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A Clockwork Orange
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is an extremely violent film. Within the first 13 minutes there is a violent beating of a homeless man, an attempted rape, a gang fight, another beating, and a rape. Sex and violence are paired. Hope for a "cure" for violence is scuttled. Profanity includes "f--k." There is full-frontal female nudity, sexual innuendo, male nudity, and explicit sex scenes. Characters are frequently surrounded by sexual images: paintings of naked women, sculptures of penises, naked women mannequins who produce milk for consumption out of their nipples. A male social worker engages in inappropriate touching with a young man under his jurisdiction; he eventually reaches down and grabs the young man's penis as he sits next to him in his underwear. For mature viewers, the messages about violence and cultural decay are present, but these may be lost on younger viewers amid the sensationalism.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Based on the Anthony Burgess novel, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE tells the tale of Alex (Malcolm McDowell), a young man whose cravings for sex and violence rule almost his every motivation. He and his roving gang of "droogies" fight and rape their way around town, beating up hapless strangers or rival gangs. But Alex's droogies aren't that happy with his leadership. They soon ambush Alex and leave him for the police to find after he murders a woman in her home. After two years in prison, Alex is chosen to participate in an experiment to brainwash the violent tendencies out of criminals: He becomes deathly sick and incapacitated anytime he encounters or thinks about violence. The unintended side effect is that he also feels this way when he hears his favorite composer, Ludwig van Beethoven. The latter is exploited to disastrous ends in a case of political and personal revenge.
Is it any good?
A Clockwork Orange has earned the title of "cult classic," and rightfully so. This is the darkest of satires, exploring the deepest of themes: behavioral conditioning, crime and punishment, and the quote attributed to the anarchist Emma Goldman: "A society gets all the criminals it deserves." The end result also is a lampooning of youth culture as well as of those who espouse "law and order" at the expense of free will.
As the anti-hero Alec, Malcolm McDowell presents so much style and élan that the iconic stature of the character has only grown in the decades since the movie was released. It isn't for the squeamish, but, unlike so many films in which sex and violence are omnipresent, there are reasons behind the brutality and the gratuitousness. It is an unforgettable movie and ranks as among Stanley Kubrick's finest.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the nature of violence. Are some people naturally destined to be violent, or does it come from experience? Does our current penal system work? Is it ethical to try to brainwash criminals, as they did to Alex? Or are there other means to use psychology that might help?
The novel A Clockwork Orange ends differently from the movie. Why do you think the filmmakers chose a somewhat different ending?
What do you see as the challenges in adapting a movie from a well-known novel?
- In theaters: February 9, 1971
- On DVD or streaming: May 6, 1991
- Cast: Adrienne Corri, Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee
- Director: Stanley Kubrick
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Book Characters
- Run time: 137 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: rape, violence, sex, and nudity.
- Last updated: October 23, 2019
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