One of the finest filmmakers of the 20th century, Stanley Kubrick produced multiple seminal gems over the course of his trailblazing career which includes the likes of Barry Lyndon and 2001: A Space Odyssey. While many of his works divided critics at the time of their release, almost all of them are now considered to be definitive cinematic masterpieces by fans and film scholars alike.
Kubrick’s 1971 psychological crime film A Clockwork Orange ranks high among his masterpieces. Based on the vastly influential novel by Anthony Burgess, Malcolm McDowell stars as a juvenile delinquent who embarks on a spree of morbidly unsettling crimes. However, the criminal justice system in this dystopian world is also equally corrupt and subjects transgressors to torturous mental conditioning.
“The central idea of the film has to do with the question of free will,” Kubrick elaborated. “Do we lose our humanity if we are deprived of the choice between good and evil? Do we become, as the title suggests, A Clockwork Orange? Recent experiments in conditioning and mind control on volunteer prisoners in America have taken this question out of the realm of science-fiction.”
At the time of its release, A Clockwork Orange did not just face criticism for its disturbing artistic vision but also the influence it had on impressionable youth. After several copycat crimes were reported, Kubrick ordered for the distribution of the film to be stopped. Despite the fact that he was concerned with the visual translation of the book’s violence, Burgess defended Kubrick’s genius.
In a recent interview, McDowell said: “To be honest, I really couldn’t really stomach watching it again. I mean, give me a break here. It’s still the same movie. It may look a little sharper, the colour [might] be a little brighter, but it’s still the same movie. But listen, I’m thrilled to be a part of it. I mean, my god, it’s cinema history. Not many actors in their careers can have such an experience.
Adding, “A lot of times it’s been at some festival and I’m stuck watching it. The last time I was stuck watching it was a the Cannes Film Festival, sitting next to one of the head honchos of Warner Bros. because we were celebrating the 40th anniversary. Thank god we don’t have to go to Cannes because I’d be stuck up there watching it again.”
Apart from the film’s graphic explorations of human depravity, there is another major reason behind the fact that the film is so difficult for McDowell to watch. The actor claimed that he had been promised 2.5% of the box office cut but Kubrick apparently kept it for himself. However, McDowell has accepted that his permanent position in cinematic legacy is more valuable.