Clockwork Orange, A (1971): Kubrick’s Controversial Film

Warner (UK, Hawk Films production)

Set in the nearly futuritsic British society, Kubrick’s film is one of the most controversial and stylized works he has made, one that like his previous one, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” has acquired a cult status.

Ambitious to a fault, Kubrick wishes to comment on the state of crime, violence, punishment, and redemption in our increasingly normless society. Above all, his still much understood film is a poignant satire about free will versus state authority.

The saga’s anti-hero is Alex (Malcolm McDowell), a futuristic punk, a hoodlum who leads a gang of juvenile delinquents that engages in beating the poor and homeless, invading houses of the rich and famous for rape and murder.

It’s hard not to notice the band’s uniforms (designed by the brilliant Milena Canonero), which are like jumpsuits fitted with codpieces. They speak in a bizarre dialect that combines colloquial Russian with Cockney expressions. Alex hates school and education, but admires Beethoven, whose genius music he associates with sexually-driven violence.

Alex is sent to prison for murder. After being brainwashed into a revulsion against sex and violence, he is returned to society, where he becomes a victimized robot, a passive man with no will or desire of his own.

Kubrick’s liberal adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ anti-authoritarian novel was controversial, denounced by some critics as a shallow, sensational treatment of a complex and ironic book, and praised by others as a prophetic look into the future.

In hindsight, the film is a sobering work, some of whose prophesies have come true. The mindless violence depicted in the film is much like the drive-by shootings and gang warfare of American inner cities.

As always, Kubrick is a master artist with a brilliant vision when it comes to imagery and tone. The film is sumptuously shot by ace lenser John Alcott and designed by the gifted production designer John Barry.

The film’s use of music is also worth mentioning. McDowell’s character’s love of Beethoven is taken from the book, while the use of Gene Kelly’s tune “Singin’ in the Rain,” as accompaniment to an act of violence, was reportedly McDowell’s own improvisation.

Originally, the film was slapped with an X rating, which was later changed into R.


Alex (Malcolm McDowell)
Mr. Alexander (Patrick Magee)
Mrs. Alexander (Adrienne Corri)
Chief Guard (Michael Bates)
Dim (Warren Clarke)
Stage Actor (John Clive)
Dr. Brodsky (Carl Duering)
Hobo (Paul Farrell)
Lodger (Clive Francis)
Prison Warden (Michael Gover)

Oscar Nominations: 4

Picture, produced by Stanley Kubrick
Director: Stanely Kubrick
Screenplay (Adapted): Kubrick
Editing: Bill Butler

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

In 1971, “Clockwork Orange” lost in each and every category to “The French Connection, which won Best Picture, Best Director for William Friedkin, Best Screenplay for Ernest Tidyman, and Best Editing for Jerry Greenberg.

The other three Best Picture nominees were Norman Jewison’s musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” Bogdanovich superb period small-town drama “The Last Picture Show,” and the old-fashioned historical epic “Nicholas and Alexandra.”