The Kubrick Experience – A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon

23 Mar

Controversy has always played a large role in Stanley Kubrick’s repertoire of films. Lolita was slammed with controversy surrounding age gaps in relationships and underage attraction. This is nothing compared to the overwhelming response garnered to Kubrick’s 1971 dystopian film based off of Anthony Burgess’ novel, A Clockwork Orange. I hold this film very close to my movie worshipping heart, and it is, without a doubt, my favorite movie of all time.

The film starts with Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) and his droogs sitting in the Korova milk bar, trying to make up their rassoodocks with what to do with the evening. The activities they decide on aren’t exactly the norm. They take their pleasure in starting fights, stealing cars, and rape. These activities are all summed up in one word: ultra-violence. Everything is going well for Alex until the night he is caught and charged with murder. In prison, he signs up for a new scientific study called the Ludovico Technique. This experiment robs him of his free will which makes life outside of prison increasingly difficult.

Trying to summarize this film is very, very difficult because it is a movie that needs to be seen to really be understood. Sure, the film is told in a mostly classical narrative form, but it is really a visual film. The sets, camerawork, and costumes are what really bring the film’s narrative out. The closeups of Alex’s twisted facial expressions really says more about his character than the constant poetic dialogue that he spouts throughout the entire movie. The dialogue really establishes his intelligence, but McDowell’s physical acting is what really brings Alex to life.

When this film was first released, it was given an X rating in America but still did very well, but was actually taken out of British cinemas due to its graphic violence and sexual content. But if it wasn’t for all of the explicitness, the point of the film would be lost. First off, it’s a commentary on violence and the desensitizing of youth, but the film also forces us to care for Alex and see him make it through the film despite having seen all of the terrible things that he is capable of doing. Alex is strangely likable. He is always polite, save for a few scenes, and is passionate about intellectual gain and music, especially that of ol’ Ludwig Van.

I would love to talk about this movie more, but I still have another to discuss. The bottom line is that nothing I have ever seen has topped this movie in storytelling, themes, and craftsmanship. The controversy surrounding it only makes it more appealing to me. I will love this film to my dying day and strongly recommend it to everyone.

While no movie has ever come close to topping A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick’s next film is nearly as fantastic, and even had me wondering if I could call A Clockwork Orange my favorite film anymore. This film that almost topped it was Kubrick’s often forgotten film, Barry Lyndon.

Barry Lyndon tells the story of an Irishman named Redmond Barry who leaves Dublin after supposedly killing Captain Feeney in a duel over the hand of Barry’s cousin, Nora Brady. Redmond joins the British army and fights in the Seven Years’ War against the French. After the war, and through a series of different meetings and adventures, Redmond meets the beautiful Countess of Lyndon (Marisa Berenson), marries her, and takes the title Barry Lyndon. Act II of the film tells the story of his fall from power and respect through many family crises, tragedies, and past feuds. There is way too much in this epic tale that can be said in a quick summary of a couple sentences, but this is the general story.

The most interesting aspect about this film is its cinematography. Kubrick wanted to stay away from electric lighting, so the movie was shot with all natural light and candles. This, along with the beautiful set design and costumes of the period, makes this film a wonder to look at. The overall design of the movie is based off of paintings that were done during that time period, which really gives the film distinct look.

It’s very easy to get lost in this movie, and I don’t mean lost when it comes to following the plot. I mean that it is easy to get lost in the atmosphere of the time period that Kubrick has brought back to life. The realism that is can be found in Barry Lyndon is truly remarkable. This is before Ridley Scott used CGI effects to create the Colosseum  in Gladiator and before James Cameron used advanced computer technology to allow us to explore Pandora in Avatar. Don’t get me wrong, I love both of these films, but the fact the realism spawns from the cinematography and expert costume and set design makes the film seem more magical to me.

The overall story is absolutely captivating. There is an incredible story arc that takes the viewer so many places and through so many different struggles that this man has to live with. We start the film feeling sympathetic towards Redmond, but as the film goes on and we see his life play out before us, we have to decide whether we still support him or have turned against him.

Barry Lyndon is an extraordinary story that is well worth a viewing if you have time to spare. It is a very long movie, so you have to make sure you have the time to sit down and watch. Trust me, once it starts up, you’re not going to want to turn it off.

My next and final Kubrick blog will be a little longer because I will be covering three movies  instead of just two. These films are The ShiningFull Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut.

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