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Stanley Kubrick on the erotic violence of ‘A Clockwork Orange'

Out of all the films that Stanley Kubrick made over the course of his trailblazing career, the most controversial project was probably his 1971 masterpiece A Clockwork Orange. A fantastic adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ iconic novel, Kubrick constructed a highly unsettling cinematic meditation on crime and punishment in the context of modernity.

Chronicling the machinations of a society where juvenile delinquency is met with authoritarian forms of control and coercion, A Clockwork Orange raises important questions about the concept of free will. It attempts to investigate larger political and philosophical issues through the story of Alex – a young degenerate who is “rectified” through extreme psychological conditioning.

According to Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange is an attempt to find out whether the moral choice of being good or evil is fundamental to the human condition. In the film, that choice is systematically eliminated from the fractured psyche of Alex which results in the creation of an obedient zombie rather than a “good” human being. What attracted criticism from others was Kubrick’s use of graphic violence and highly disturbing images.

Initially, Kubrick defended his artistic vision by comparing the film to Shakespeare’s Richard III and claiming that nobody walks out of the theatre thinking either of the protagonists should be revered. In an interview, Kubrick said: “No work of art has ever done social harm, though a great deal of social harm has been done by those who have sought to protect society against works of art which they regarded as dangerous.”

When asked about the use of violence in art, Kubrick insisted that the relationship between violence and art has always existed – ranging from the Bible to Homer and Shakespeare. He criticised the media for focusing on this trivial issue instead of shedding some light on the real socio-economic problems that plague modern society and actually contribute to the increase of poverty and violence.

While describing A Clockwork Orange’s unique brand of violence, Kubrick explained that the decor of the film was suggestively erotic to invoke the idea of a futuristic society where erotic art was an essential part of popular culture. The auteur went on to say that the erotic violence in the film is integral to the moral explorations because it bridges the gap between living in a physically violent society and being corrected by a psychologically violent state apparatus.

Later, Kubrick went back on his own claims about the necessity of provocative art when reports of copycat crimes popped up. The film was banned in several countries and the director himself requested Warner Bros to pull it out of circulation in the United Kingdom. Thankfully, A Clockwork Orange has survived the test of time and is now regarded as one of the most important cinematic landmarks of the 20th century.

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