Stanley Kubrick is one of the biggest names in filmmaking. From 2001: A Space Odyssey to The Shining to Full Metal Jacket, and even the more modern Eyes Wide Shut, the director’s name is synonymous with a slew of uber-successful, much-picked apart, award-winning projects. While many of his films, including the aforementioned Eyes Wide Shut, garnered pushback from critics and audiences for their themes, one film, in particular, received a massive amount of backlash. And now, that feature – A Clockwork Orange – is about to make its way to Netflix. That’s right, beginning on September 1, you can stream one of the most talked about features of Kubrick’s career.
A Clockwork Orange landed in theaters back in 1971 and would soon prove to be both a blessing and a curse for Kubrick. Based on Anthony Burgess’s novel of the same name, the plot followed Alex (Malcolm McDowell), an incredibly troubled teenager. Throughout the film, the Beethoven-loving lawbreaker commits a slew of violent crimes including rape and theft alongside his gang of sadistic and maniacal pals: Pete (Michael Tarn), Georgie (James Marcus), and Dim (Warren Clarke). Narrated by Alex, the film recounts the unmanageable teen through their grotesque crime spree, his arrest, and his unsuccessful psychological rehabilitation. The film featured an ensemble cast made up of Anthony Sharp, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates, John Clive, Adrienne Corri, Carl Duering, Paul Farrell, Clive Francis, Michael Gover, Miriam Karlin, Aubrey Morris, Godfrey Quigley, Sheila Raynor, Madge Ryan, John Savident, Philip Stone, Pauline Taylor, Margaret Tyzack, Steven Berkoff, David Prowse, and Carol Drinkwater.
One of the overarching themes and questions put forth by A Clockwork Orange centers around whether behavioral psychology, therapy, and psychological conditioning actually work, or if they’re just another means of control. Audiences watched as, despite copious amounts of therapy, Alex never quite made amends in his own brain – quickly turning back to the evil that has always driven his life. Through intense and sometimes hard-to-watch moments, the film’s leading character is forced to choke down new “moral” ideas in an attempt to wipe the slate clean on his brain.
Receiving mixed reviews from critics, many referred to the film as a dangerous piece of cinema that may glorify Alex’s actions rather than damning them. Another common complaint and observation were that the film was nothing more than a way to promote the idea that women are no more than objects and should be treated as such. Further pushback included the United States giving A Clockwork Orange an X rating when it was first released, causing Kubrick to change one sexually explicit scene to something that would instead land it an R rating. An American version of the book also omitted the final chapter, where Alex is essentially “cured.”
And things across the pond were no better. In the United Kingdom, the film was used as the backbone of several criminal cases against young men who committed despicable crimes. One case saw a 14-year-old boy on trial for the claim of manslaughter against one of his school peers, with his lawyer stating that A Clockwork Orange influenced his client’s crime. Another allegation was made against a 16-year-old teenager who admitted his guilt after murdering an elderly man claiming that he was inspired by the film. Kubrick’s bloody piece even had beef with the Catholic church who forbade Roman Catholics from seeing the film for 10 years until they got rid of their own churchwide rating system.
Overall, A Clockwork Orange has reached the ranks of one of the – if not the number one – most controversial films in the history of big theatrical features. Kubrick’s vision to bring Burgess’s novel to on-screen life proved to be something that would be talked about for years to come. As with many projects of the same variety, it seems like bad press can work out to be the best press. Working its way into classrooms and college courses, the film still delivers the shock value that it became famous for in the first place. And now you can check it out from the comfort of your own couch on Netflix – but be sure to do it soon. As with any film as controversial as this one, you never know when the critics will come out and snatch it away.
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