Unpopular Opinion: A Clockwork Orange really isn’t all that great

Unpopular OpinionsThere’s a scene early in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange where Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) and his gang of “droogs” run into a rival gang midway through engaging in an evening of “ultra-violence”. Alex and the droogs stop what they’re doing (raping a group of women) and fight the rival gang. While the scene unfolded, I couldn’t help but think of a of a quote from the seminal Australia young-adult novel, Tomorrow When the War Began. It reads:

“People, shadows, good, bad, Heaven, Hell: all of these were names, labels, that was all. Humans had created these opposites: Nature recognised no opposites. Even life and death weren’t opposites in Nature: one was merely an extension of the other. All I could think of to do was trust to instinct. That was all I had really. Human laws, moral laws, religious laws, they seemed artificial and basic, almost childlike.”

I thought of this quote because at it’s core A Clockwork Orange is a film about how laws and labels affect our understanding of morality. It is natural then that Kubrick was the man to make the film (an adaption of Anthony Burgess’s novel of the same name). Kubrick specialises in creating films that explore and challenge the fundamental elements of human existence whether it be family, The Shining; sex, Eyes Wide Shut; or the existentialism of our existence, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

A Clockwork Orange shares a lot of similarities to those films I just mentioned. It has a lot to say with a lengthy runtime of 136 minutes, during which we track the (anti)hero’s journey of Alex, experiencing his failures, triumphs, and pains. It is imbued with Kubrick’s unique stylistic sensibilities that take fully real sets made up of mundane elements and elevate them with a unique blend of filmmaking language. It is considered to be a classic, like many of his other films.


However, there is one major separating difference between A Clockwork Orange and Kubrick’s other classic.

Namely: that A Clockwork Orange is not a good ©

Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange

© Warner Bros.

. It’s a bad film. Maybe even a terrible one.

That’s not to say that A Clockwork Orange is not an iconic film because it is certainly that. The films first image of Alex looking directly into the camera existed in my mind long before any concept of the film did. What is often forgotten however is what comes next. The camera slowly pulls out to reveal Alex and droogs sitting in a silent tableau in a room full of pornographic statues of women.

It’s telling, I think, that we remember the first half of that image but not the second, because A Clockwork Orange is about the second. Set in a dystopic and totalitarian version of England, A Clockwork Orange follows Alex as he commits a spree of crimes as a way to live his life to the fullest. This leads to his arrest and incarceration. While in prison the totalitarian government selects him for psychological reprogramming (re: torture) which will stop him from committing crime in the future.

Like every Stanley Kubrick film the behind the scenes stories become just as famous as the film itself, if not more famous. It was banned in England due to the controversial way Kubrick depicts its protagonist. Alex is treated like any other protagonist, good things and bad things happen to him throughout the film we’re expected to empathise with him, take his side in every plight. To Kubrick, Alex is just like many other heroes throughout fiction, he just wants to be his most authentic self.

Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange

© Warner Bros.

I take issue with this however because Alex’s most authentic self is a violent murder and rapist. The society Alex is in is just as bad. The police as brutal, torture is practically legal, the government is a totalitarian regime that can get away with anything. Alex is no better or worse than them, he’s just as bad in a different way. Kubrick doesn’t want to judge Alex, he’s saying if everyone else is bad, then you can be bad too as long as you’re your most authentic self while doing it.

This perhaps shouldn’t be surprising coming from Kubrick, this is the man after all famous for torturing his actors in the name of authenticity. Kubrick made actors do take after take of brutal rape and murder scenes until they were ‘good enough’. In the psychological torture scene Kubrick made Malcolm McDowell have his eyelids pried painfully open because it was the most authentic version of the image he wanted to create. Not the safest, the most authentic.

Marvin Gaye once said that “Great artists suffer for the people”. There is truth in that certainly. I do not however think great artists make other people suffer for their art, which is what Kubrick always did. In that way A Clockwork Orange ends up Kubrick attempting justifying his own filmmaking style. He doesn’t say anything critical of Alex because if he were to then he would also have to reflect on himself, and Kubrick was not willing to do that.

“Labels are a human creation”, claims the quote I cited earlier. On this A Clockwork Orange and I agree. If that’s the case, then labels can be challenged. We label A Clockwork Orange a classic. I want to challenge that. If your art cannot be made without explicitly making others suffer, then don’t make it.

A Clockwork Orange should not be considered a classic. It’s just pretentious torture porn that fails to justify its own existence.

What do you make of Josh’s thoughts on A Clockwork Orange? Leave your thoughts in the comments box below. We’d love to hear from you.

9 thoughts on “Unpopular Opinion: A Clockwork Orange really isn’t all that great

  1. Interesting points. I’ve always taken away from A Clockwork Orange is that Alex is supposed to be hated by the audience as he’s a deplorable and heinous person, but the point is to present the moral quandary as to whether the government is justified in sedating or conditioning him through unethical means. I think “pretentious torture porn” might be a gross oversimplification to prove a point, it does rely heavily on shock value and sensationalism but there are certainly theme exploration and filmmaking techniques that make it an interesting watch. I would probably shy away from calling it a “classic” (Usually infers some sense of the best of the best) but I think it’s a prominent film that deserves to be discussed and challenged in this manner rather than forgotten.

    • Hi there! Thanks so much for your comment. I think that’s why we all love film so much, it can be so subjective that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure! I myself really like the film, but I’ll be sure to pass on your comments to Josh! Thanks again, Adam.

  2. You miss the point of the story if your first “hot take” is that the main character is a mysoginist. Also, not an unpopular opinion to dislike violent movies, join the club with all the rest of the pc babies. Maybe you’re just extremely dumb as fuck, did you consider that?

    • Hi David, thanks for your comment. I absolutely do not tolerate abuse of my contributors from anybody on my site. The whole point of this series of articles is for my team to share their thoughts on a number of topics that would be classed as ‘Unpopular Opinions’, and the fact that you feel the need to berate anyone for doing so speaks more about your character than about Joshua’s for writing this article.

  3. I disagree, I think you completely missed the entire point of the story but it is a unpopular opinion.

    Nice take.(not sarcasam)

    • Thanks for your comments, as you said, this is part of our Unpopular Opinions series, so it’s expected there won’t be many out there that agree. I’ll pass on your thoughts to the author, Josh. Thanks again, Adam.

  4. Watching Clockwork Orange during this day and age is a breath of fresh out without all the movies trying to force Social Politics in for no reason. And not even good Social Politics just the mainstream things you see on the News everyday and seen in every single movie so it ends up being the same. So maybe I’m a bit bias because of all the movies coming a long sucking all the life of entertainment making it all the same.

    I respect your opinion but maybe watch the movie again and watch a few videos analyzing it or maybe read the book to get another view or others view

    Or maybe you’re sensitive to violent imagery, a lot of people are like that and that’s ok. If that’s the case then these movies aren’t for you.

    • Thanks for your comments, this is part of our Unpopular Opinions series, so it’s expected there won’t be many out there that agree. I’ll pass on your thoughts to the author, Josh. Thanks so much for reading Movie Metropolis, Adam.

  5. I completely agree! I just saw the movie today and I will say that many of the scenes were purely based on shock value. I ended the movie feeling uncomfortable and didn’t feel, and still don’t, like I took anything away from it. I watched the movie because it’s on the AFI’s Top 100 Films of All Time list, but outside of that I definitely don’t think I’ll be revisiting it again. I was consistently repulsed by the depiction of women, and every time a woman was on screen I cringed because the trend of this movie shows violence or objectitication towards them. Thanks for this review – now I know I’m not alone 🙂

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