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This NSFW post is written for the Movies That Haven’t Aged Well Blogathon, hosted by MovieMovieBlogBlog. Here is where you can find the announcement and entries to date.

With some trepidation, I’ve chosen to write about A Clockwork Orange.

Because this is a noir blog, let me say that I’m reading Kubrick’s film as neo-[SF-]noir, for its cynicism, its violence, its focus on the underside of middle-class life, its sexism, and its mis-en-scene.

I also want to provide the backstory that I adored this film as a teen. I loved the rebelliousness (I even kicked out a window in a local elementary school…without any clue as to why I needed to do it). I identified with the combination of classy and trash tastes (I loved Shakespeare and Aerosmith in equal measure). And I had the hots for Malcolm McDowell. I even dressed as Alex for Halloween my sophomore year, having been introduced to the film in my Advanced Psych class, where we watched scenes to learn about the difference between classical and behavioral conditioning. (I moved on by senior year to Rocky Horror Picture Show, I’m proud to say.) Never mind that I had to look away during the Singing in the Rain rape scene; I loved that Alex fought the system and won. Down with the System!

But let’s get to the focus of the blogathon…

Top Three Ways in Which A Clockwork Orange Has Not Aged Well

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3. The Decor

This is an easy attack. Every film that enters the “futuristic” realm is going to age, and badly at that. The future has to be based on the present because it is the present-day of the film production that guides how the future will be seen. Even more than aliens can’t look truly “alien” because they come from the human experience and imagination, the urban/suburban landscape of A Clockwork Orange says more about the early 70s than it can ever say about the fictional future it envisions.

Top on the list of elements that haven’t aged well to my eyes is the decor:

The groovy pad with the pod.
The groovy pad with the pod.
Mum and Dad have such great taste in decor!
Mum and Dad have such colorful taste!
Milk-plus, anyone? These ladies are happy to hold your drinks.
These gals are happy to hold your drinks.

2. The Sexism

The sexism of A Clockwork Orange has been critiqued from its first day of release, its director even being called misogynistic for his cinematographic choices. Certainly, there is no question that Alex, his droogs, and their entire generation are exemplars of sexism. They practice and celebrate what we now call “rape culture,” with Alex coercing the under-aged when he isn’t raping adult women.

This means that the film had no possibility of aging well in its portrayal of women. And the male gaze dominates the filming of the sex-rape-torture scenes:

Watching rape.
Watching Alex and his pals commit rape for fun.
Another gang's rape of a woman on a disused stage.
A competing gang’s rape of a woman on a disused stage.
Coercion of underaged girls played for humor.
Coerced sex with underage girls in shown in fast motion, played for humor.
An older cat lady isn't worth raping, so she's murdered by a penis sculpture.
An older cat lady isn’t worth raping, so she’s murdered with a penis sculpture.
Pull the shaft for milky delights.
Pull the shaft for milky delights.

There is no question that the film can be discussed from a feminist perspective. Surely the film isn’t pro-torture and rape of women, we might argue; it’s a critique of objectification and misogyny. It’s satire.

The problem is that Alex is our anti-hero and Kubrick gives us no preferable alternative perspective. Again, we can say this is one of the things that’s wrong with the world — and the condemnation of women as leading to men’s ruin is definitely a part of the film noir tradition. But at least the femme fatale has some power, some voice. All most of the women of this film do is show their bodies, get attacked, and either flee or die. The exceptions (apart from Alex’s weepy embarrassing mum) include Dr. Branom and Alex’s psychiatrist at the end of the film. The former is an emotionless prune who keeps the Beethoven playing as Alex undergoes “therapy,” while the latter is a motherly vehicle through which Alex gets back to his former misogynistic self.

Dr. Branom, desexualized career bitch.
Career bitch.
Let's get you back to violent misogynist, shall we?
Let’s get you back to violent misogyny, shall we?

1. The Ending

That our anti-hero Alex ends the film having bested the system with even a possible future career in politics ahead of him definitely pleased me as a teen. In my world of parental rules and teachers’ demands, Alex was my favorite rebel.

As an adult looking back, however, the film doesn’t please me. It’s not that I don’t still resist social strictures and fight the power. It’s that the film doesn’t let him mature, another critique of the film when it first emerged on the big screen. Kubrick cut off the final chapter of Anthony Burgess’s novel, the one where Alex grows up and becomes the typical middle-class asshole he ranted and did violence against as a youth. Thus, the novel is at least in part about the callous, ruthless, blind nature of youth. And the film isn’t.

So maybe, in the end, my central point is that I’ve aged well but A Clockwork Orange never got the chance.

Then and now. I'll take now, thanks.
McDowell, then and now. I’ll take now.

That’s all from this humble narrator, droogies. Hope you’ve viddied well and found this post horrorshow.

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