Cyberpunk Review » A Clockwork Orange

July 28, 2007

A Clockwork Orange

Movie Review By: Mr. Roboto

Year: 1971

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Written by: Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel by Anthony Burgess

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: High

Key Cast Members:

  • Alex de Large: Malcom McDowell
  • Frank Alexander: Patrick Magee
  • Dim: Warren Clarke
  • Gerogie: James Marcus
  • Rating: 8 out of 10

    Overview: Unquestionably, A Clockwork Orange has to be among the most recognizable names of pre-cyberpunk works, invoking surrealistic images of the old ultra violence, sex done to the William Tell Overture, models of naked girls as tables and beverage dispensers, chemically induced behavior modification, the threat of Karma,… and a bit of Beethoven for good measure. It has often been cited as inspiration for cyberpunk novels, and even Rob Zombie salutes the film in his video for “Never Gonna Stop (The Red Red Kroovy).” The subject matter, while speculating about 1995 from a 1960’s view, is still surprisingly relevant for 2007. With themes of street gangs, youth against the elderly, and forced behavioral changes against free will, one can swear the movie was more recent.

    But can it be called a cyberpunk movie? There’s no question about the “punk,” but in all honesty, it’s a little thin on the “cyber” since there’s no ubiquitous access to information or man-machine fusion, though Alex does undergo a “reprogramming” in a skull-cap wired to machines to monitor his vital functions. The lack of “cyber” isn’t Mr. Kubric’s or Mr. Burgess’s fault, since nobody in the 60’s could have predicted the impact of computer technology when 1995 rolled around. It still doesn’t subtract much from this piece of cinema goodness that many agree is a timeless classic.

    So grab a glass of milk mixed with your narcotic of choice, pull up a naked model table, brush up on your Nadsat, and vidi well, little brothers.


    The Story: Starting at the Korova Milk Bar, Alex De Large and his “droogs” tear up the streets of a future England city, beating derelicts, fighting other gangs, raising hell on the roads, invading homes, raping women, then returning to the Korova for a nightcap when we learn Alex also has an ear for Beethoven. His fun comes to an end when, during a failed home invasion. Alex kills a woman and is ambushed by his droogs, leaving him for the police to capture, convict of murder, and sentence to forty years in prison.

    Two years into his sentence, Alex learns of the Ludovico treatment. He wants to volunteer, but the Prison Chaplain expresses his doubts and tries to talk Alex out of it.


    “The question is whether or not this technique really makes a man good. Goodness comes from within. Goodness is chosen. When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.”

    When the Minister of The Interior visits, he selects Alex for the Ludovico treatment. The treatment involves Alex being injected with an experimental serum and made to watch videos of violence and rape, where the serum causes unexpected results.

    Dr. Brodsky (During Alex’s first “treatment”): “Very soon now, the drug will cause the subject to experience a deathlike paralysis together with deep feelings of terror and helplessness. One of our early test subjects described it as being like death. A sense of stifling or drowning. At this period we have found that the subject will make his most rewarding associations between his catastrophic experience, environment and the violence he sees.”

    During one “treatment,” the doctors use Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as the background music while a Nazi propaganda was viewed. Alex objects to the use of the music, but the treatment continues, causing him to become conditioned to the piece.


    “Stop it! Stop IT! STOP IT! Stop showing NEW ROSE HOTEL! IT’S NOT CYBERPUNK!!!!!

    After the doctors show Alex’s treatment worked, he’s released back into society. That’s when the Universe plays the Karma card…


    Whose Pawn Is He Anyway? The theme of free will versus society’s programming is quite dominant with the implications of the Ludovico treatment, but an underlying theme of people being used as pawns for political and personal gain is noticeable, especially when Alex returns to the home of Frank Alexander, whose house he and his droogs invaded and whose wife they raped. At first, Frank only recognizes Alex as the boy who went through the Ludovico program and calls a friend who can use him:

    Frank Alexander: “He can be the most potent weapon imaginable to ensure the government is not returned in the election. The government’s big boast, sir, is the way they have dealt with crime: Recruiting young roughs into the police, proposing will-sapping techniques of conditioning. We’ve seen it before in other countries. The thin end of the wedge. Before we know it, we’ll have the full apparatus of totalitarianism. This young boy is a living witness to these diabolical proposals.”

    Frank doesn’t realize that Alex is the one who raped his wife until he hears Alex singing “Singing in the Rain” in the bath. He manages to get Alex to drink drug-laced wine to knock him unconscious. When Frank’s co-conspirators arrive, they lock Alex in an upper-floor room while playing Beethoven’s Ninth, causing Alex to attempt suicide. While recovering in the hospital, we see the old amoral Alex return when a nurse shows slides. The Minister of the Interior visits Alex to apologize for the treatment and offer a government job.

