review for A Clockwork Orange on AllMovie

A Clockwork Orange (1971)
by Mark Deming review

After the visionary journey through space and time of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick offered a very different look at the future (which seemed uncomfortably close to the present) in A Clockwork Orange. But if one has to compare A Clockwork Orange to any of Kubrick's other films, it comes closest to Dr. Strangelove: for all its horrific violence and troubling moral ambiguity, it is ultimately a satire, and, like Dr. Strangelove, it wrings a shocking amount of humor from situations that few people would think of as funny. With the notable exception of Alex (Malcolm McDowell in the best performance of his career), most of the characters are little more than cartoons (with dialogue to match), while a great deal of the violence walks a fine line between Looney Tunes absurdity and crushingly vivid brutality. Kubrick's future state is often garish and ugly, veering between an amusingly hideous riot of color and texture gone wrong and the decaying remnants of a cinder-block nation (remarkably, Kubrick and production designer John Barry built only one set for the entire film, with everything else shot on existing locations that were dressed in "futuristic" style). And Kubrick throws in plenty of crude comic relief that suggests some degenerate variation on a Carry On film; from the overexcited school representative to the doctor and nurse enjoying recreational sex as Alex regains consciousness, Kubrick places his grim vision in an England where foolish absurdity is the order of the day. And while Alex seems one of the few characters capable of making a complex moral choice (never mind how sinister his choices happen to be), he also takes his choice more seriously than anyone else in the film. Alex has adopted violent hedonism not out of profit, politics, or pragmatism, but because he likes it, and, while this makes him difficult to admire, he's still the smartest and freest man in the film's moral universe.