Alex: It had been a wonderful evening and what I needed now to give it the perfect ending was a bit of the old Ludwig van.
F: Yes, once. And that was once too many…
R: Uh oh! This was my second viewing as well.
F: It will come as no surprise to anyone who has listened to the podcast that this is the film I was least looking forward to in the whole list. And on a second viewing my opinion hasn’t changed.
R: I can’t really blame anyone who doesn’t like this film. The main character is a thoroughly horrible person, it features rape scenes that too often feel gratuitous, and the reward for anyone who gets to the end is a conclusion that’s entirely grim and depressing. But films can be about more than entertainment, and I think this probably gives more food for thought than anything else on the list so far.
F: We have had a number of discussions about this film so it certainly is a talking point. But I can’t get past how utterly vile Alex is; how he takes pleasure in the violent acts he commits, without any remorse for his actions and is actually proud of what he has done. I have zero sympathy for him as the film goes on.
R: I don’t think you’re supposed to have much sympathy for Alex. Almost everybody in this film is unpleasant or damaged in some way, so I think the more important question is: why does Alex behave the way he does? Ultimately I think the film is trying to get us to think about how a civilised society should respond and deal with people who do horrible things.
F: Well I certainly don’t think that the government response in this case is right. But do you think we need to see Alex’s crimes in such grotesque detail in order to examine that question?
R: I think it’s pretty crucial that we see how much Alex enjoys his crimes, and I also think the audience needs to feel that discomfort during those scenes. They’ve got to be full on. We need to buy into the need for him to be rehabilitated.
F: You make some good points but I’m still not convinced! Moving onto other things I dislike – I really can’t get on board with the slang they talk in. I find that alienates these characters even more for me. What did you think?
R: Welly welly, there’s a question to fag and fash the gulliver! I’d say the language serves a couple of purposes. Firstly, it helps put some distance between our world and this near-future dystopia. It makes this place weird and alienating in a way that outrageous costumes by themselves wouldn’t. More than that, it’s used as a symbol of moral / intellectual decay, isn’t it? It’s only Alex and his “droogs” that talk that way (with the particularly unpleasant Dim almost nonsensical with it), and Alex mostly avoids using it whenever he talks to authority figures. Most gang cultures have their own slang (it’s a very effective way of delineating a “them” and “us”), so it’s quite realistic really.
F: Well firstly I don’t think I even realised first time watching that this was a future dystopian film purely by the fact that the film looks like London! I walk through underpasses and see tower blocks like those in the film all the time. The overall film feels very British, which makes me wonder why is it even in the AFI Top 100? Secondly the separation created between Alex and everyone else just makes me care even less about him and what happens.
R: It certainly presents a very 70s vision of the future. And it’s true that overall the film feels much more British than American, what with being set in London, featuring an all-British cast and the author of the original book (Anthony Burgess) being English. Is it true that Kubrick was the only American involved on the creative side? Feels like it might be.
F: Of the major players it certainly seems that way. We spoke a bit about Kubrick when we watched Spartacus some weeks ago and noted how that didn’t feel as much like a Kubrick film as some of his other work. Would you say this does?
R: Here he’s written the screenplay as well as directed, so it’s undoubtedly more Kubrick’s singular vision than Spartacus. And it’s a more subversive, unsettling, and – for all you hate it – starkly original film. Still now there’s nothing else quite like it, and that incomparable, thinky, slightly problematic quality is perhaps what makes this a quintessentially Kubrick film.
F: Well I’m glad there’s nothing else like it! I will throw one positive comment out there. I think Malcolm McDowell is excellent in the film. As for everything else, I think I’ve made my thoughts pretty clear…
R: Malcolm McDowell clearly excelled at making you dislike his character. It is an awesome performance. And I would say a pretty strong film overall…
Is it worthy of the top 100?
F: Easiest no so far. And I’m glad it’s over so I never have to watch it again!
R: I’ll say no, but only because it’s more British than American!