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.
Thank you Rachelle for this article! I am a German film student and this movie is still glorified by our professors. Its masterpiece status makes it almost impossible to criticize its sexism.
I share Roger Eberts point of view, that the movie just pretends to oppose the police state. It’s not necessary to stage the humiliation of women, to speak out against brainwashing. I just wonder: Would people, who defend this movie, still love it, when all women in it would be replaced by men?
Inga — Thank you for your comment! That’s a good insight about replacing the women and men. I think it’s safe to say the reaction wouldn’t be the same.
I feel like your good faith in Ebert’s review is a bit naive, as is your swearing. The film is satirical of the state’s attempt to re-educate Alex’s psychopathic tendencies, when in reality, there is no cure for him, he is only ‘cured’ of being ‘cured’… and that’s the very point of this film, not to glorify the violence, but to show that man/men (or Alex and his droogs) is not a noble savage, capable of a fundamental change, but an ignoble savage and society’s failure to come to grasp what to do with these individuals.
The violence, the toxicity of this masculinity is an important point, without it, the film would have been pointless.
The very point of this review — Ebert’s and my own blasphemous admiration of it — is to point out that the movie DOESN’T succeed in presenting that satire. The “point” of Clockwork Orange may not be to glorify the violence, and yet it does so anyway. I’ve spent a good portion of my life surrounded by film junkies who love to love this movie because seeing Kubrick at his most misanthropic makes them feel smart, but when he’s overly stylish like this, the satire is buried under its own lack of target. So it’s nice to read that one of the most well-respected film critics of all time agrees with this underrepresented take.
Holy. Rachelle, you’ve said exactly what I’ve been too afraid to, expressing it in a way I would never have been able to. Taking apart a cult classic is a daunting thought on its own and criticising it despite the decades of constant praise it’s received makes voicing the reality of its lacking relevance and poor storytelling all the more difficult. I’d love to read some more of your works if you have any available.
If you thought that the violence is glorified in that film, then there may be something wrong with you personally. Like every art, it’s all prone to personal interpretation. If you like the violence then you think it’s glorifying it, but if you only saw the comical stupidity of Clockwork Orange’s society then it’s satire.
I love this review because it’s saying both “There’s something wrong with you personally based on your interpretation of the film” but also “it’s all personal interpretation.” Duality of man on display.