When people think of A Clockwork Orange, they tend to think of a woman being brutally raped by a gang of bizarrely dressed men while the leader sings "Singin’ in the Rain" and kicks the woman’s husband, who’s being held down and forced to watch, repeatedly in the stomach. I’m not talking about that scene… today. Instead I’m discussing something that happens earlier in the film. In today's Favorite Scene, a woman is nearly brutally raped by a gang of possible neo Nazis and is somehow rescued (I use that word lightly) by a gang of bizarrely dressed men. But when you really sit down and watch the scene, it becomes apparent that it doesn’t belong in the film. Yes the juxtaposition of classical music over moments of violence are there, the hedonistic and sometimes animalistic tendencies of man are there, but this moment is unlike any other that happen in the film.
The moment begins after a quick introduction of Alex and his three droogs, that is, Pete, Georgie, and Dim. We cut to a classic style painting still life of roses in an assumed marble vase. We hear screams over the french horns, oboe and violins of Rossini’s "The Thieving Magpie". The camera pans down and we find we are in an old derelict theater, even though Alex refers to it as a casino. A gang of men, dressed in World War Two garb, is clawing at a woman, ripping her clothes off in hopes of bedding her. Ugh that sounds gross. Doesn’t that sound gross? Bedding. Yuck. Anyway, they pull this woman over to a pile of old disgusting looking mattresses when out of the darkness steps Alex and his droogs. Distracted, the gang pays no attention to the woman and she makes her escape. Alex then tosses some very light, almost elementary school level insults. Very tame in comparison to the rest of the Oscar nominated X-rated film.
But here’s where it gets interesting. For most of the film, anytime Alex is on screen, he is in control. When the film begins, it’s on his face and as the camera pulls back, it looks like he lifts a glass of moloko drencrom to us, toasting us as guests of honor as he guides us through this hellacious dystopian future. But in this moment, as Alex hurls insults at Billy Boy, we don’t see Alex. We see Billy. The camera is holding on Billy and comes across looking like a moving portrait. Billy doesn’t blink or flinch. Steadily chewing gum, for nearly ten seconds, then lifting his switchblade to show Alex he’s ready for a bit of the old ultraviolence. Why does this happen? In any other film, the camera would be on Alex and it would cut between members of the gang as they snicker in agreement or grimace in denial. Is it to strike fear? If we look at Billy’s attire, he’s wearing a Nazi Officer’s cap along with an Iron Cross medal. Clearly he’s the bad guy. In strolls Alex in all white, a metaphorical savior, even though he’s just as bad as Billy, if not worse. Is this an overall metaphor for society? That every country has a violent history of raping and taking, it’s just the name they claim it in is different. It’s a lot to read into in just ten seconds, but it’s the only time in the film this happens.
In the rest of the film (SPOILERS) we see Alex go from criminal to reformed man to a broken man on the verge of returning to his primal nature. But every time he’s on the screen, he controls the scene. Your attention is on him. Yeah, I get it, he’s the main character, it’s his story, but if he has such disdain for Billy Boy, why hold on him for so long? Why not further degrade the guy and show everyone else but him? These questions are abruptly forgotten as we spill into violence. But it’s not the ultraviolence this film is known for. Instead we get something that looks and feels like a standard bar fight in a western. Somebody spills something on someone or steps on a toe and suddenly bodies are flying through tables and windows, and chairs are being broken off left and right. The EXACT same thing happens here. It’s almost a Looney Tunes level of violence that gets further downplayed by the juxtaposition of "The Thieving Magpie". A man literally dropkicks another through a table.
But as soon as it begins, it’s over as Alex takes control of the narrative. He whistles to his droogs like a trainer to his dogs. We see now they’re not Alex’s friends or companions; just his droogs. Just people he has around to do his viddy well bidding. The best line though comes from Alex as he challenges Billy, “come and get on in the yarbles! If ya got any yarbles.” It’s wonderful and I wish it was cool to use that slang. It’s a shame the film didn’t take home the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1972. I believe the film is absolutely more deserving than The French Connection. Thing is, people see this film as nothing but shock violence with a boring second half. This film is so much more than that. It’s a satiric meditation on human nature and the inherent violence we grow up with. It takes a fun house mirror and points it at society, showing us where our priorities lay, rather than where they should. Now there’s something you can wrap your rassoodocks around for a few hours.
Note - this week's scene contains graphic nudity and violence. NSFW.
What's your favorite scene from A Clockwork Orange?