A Clockwork Orange (film)

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening."

A Clockwork Orange is a 1971 film by Stanley Kubrick based on a 1962 novella by Anthony Burgess, about Alex, a teenage sociopath, and his group's crime spree, his capture and his attempted rehabilitation via psychological conditioning.

A massive hit in the US, but highly controversial at its release, it lead to its withdrawal from British distribution, at the director's request.

A Clockwork Orange was named to the National Film Registry in 2020.

Tropes used in A Clockwork Orange (film) include:

Being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven.

  • Asshole Victim: The Cat Lady in the first act, and then Alex himself for the rest of the film.
  • Bad Cop, Incompetent Cop: George and Dim are as violent and vicious as cops as they were in their respective gangs. Also, the only scene in which they're shown (as cops) has them being concerned with revenge, as Alex was known to tolchock both of them repeatedly, and its implied the only reasons they're able to best Alex is because they're police officers and the Ludovico treatment means Alex can't fight back even in self-defense.
  • Bait and Switch: After being carried into Frank's home by his bodyguard, and explaining to him what had happened, the writer suddenly exclaimed "I know you!" But it's because he recognized Alex's picture in the papers that morning, rather than Frank recognizing Alex as the rapist of his wife.
  • Big "Shut Up!": Anytime Alex talks out of turn in prison, Chief Guard Barnes often responds this way.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Much of the characters' slang is actually Russian, or at least pseudo-Russian.
  • Black Comedy: Kubrick's film, however, has an overt layer of black comedy, including a number of outright slapstick moments.
  • Blatant Lies: When Alex breaks into the Cat Lady's house in the film, his excuse for being there is that he is taking part in a contest to see which school can sell the most magazines.
  • Blue Eyes: Prominently featured in the opening shot of the film.
  • Book Ends: The film begins with a slow zoom out from Alex's face. Its penultimate shot is a slow zoom in on his face.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The opening shot shows Alex staring directly into the camera. A few scenes later, he whistles to the soundtrack music while walking home.
  • Brown Note: Alex associates his favorite song, Beethoven's 9th Symphony, with the violence of the procedure, so that he gets violently ill whenever he hears it.
  • Collapsed Mid-Speech: Alex falls face-first into his pasta after being slipped a mickey by the writer whose wife he and the "droogs" gang-raped in the beginning of the film.
  • Cool Car: the "Durango 95." In the film they use a Probe-16, a real supercar built in 1969.
  • Costume Porn: The "droogs" wear long white underwear, padded briefs, suspenders, and somewhat effeminate makeup, and they wield canes as weapons. (Also see Nice Hat.) A rival gang with whom they brawl has a Nazi/military sartorial theme.
  • Crapsack World
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Well, she's not so much "crazy" as she is ill-tempered and into really kinky art.
  • Driven to Suicide
  • Dystopia
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Alex is a rapist and a sadistic violent teenager, but he draws the line at anyone besmirching Ludwig Van Beethoven. When he was at the milk bar, he was the only one enjoying a woman singing a song from the 9th Symphony. When Dim blows a raspberry interrupting her, Alex smacks him with his cane. Later during the Ludovico Treatment, while his aversion to violence and sex while nauseating him, didn't seem to be a big deal. What really sets him off is when he realizes the music playing in a recent film he's forced to watch while drugged is his beloved 9th Symphony. Unlike the first two examples, this one causes him to scream and beg them to stop.
  • Eye Scream: During the treatment, Alex attached to an apparatus that holds his eyelids open while being forced to watch the movies. This is actually performed without special effects in the film. The doctor administering eye-drops to actor Malcolm McDowell was a real doctor, yet the ordeal still temporarily blinded him.
  • Fanservice Extra: Alex's fantasies tend to involve beautiful naked women. Then there's the very good-looking woman who's brought out onstage to demonstrate the effect of the Ludovico Treatment on Alex.
  • Fast-Forward Gag: Used in the three-way sex scene.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Our hero, of course.
