Study Guide

A Clockwork Orange Introduction

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A Clockwork Orange Introduction

Release Year: 1971

Genre: Crime, Drama, Sci-Fi

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Writer: Stanley Kubrick, Anthony Burgess (novel)

Stars: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates

A Clockwork Orange is the film that gave the phrase "keep your eyes peeled" a brand new meaning. Or, as someone from the film might say: "Keep your glazzies peeled, or we'll peel them for you!"

This bit of sinny is the story of Alex, who goes from being an ultra-violent malchick to going blub blub blub in the barry places. It's like the documentary Scared Straight re-done Kubrick-style. It can be scary, and we don't mean the slang. Some of the movie's more brutal scenes are like a real kick to the zoobies. They'll really turn your guttiwuts, so you don't want to be eating while watching this, or you might upchuck your steaky wake.

(English translation: A Clockwork Orange is about a violent criminal named Alex, who ends up in jail after committing a series of crimes so intense, they originally earned the film an X-rating—the 1970s equivalent of NC-17. The movie explores his rehabilitation and the consequences of a controversial procedure. And, oh yeah: it also basically has its own language.)


The film was written and directed by Stanley Kubrick, who successfully adapted multiple books, including Lolita (1962) and The Shining (1980), the latter of which is infamous for how much Stephen King hated the film. Anthony Burgess, the author of the original book, seems to have liked the film version of A Clockwork Orange, even if he was secretly disappointed that Mick Jagger didn't play the lead role. Instead, the part of Alex went to Malcolm McDowell, who turned the character into the greatest role of his career (although the voice of Grandpa on Phineas and Ferb is a close second).

A Clockwork Orange was released in 1971, nine years after Burgess's novel of the same name was published. However, the novel has a different ending from the one in the film. Because "Americans prefer the other, more violent ending," Kubrick based his screenplay on only twenty of the novel's twenty-one chapters.

Speaking of violent endings, Kubrick requested the film be pulled from theaters in England—but not the good ol' US of A—after a rash of brutal copycat crimes. Even though the X-rated film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay from the Academy Awards, many Brits didn't see the movie officially until 1999, after Kubrick's death.

If you've already peeped this bit of sinny, well, our appy polly loggies, Shmoopers. But maybe you should watch it again to make up your rassoodock as to whether it's a dobby good time or a gloopy piece of violent trash. (English translation: Watch A Clockwork Orange again—it's totally worth revisiting. And then you can make up your own mind about whether the violence is stomach-churning…unlike poor Alex.)

What is A Clockwork Orange About and Why Should I Care?

(Un)fun fact: there are almost as many people in jail in the United States are there are in the entire country of Uruguay. Since A Clockwork Orange was released, the prison population in the U.S. has risen 408%, making it a country with more than 20% of the world's prisoners. Prison population is one area where America can definitively claim to be #1. (We're also pretty good at sweet tea, hip-hop, and kimchi tacos.)

If you think that statistic is super-creepy, you aren't the only one. Both Anthony Burgess (the author of the novel A Clockwork Orange) and Stanley Kubrick (the director of the film) would definitely agree with you.

"Wait a second," we hear you asking. "What the hey does a film about some crazed mascara-wearing, milk-drinking, British teens have to do with the modern American prison crisis?"

More than you'd think.

Here's the thing: A Clockwork Orange explores the idea of rehabilitation. It went, like the Starship Enterprise, where no man had gone before—way off the deep end. It did for the idea of "rehabilitation" what Hamlet did for the idea of "indecisiveness" or what On The Road did for the idea of "the Beat generation"—it became a text that's synonymous with an idea.

Here's the gist of rehabilitation, A Clockwork Orange-style: strap a violent young dude to a chair, inject him with drugs that make him feel like "death," and make him watch violent movies. Ta-da! Now he's unable to view violence without feeling like complete and utter poop. He also has no free will.

"But wait," we hear you saying again. "What does this torture have to do with prison today in America?"

Well, Shmoopers: we have an issue with rehabilitation right here, and right now. No, we're not using the drugs 'n' snuff films approach to rehab in prisons…but we're also not hitting the whole rehabilitation thing out of the park. Almost 70% of prisoners go back to prison, meaning only 30% of prisoners are rehabilitated. If you got a 30% on a test, what grade would you get?

A big, fat F.

A Clockwork Orange asks some pretty major questions about how we treat prisoners, the importance of free will, and whether or not violence is an inherent human trait. And no: it doesn't give us answers. This movie is going to make you ponder, ponder, and ponder some more—but because the questions it asks are still super-pertinent today, we think it's more than worth the brain-itching.


Although Kubrick adhered closely to the book, he did make changes, and these changes prompted Anthony Burgess to say that Kubrick glorified the book's sex and violence. In the novel, Alex rapes two underage girls, but this is change into a consensual threesome for the film's fast-forward sex scene. Kubrick also changes the writer character to make him less sympathetic. (Source)

There are countless conspiracy theories about Stanley Kubrick. A prominent one for A Clockwork Orange is that it is about the CIA's MKUltra mind-control experiments in the 1960s. If you think that's insane, maybe you've been brainwashed. (Source)

Who knew Darth Vader was a stud? The strangely hunky nurse/bodyguard for the writer at the end of the film is played by David Prowse, who was inside Vader's iconic black costume in Star Wars. (Source)

Need to lose a few pounds? Go on the Clockwork Orange diet! Researchers discovered that a deconditioning technique similar to the Ludovico technique helped people lose weight. They never looked at oranges the same way again. (Source)

In the late '90s, fashion savvy generation-Y girls who were too cool for the mall shopped from home in the dELiA*s catalog. But what about boys—and girls who wanted to look less girly? In 1998, dELiA*s launched a male counterpart called Droog, named after the gang from A Clockwork Orange. (Source)

A Clockwork Orange Resources


A Facebook Orange
The Facebook fanpage has your regular dose of quotes, images, and "Where are They Now?" posts about the film.

Malcolm McFansite
This Clockwork Orange/Malcom McDowell fanpage is harder to follow than the book's dialog.

Book or TV Adaptations

The First Squeeze
The book of Orange came first, and so did our comprehensive guide.

Articles and Interviews

A Change of Heart
Maybe McDowell was brainwashed, but he actually hated A Clockwork Orange for a while. But like Elizabeth Berkley and Showgirls, he eventually changed his mind.

A Juicy Mess
Roger Ebert called the film "an ideological mess," and not because they drink milk instead of OJ.


Six-Minute Movie
Got only six minutes? This NSFW YouTube clip will digest the movie for you.

Happy Trails
Sixty-one seconds is probably all that's left when you cut the movie down to a general audience-appropriate trailer.

A Very British Anniversary
Malcom McDowell and his accent talk to British TV, and their accents, about the 40th anniversary of the film.


Wrinkly Orange
A Clockwork Orange is over 50 years old, and NPR's "On Point" celebrated its gold anniversary.

Radio CLKO
There's nothing like curling up next to the radio and listening to some ultra-violence. A Clockwork Orange was adapted into a radio play in 1997.


Droogwig van Beethoven
This fan art shows Beethoven with a droogish makeover.

Sweet Poster
This fan-made poster explains the title's significance better than the movie itself.

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