    Alex used the people he encountered for his own amusement, including his own droogs. After undergoing the treatment, he’s unable to defend himself as those he tormented and attacked gain a measure of revenge on him. Then he’s used as a political pawn.

    Conclusion: A Clockwork Orange is a difficult movie to describe. It’s not an easy view with it’s ultraviolence, rampant sex, and drug use, but it makes for an interesting movie nonetheless. It’s a sick, twisted, demented, deviant, weird, and totally fucked-up view of the future. In other words, a real good movie.

    To show A Clockwork Orange’s place in history, I’ve edited the AFI 100 years, 100 movies post.


    July 28, 2007

    Klaw said:

    I heart this movie in so many ways… nice review. Although it isn’t cyberpunk in the traditional sense, certainly this is a complete dystopian future that HAD there been personal computers, it would have been very different. This is almost a timeline where no computers are available to the masses, only the politicians, and it’s more frightening because of it. If you haven’t read Burgess’ novel I can’t recommend it enough… genius use of language and fusing of cultures (in this case is it assumed a Socialist England would be bombarded with Communist propaganda leaflets and eventually integrate Russian slang), and we’ll see this crop up later in Blade Runner as CitySpeak. Cyberpunk wouldn’t exist without this movie and book in my opinion.

    Enys said:

    Funny I just watched this a few days prior to the review, didnt think that it could go for CP… but its a very good movie!

    Burnt_Lombard said:

    Book is so much better (IMO). Film is visually great, but check out the book.

    Case said:

    Yes, the book is better, but…when is that NOT the case? It’s kinda like saying “a picture of the sky isn’t as beautiful as the real thing.” Obviously… (’Sorry if that sounded like an attack…not my intention). Either way, great book, great film…’never really considered it cyberpunk, but… *Interesting sidenote: I actually got into a heated debate with some moron on a message board once who didn’t understand how this film was considered science-fiction. True story…

    Klaw said:

    Put it this way, it’s rare that a film can get close to surpassing the book…. Kubrick did it twice with A Clockwork Orange and The Shining. That’s a funny story Case… what did the guy only think scifi was rayguns, silver jumpsuits and cars that make Jetson sounds or something? Hehe. :)

    July 30, 2007

    .anima.mechanica. said:

    Personally, I think comparing the book and the movie is like apples and oranges. The book is near perfect– as a book. The movie is DAMN near perfect– as a movie. They are two examples of two different art forms, both done well.

    Actually, even though the book is amazing, I think it was a little ham-fisted in places. Too much moralizing. Too much telling rather than showing, or preaching rather than telling. And has anyone read the version with the epilogue? That was just ridiculous. Alex turns 18, and suddenly he has the urge to become a PARENT? Are we supposed to be HAPPY about the idea of him raising a kid? I mean, Anthony Burgess, what the hell?!

    .anima.mechanica. said:

    Oh, and one more thing–I think Alex is sexxxy.

    Anonymous said:

    Anima, you are right… I was compelled to re-watch it (read: bittorrent the movie and the soundtrack) from the review. It’s almost comic in parts, like Brazil in it’s laughable surreal dystopia. The ancient mom wearing a mini-skirt, the sergeant -major who was completely over the top. I think it was done that way to downplay the, at-the-time, intense sexuality and violence. We forget how accustomed to movie violence we are… but even so, the Billy Boy fight scene was like an episode of the A-team in terms of rated-G violence. Break-away chairs and windows, LOL!

    Of course, I didn’t realize it was banned in the UK until 2000… the Catholic church went bonkers over this movie. Anyway, visually and musically it’s without a doubt an early Punk movie, and a precursor to cyberpunk… the idea of mind-control, and government manipulation of the population’s physical being to match the ideological one.

    July 31, 2007

    mattness said:

    Trivia about book:

    Somebody told me lately, that rape scene was inspired by real life.

    Quote from wikipedia
    “… A Clockwork Orange (1962). Inspired initially by an incident during World War II in which his wife Lynne was allegedly robbed and assaulted in London during the blackout by deserters from the U.S. Army (an event that may have contributed to a miscarriage she suffered), the book was an examination of free will and morality.”

    (Vesper help me with this one)
    *Polish translator published 2 version of “Clockwork…” - in first edition Nadsat (russo-english slang) was translated as russo-polish (right then, we was forced to learn russian in elementary school). Ten years later, in second edition, there was anglo-polish slang (it shows english language influence to polish culture).

    Sean said:

    I don’t really consider this cyberpunk…of course we can look back at it and apply cyberpunk themes to it, but I think intent has to be part of the equation. In the 60’s the theme would have been a future of dystopian fascism, something that the cultural revolution was actively fighting against. The western governments were going in the direction of becoming very secretive bureaucracies in light of the communist ‘threat’ and this book/film was in many ways a commentary on that.

