradicate the plague of criminality but does so by erasing moral choice and freedom. On the other hand the doctors are just tools and eventually scapegoats used by the politicians.
The code numbers of the communications device from Dr. Strangelove are "CRM-114". In A Clockwork Orange, one of the vials containing drugs used to condition Alex for the Ludovico treatment is labelled "serum 114".
Sleazy Politician: The minister of the Interior, outwardly tough on crime, allies with Alex -an unrepentant sociopath and murderer- because he can spin his story in favour of The Government. Additionally he's also a key figure of an implied Government that sends its political adversaries to prison.
The Sociopath: Alex might be the best example ever committed to film. He robs, rapes, and assaults innocent random people for his own amusement, and who simply throws the spoils in a drawer under his bed.
Soundtrack Dissonance: Whenever Rossini's "Thieving Magpie" overture starts up on the soundtrack, you know some ultra-violence is coming. Also, the film's most infamous scene features the gang torturing a couple while Alex performs "Singin' in the Rain" While filming the scene, Kubrick decided on a whim to have Alex sing a song, and Malcolm McDowell chose the song simply because he knew all the lyrics.
Spinning Paper: The backlash against the government and the Ludovico treatment is shown via headlines.
Spiritual Successor: O Lucky Man! (1973), starring Malcolm McDowell, bears numerous references to this film: The fact that the main character was reformed in prison and turned into a "Good man", he undergoes medical experiments complete with crazy headgear, also he gets beaten by a mob of homeless people when showing goodwill.
Technology Marches On: Alex scams his way into the couple's house by telling her there was a car accident and he needs to use the phone. Nowadays it's 99% certain he would have had a mobile.
Micro Compact Cassettes are used by Alex. Nowadays, it would be either a CD or just part of an iPod playlist.
Those Wacky Nazis: The Ludovico Treatment includes a lot of images of Nazis doing their thing during WWII.
Three-Way Sex: Played at high speed, to the tune of Rossini's "William Tell Overture".
Twenty Minutes into the Future: The film takes place in the near future. If the `95 model car is anything to go by, it is supposed to be in the mid-ninties at the earliest.
Vapor Wear: Unlike most of the other women in the film, Mr. Alexander's wife does not wear underwear. Tragically, this only makes it easier for Alex to rape her.
Villainous Rescue: The Droogs come across a rival gang about to rape a woman in an abandoned theater. They intervene just in time, so that they can fight. The woman escapes in the ensuing chaos, but only because the gangs were focused on each other. The Droogs were obviously motivated not by virtue, but by the opportunity to deny the rivals their pleasure and fight them as well.
Villains Out Shopping: One scene has Alex going to a record store to pick up an album he ordered, dressed in a posh Edwardian-era suit. He also uses the opportunity to invite some girls for a threesome.
With Friends Like These...: Alex maintains his position in the gang with violence, threatening and attacking his underlings when they annoy him. Georgie tries to stage a coup, but Alex beats up the whole gang singlehandedly.
Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Alex bastardly and quite convincingly pretends to be involved in an bloody accident in order to gain entrance to people's houses. The second victim is savvy about it because the newspapers aired the ruse.
You Are Number Six: Alex is addressed by his number in prison: Six Double-Five Three Two One. This is a slight modification of his number from the book.
You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Outlandish hair colors are fairly common in this verse. Most old women have purple hair for instance.
What Could Have Been: Different people wanted to adapt A Clockwork Orange before Kubrick. This included one version featuring Alex and his droogs as wealthy old men and another version that would have been used as a vehicle for The Rolling Stones.
Zeerust: It kind of looks like the future, and it kind of looks like a really freaky 1970s.