  • The Film of the Book: An interesting example. Anthony Burgess's novel included a closing chapter in which Alex matures and grows out of his sociopathy. However, the American edition of the novel did not include that chapter, and that version is what Kubrick filmed.
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Forced to Watch:
    • The Ludovico Treatment involves forcing Alex to watch films by locking his head in place and holding his eyelids open. This scene is parodied quite a bit.
    • Alex's "droogs' force Mr. Alexander to watch his wife being raped.
  • For the Evulz: A bit of the old ultraviolence.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Alex is melancholic, Georgie is choleric, Pete is phlegmatic, and Dim is Sanguine.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: There's a very unsettling low-angle shot of Frank Alexander's face contorting in horror when he realizes who Alex really is. This is no doubt part of his motivation for torturing Alex with Beethoven's Ninth.
  • Grapes of Luxury: In one of Alex's fantasies.
  • Groin Attack
  • Happily Ever Before: An example of the "cut the happier ending" variant. As noted, the book ended with Alex straightening himself out and settling down. The film strongly implies that he'll continue his criminal, sociopathic ways.
  • Heel Face Brainwashing
  • Heel Faith Turn: Subverted. The audience is set up to believe that Alex is experiencing a religious epiphany in prison, only to find that he is actually fantasizing about participating in the battles, tortures and sex described in parts of the Bible.
  • Hide Your Children: The film ages up several of the female rape victims from young girls of ten or twelve years of age up to late teenagers or full grown women.
  • Idiot Ball: In the film, he sings "Singin' in the Rain" in the bath, having sung it during the attack which triggers off an almost Pavlovian response in the writer. He then proceeds to drink the wine that he rightly suspects has been drugged or poisoned, and tells the writer's associates about his weakness for Beethoven's Ninth, which they immediately put to use against him.
  • I Kiss Your Foot: To demonstrate just how tamed Alex is.
  • Kick the Dog: The first act of the film is one sustained kick the dog moment for Alex to contrast with his Woobie status in the third act.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: The last third of the film examines the complex moral footing of Alex's former enemies brutalizing him while he is unable to defend himself due to the Ludovico Treatment. Alex deserves punishment, but is this really justice?
  • Kubrick Stare:
    • This film is one of the trope namers. The opening shot is a close-up of Alex's face, sneering at the camera from beneath his eyebrows while a synthesized funeral march blares in the soundtrack.
    • An interesting inversion appears near the end, with Frank Alexander making a similar facial expression while looking up at the room where Alex is being tortured. This was specifically done to seem reminiscent of portraits of Beethoven.
  • Large Ham: A few minor examples here and there, but the main offender has to be Patrick Magee as the writer, Mr. Alexander -- who seems to have developed a cornucopia of nervous tics after being beaten half to death and watching his wife's rape/murder. Kubrick instructed Magee to exaggerate further and further with every take, to the point that he once leaned over between takes to ask Malcolm McDowell: "I think I'm overdoing it -- is this really what he wants? It feels to me like I'm trying to take a massive shit this whole time!"
  • Lighter and Softer: For all of its reputation for shocking violence, the film is actually lighter than the book. In the book, Alex is even younger and more violently depraved. Most notably, the sex scene in the film was originally between Alex and two 10-year-olds. The film also lightens things up with occasional slapstick humor.
  • Mind Rape: The Ludovico Treatment.
  • Monochrome Casting: Despite the fact that Britain had already become a multiracial society by the 1970s, and that this film is set in the far future, only two black characters are seen: a gang member in the Korova Milk Bar and one of the inmates at the prison.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Alex may be evil incarnate, but haven't you heard? Evil Is Sexy.
  • Nice Hat: Alex and Dim (the Dumb Muscle of the gang) have bowler hats. Georgie (The Dragon) wears a top hat, and Pete sports a beret. In one of the films Alex is forced to watch while in prison, an actor playing a thug and rapist wears a pirate hat.
  • Oireland: The drunken tramp who is beaten by Alex and his gang in the film's first action sequence. The Catholic chaplain at the prison also has an Irish accent.