    Sure, there was technology involved in the reprogramming, but that really comes from psychological theory that was developed many years earlier. It was even several years earlier than the book *or* movie with ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ (the book predates Clockwork by 3 years). Again, Manchurian Candidate was another commentary on the west vs. communism.

    August 1, 2007

    Ak!mbo said:

    I definitely thing A Clockwork Orange is cyberpunk related, but I won’t let it pass as cyberpunk.. I think it’s mostly got to do with the imagery.
    The story could definitely be used as the base for a cyberpunk flick or book, no problem, but the execution as it stands today just doesn’t reach par in my book..

    August 16, 2007

    John said:

    A Clockwork Orange is one of the best films ever made, but come on… “Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High” ? This movie was done in the 70’s even before cyberpunk was thought of. I mean, I would consider the degree of cyberpunk visuals to be HIGH in a movie like Johnny Mnemonic or Hackers, but not A Clockwork Orange. Futuristic, or retro-futuristic perhaps (as it were filmed in the 70’s), but there is certainly nothing technological or cyberpunk about it.

    September 25, 2007

    Klaw said:

    Nice set of behind-the-scenes photos from C.O. … viddy well me brothers.

    November 3, 2007

    1911 said:

    Def. nice dystopia, not cyberpunk but what the hell gotta have the borderline movies also so people no what isn’t cyberpunk, which is as important as knowing what it is. Btw truly amazing movie didn’t find the voilence disturbing except the rape scenes maybe, but my gf seemed somewhat horrified haha

    April 21, 2008

    Ripper Crust said:

    Very interesting and unique movie, however the book is much better. The movie failed to capture the main questions of the book. Definitely still a movie you should see if you haven’t. Even more of a book you should read if you haven’t

    September 30, 2008

    Stormtrooper of Death said:

    Moloko, a pop band, has their name from this movie.

    Milk and Alcohol, yeah.

    the language used in the book and movie is a non-existant language, made up of fake words, english some russian, etc.

    Anyhow, when we first saw this movie in 1993, we were shocked about the amount of realistic and very brute violence. A strange movie from 1971, that was also forbidden in the United Kingdom for more as 25 years, as being to dangerous to the population of England. Yep…

    Even then, they already had sensorship. They called those movies : Video Nasties…

    April 3, 2009

    Case said:

    After a long absense from this particular forum, a point just occurred to me - also given I haven’t seen this movie for a while, but perhaps some kind of passing reference to “tech” is the mini-disk that Alex plays at his home.

    Considering that CD’s hadn’t even hit the public consciousness at that time….pretty cool idea.

    Just an observation……..

    June 5, 2009

    Cy05@R said:

    The last part of the book was not included further more The movie is gorgeous.

    December 27, 2010

    deadmovie said:

    I’m singing in a rain…

    December 29, 2010

    International Giant said:

    This movie is almost as disturbing as American politics and the American Capitalist government they have going on now. Disgusting the lot of them. A movie called “Michael Vick’s Ghetto-Fabulous House of Horrors for Canines” could sum it all up in one motion picture. How they simply forgive and forget for love of money those Americans do. Now, that’s sick.

    December 30, 2010

    LARGE Marge from Philadelphia, PA said:

    That was great!

    January 16, 2011

    Dim said:

    I have never met anyone with a neutral reaction to the film, only extremely positive or negative - which tells me that it works. I think it is a powerful statement. Alex is a most unpleasant individual. Then he is “cured.” I have heard first time viewers cheer at the end of the movie when the old Alex returns.
    I don’t think it qualifies as cyberpunk exactly, anymore than the Library of Congress field holler recordings qualify as rock and roll, however its not hard to connect the two.

    May 26, 2011

    LordDinimis said:


    February 14, 2012

    Burnt_Lombard said:

    The first time I watched this film was over a decade ago, I didn’t like it…but I had just finished the book and read that Burgess dismissed the film, so I would as well.(typical teenager pretensions).

    Re watched it today. Visually stunning lots of fun camera work and intentionally gawdy sets & the music was great, and I took more away from its themes this time.

    February 16, 2012

    Stormtrooper of Death said:

    The music is special in this movie. Mostly at the moments of Extreme Violence, the music in the background is yours famous “Ludwig Von”. Excellent. I watched this movie when i was 19 years old. I was shocked, and all my friends where also shocked. Why ? It is too realistic, frightning glimpse in the underbelly of a shadowy world outside…. Excellent movie of all time. Made in 1971. Same year as I was born.

    And my name aint Alex !

    May 3, 2012

    wintermute said:

    this website lost all credibilty/ relevance by scoring aeon flux higher than the clockwork orange.. shame on you droogs..

    ~All Related Entries Related This~


    <<--Back to top

    Made with WordPress and the Semiologic CMS | Design by Mesoconcepts