In place of peace and love and prosperity, A Clockwork Orange offered a new zeitgeist-decade of violence, anger, misogyny, the degradation of the public space in dreary suburban locales and modernist designs for living that had been vandalised. Kubrick had been badly shaken by press reports of real-life crimes supposedly inspired by the film. It is strange to watch A Clockwork Orange again, in my case for the first time in 20 years. It is still brilliant, still audacious, still nasty, but definitely dated, and longer than I remembered. But his signature is there all the way through, especially in the establishing shots of cavernous interiors, with their vertiginous lines disappearing into the distance. The swaggering assailant is made to watch upsetting films as aversion therapy with his eyelids clipped wide open and lubricated with an eyedropper — a genuinely horrifying scene, something to match the eye-slitting in Un Chien Andalou.
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The novel is concerned with the conflict between the individual and the state, the punishment of young criminals, and the possibility or otherwise of redemption. The linguistic originality of the book, and the moral questions it raises, are as relevant now as they ever were. The film is presented as a series of images of brutality, beatings, torture and masochism all performed by a group of men under the gaze of a glamorous woman.
Ready for a bit of the ol' ultra-violence? Strangelove co-screenwriter Terry Southern gave him a copy on the set of that film. Southern enjoyed the biting black humor of the book, and thought Kubrick should consider adapting it into a movie.