  • Police Brutality: In the film, Dim and Georgie get jobs as policemen so they can get paid to beat people up.
  • Psychotic Smirk / Slasher Smile: Alex is quite fond of these.
  • Putting on the Reich:
    • The cops at the prison dress vaguely like concentration camp guards, and one particularly sadistic guard, who despises Alex, sports a strikingly Hitler-like mustache.
    • The biker gang who rape the girl in the theater also favor Nazi paraphernalia.
    • While in prison, Alex himself has a Red armband reminiscent of the Nazi Arm band sans swastika.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Alex has a pet snake, Basil. Of course a monster like Alex would not own something cute and cuddly. It's subverted when Alex returns home and is sympathetically upset to learn that his parents have killed Basil. Kubrick supposedly included the snake because McDowell was afraid of them, and when filming the scene where Alex takes Basil out of the drawer for some fresh air, Basil had somehow escaped, causing everyone to freak out.
  • Restraining Bolt: The Ludovico treatment.
  • Shout-Out: Kubrick references a few of his own movies:
    • At the music shop where Alex meets the two girls who who he later takes home, a poster for 2001: A Space Odyssey can be seen hanging from the table.
    • One of the vials used to store the chemicals to help condition Alex is labeled with a command code from Dr. Strangelove.
  • The Sociopath: Alex might be the best example ever committed to film.
  • Something Else Also Rises: The popsicles being sucked by the two girls at the record store. Actually, this film is filled with examples of penis imagery that are in no way subtle.
  • Something Only They Would Say: Alex inadvertently reveals himself when he sings "Singin in The Rain" (which he also did during the rape scene) whilst taking a bath.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Whenever Rossini's "Thieving Magpie" overture starts up on the soundtrack, you know some ultra-violence is coming. Also, the film's most infamous scene features the gang torturing a couple while Alex performs "Singin' in the Rain" While filming the scene, Kubrick decided on a whim to have Alex sing a song, and Malcolm McDowell chose the song simply because he knew all the lyrics.
  • Three-Way Sex: Played at high speed, to the tune of Rossini's "William Tell Overture".
  • Vapor Wear: Unlike most of the other women in the film, Mr. Alexander's wife does not wear underwear. Tragically, this only makes it easier for Alex to rape her.
  • Verbal Tic: Mr. Deltoid, yes?
  • Villainous Rescue: The "droogs" come across a rival gang about to rape a woman in an abandoned theater. They intervene just in time, so that they can fight. The woman escapes in the ensuing chaos, but only because the gangs were focused on each other. The "droogs" were obviously motivated not by virtue, but by the opportunity to deny the rivals their pleasure and fight them as well.
  • Villain Protagonist: Big time.
  • The Voiceless: Pete has no real lines and is basically just a passive observer during the intra-gang dispute.
  • What Happened to the Mouse? While the Novel's "Happy Ending" showed that Pete and Alex kept in touch after each one quits crime. Pete doesn't show up anywhere in the film after Alex's arrest. Billy Boy is also missing too. Though in the Novel it was he instead of George that is one of the policemen that brutalized Alex, he doesn't show up in the film after his gang fights Alex's droogs. However that one was somewhat handwaved by Mr. Deltoid as he mentions that Billy and his friends were carted off to the hospital. Since the other victims of Alex, save for Frank Alexander have been mentioned in passing. (Frank's wife who died from the agony of her rape and the Cat Lady who was bludgeoned to death with her penis sculpture.) It may be implied that Alex may have killed or at the very least severely crippled Billy Boy and his gang in the movie's continuity.
  • Wicked Cultured: The "droogs" travel throughout the city in what appears to be Victorian-era men's underwear, and they carry canes. In addition, Alex enjoys classical music and is known to employ gratuitously highbrow words in his vocabulary.
  • You Are Number Six: Alex is addressed by his number in prison: Six Double-Five Three Two One. This is a slight modification of his number from the book.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Outlandish hair colors are fairly common in this verse.
  • Zeerust: It kind of looks like the future, and it kind of looks like a really freaky 1970s.

"I was cured, all right."