Set in London in an alternative future (future at least to 1971) when society is terrorized by vicious gangs of thugs, Clockwork Orange tells the story of Alex, the leader of a typically belligerent gang and his desire to be cured. The film really deals with how the government and society fail younger people, and the ineffective and sometimes drastic measures that are used to try and tackle the issue.
Clockwork Orange has always had a bit of a reputation as being a very violent and unsavory film; actually I would say that there is minimal violence. OK, so kicking someone in the legs and stomach while they're on the ground and then raping their wife isn't very nice, but none of it is graphic. I don't think that The Hunger Games is any less violent, and either version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is far more graphic and grim. Clearly there is perspective to this, and to 1971 sensibilities, Clockwork Orange was obviously more than a lot of people could handle.
So why should you watch this? Mostly for Malcolm McDowell; he is just brilliant. His portrayal of Alex is such that you cannot imagine anyone else playing that role. He is unpredictable, gleeful, strangely polite, repentant, but has the ability to always be slightly intimidating. Of course it helps that Kubrick’s screenplay based on Anthony Burgess’ novel is equally brilliant; if Alex didn't speak in his mock Shakespearean way (Nadsat apparently), then the film probably wouldn't have worked so well.
While clearly not in the same league as 2001 (few films are), Clockwork Orange nevertheless still has moments of beauty. Whatever the subject matter, Kubrick really knows how to set up a shot, and some of the sets (designed by Star Wars set designer John Barry - no, not that one) are oddly cinematic.
Similar to 2001, Kubrick decided to use a classical music score, but here it is often incongruous to what is happening on screen: Alex singing "Singing in the rain" as he is beating and raping, Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie” while fighting Billy Boy and his gang in the old casino, or of course the use of “Ludwig Van’s 9th” which eventually drives Alex mad! Again this music elevates Clockwork Orange to a level where it is more than just a film. I think that with any other director at the helm it would have been a fairly ordinary film, but Kubrick crafted something more than that; an experience whose atmosphere really permeates the viewer and stays with them for long after the credits roll.
If anyone ever had doubts about seeing this because of its notoriety and potential content, I would recommend them to take the time to see it, I’m sure it is not what they would expect. Bold, iconic music, a compelling performance from McDowell, and occasionally sumptuous visuals, is definitely worthy of praise.