Film Highlight: A Clockwork Orange

courtesy of Warner Bros.

How are we supposed to respond to Kubrick's most problematic movie (1971) so many years after its release? Should we be repulsed by it as an outpouring of pestered-geek, Dylan Klebold-like misanthropy, where the hermitic auteur identifies with the sexy, Nietzschean superhero, loathing the various bourgeois vermin who merit a kick in the guts or a braining with a ceramic cock? Or should we just give in to the torrent of cleverness, enjoy the feeling that the Master is in Control, and lap up the perfect art direction and snappy music cues as Kubrick makes us squeal like pigs? Either response alone seems to me inadequate; like the movie it was compared to upon its release, Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, A Clockwork Orange is both despicable and technically astounding. The youth of today will see strong connections to David Fincher's Fight Club, in which a similarly stunning, Olympian technique is joined to what a friend calls "T-shirt philosophy"—that is, nihilism at a level of maturity below Trent Reznor's. The one element of the movie that isn't a moral quagmire is Malcolm McDowell's performance, which can be seen in the dictionary under the word charisma; it's simply one of the most mesmeric ever put onscreen.

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