Roger Ebert Hates “A Clockwork Orange” And I Couldn’t Be Happier
Hello, happy Monday.
I just watched A Clockwork Orange, a Stanley Kubrick film. I watched it and genuinely could not extrapolate any meaning out of it, which is unusual for me, seeing as I was very charitable towards Dr. Strangelove and it’s depictions of masculinity. I even low key fell in love with Western leads over the course of this trek through the classics, and the good lord knows that those men aren’t exactly feminists.
But A Clockwork Orange? With it’s pompous Orwellian future-land and a lead who was, quite literally, a rapist and a murderer? I was told I was sitting down to watch a classic and instead I watched two and a half hours of toxic masculinity run amok, and worse, glorified. There are literally more women who appear naked than there are women with speaking lines in this film. I’m supposed to get something out of this?
Oh, but don’t worry–I’m not mad, because Roger Ebert fucking hates this movie too.
Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” is an ideological mess, a paranoid right-wing fantasy masquerading As an Orwellian warning. It pretends to oppose the police state and forced mind control, but all it really does is celebrate the nastiness of its hero, Alex.
Oooooh. I have chills. Also, this:
Alex has grown up in “A Clockwork Orange,” and now he’s a sadistic rapist. I realize that calling him a sadistic rapist — just like that — is to stereotype poor Alex a little. But Kubrick doesn’t give us much more to go on, except that Alex likes Beethoven a lot. Why he likes Beethoven is never explained, but my notion is that Alex likes Beethoven in the same way that Kubrick likes to load his sound track with familiar classical music — to add a cute, cheap, dead-end dimension.
Now Alex isn’t the kind of sat-upon, working-class anti-hero we got in the angry British movies of the early 1960s. No effort is made to explain his inner workings or take apart his society. Indeed, there’s not much to take apart; both Alex and his society are smart-nose pop-art abstractions. Kubrick hasn’t created a future world in his imagination — he’s created a trendy decor. If we fall for the Kubrick line and say Alex is violent because “society offers him no alternative,” weep, sob, we’re just making excuses.
He really fucking hates this movie. One more, for fun:
What in hell is Kubrick up to here? Does he really want us to identify with the antisocial tilt of Alex’s psychopathic little life? In a world where society is criminal, of course, a good man must live outside the law. But that isn’t what Kubrick is saying. He actually seems to be implying something simpler and more frightening: that in a world where society is criminal, the citizen might as well be a criminal, too.
Well, enough philosophy. We’ll probably be debating “A Clockwork Orange” for a long time — a long, weary and pointless time.
It feels so great to know that Roger Ebert hates this movie so much. Ebert is hailed as being the greatest film critic of all time, and he’s such an exceptional writer that I want to believe it is so, but at the same time, I get wary. I’m wary because I know men who are very smart and who like movies quite a lot but, despite their best efforts, gloss over the sexism. Sometimes, they even get mad when you point out that the sexism exists, as if noting that a narrative particular unfairness toward its female characters precludes you from enjoying all other parts of it. Whatever. The small minded will be small minded.
Sometimes, I try to explain to these men that sexism is simply bad storytelling. It actively makes your work bad to only reduce female characters to body parts or reproductive capabilities. Sometimes the movie is good in spite of sexism, but most of the time, it really can’t be great if it relies too heavily on the glorification of gruesomeness that A Clockwork Orange relies on. When your troubling concepts are underdeveloped and over-exalted, you get a narrative so thin you could break it with a wide-angle lens. Incidentally, Kubrick loves those. Maybe he should have been more careful.
What makes Ebert great, for me as a woman and feminist interested in film, is that he knows that these kinds of things line up with poor storytelling. If it’s there to call out, he’ll call it out. I really appreciate that about him.
I will leave you all with a plea to please please please go read the review. It’s stunning. I’m not even really going to review the film here, because it’s so fantastic.
Before we go, I also want to include a brief text message I received from my roommate upon sharing Ebert’s opinions with her:
It really is just a stupid movie run on dumb artsy testosterone like we GET IT stop jerking off to your camera angles
See you next week.