A Clockwork Orange: Breaking Down Stanley Kubrick’s Masterpiece

In 1971 Legendary film director Stanley Kubrick released one of his masterpieces, A Clockwork Orange. The film is by far one of the most violent depictions of the future London. The movie itself is based on Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange published in 1962.

Stanley Kubrick started filming A Clockwork Orange somewhere around September 1970 and was released in April 1971. It was the fastest turnaround ever for a Stanley Kubrick project. Kubrick is regarded as a perfectionist and he usually took years between film projects.

A Clockwork Orange is altogether a different kind of work by the otherwise perfectionist Stanley Kubrick. Those who had worked with the legend in his early projects were expecting that Kubrick would use the source material as a basic guide and not as a bible, but he found himself becoming very loyal to the book.

Makeup Artist Barbara Dally told a magazine in her interview that Stanley Kubrick was neither stubborn nor rude. Kubrick was open to anyone’s genuine opinion. Kubrick liked to have a collaborative set.

John Baxter, the author of the biography of Stanley Kubrick, writes that the director used a unique technique in the making of A Clockwork Orange. He used to come on the set and start discussing the original text of the novel. 

Miriam Karlin states in her memoirs that many people expected a much more violent rape and murder scene. Instead, Kubrick left it to the imagination of the audience.

Even in the crime scene, where the statue of Beethoven is used to kill the woman, Kubrick never shows the violence, the camera only shows an open mouth of the character depicting her death by the statue.

The Plot

The movie revolves around the central character Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) who forms a gang of his close buddies. The gang is involved in various criminal activities. They break into a house of  F. Alexander, give him a severe beating and rape his wife. Alex’s parents beg him to stop but he doesn’t. Later on, Alex is arrested on charges of murdering a woman. He is sentenced to prison for 14 years.

After four years in custody, Alex is chosen for Interior Minister’s Ludovico Aversion Therapy. Critics say that violent therapy will break and reform any hardcore criminal. Alex is forced to watch porn movies and violent acts while listening to the symphonies of Beethoven. The technique works on Alex’s mind and he becomes reformed. Alex changes completely and becomes a useful member of the society but is tortured by the therapy for the rest of his life.

Read Stanley Kubrick’s screenplay for A Clockwork Orange. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only).

Death Threats to Stanley Kubrick

Kubrick received several death threats after the release of A Clockwork Orange. The film was pulled out of the British cinemas after these threats but screenings went on in Ireland. Kubrick himself requested the film be banned in England. He never wanted to put anyone’s life at risk and felt the film was inspiring violence.

Kubrick was accused of instigating violence. Newspapers reported that a series of violent attacks had broken out in London inspired by the gang in the movie.

Casting Malcolm McDowell as Alex

Before the start of the project, the role of Alex was going to be offered to Mick Jagger, but Kubrick had other things in mind.

Singing in the Rain

The inclusion of the song “Singing in the Rain” was not originally the part of the film. While on set Kubrick stared at the walls for three days. On the third day, he asked McDowell if he could dance.

Malcolm McDowell nodded in yes but said he wasn’t very good. He began dancing and singing the song “Singing in the Rain”. Director picked up the phone and within three hours, had gotten the rights to the song for the film.

Budgeting a Masterpiece

A Clockwork Orange was on a very tight budget. The costume designer created a unique style for each gang. Items were thrown together from things that the gangs would have access to in the world. Stanley Kubrick selected the tight cricket gear with the protective cup as a symbolic costume and directed McDowell to wear jockstrap over his pant. That look became iconic after the film’s release.


The movie was nominated in different categories in the 44th Academy Awards, and it won Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1972. In the same year, Stanley Kubrick won the best director award at New York Film Critic Circles. It is also acknowledged as Best Drama Adaptation from other Medium.

A Clockwork Orange was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Midnight Cowboy had won Oscar for best picture that year. The film remains one of the most controversial films in Stanley Kubrick’s filmography.

The Cast

The main cast of A Clockwork Orange includes:

  • Malcolm McDowell (Alex DeLarge)
  • Patrick Magee (Frank Alexander)
  • Michael Bates (Chief Guard Barnes)
  • Warren Clarke (Dim)
  • John Clive (Stage Actor)
  • Adrienne Corri (Mary Alexander)
  • Carl Duering (Dr. Brodsky)
  • Paul Farrell (Tramp)
  • Clive Francis (Joe the Lodger)
  • Michael Gover (Prison Governor)

If you are a filmmaker watching Stanley Kubrick’s filmography is mandatory:


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