A Clockwork Orange, which plays this weekend as part of Willow Creek’s series of weekend midnight retros, stares you down right from its immortal opening shot.
Michael McDowell’s unblinking, focused, head-tilted glare is such a memorable image that it became something of a signature shot for director Stanley Kubrick. Jack Nicholson furrowed his brow for The Shining, Vincent D’Onofrio grimace-grinned halfway through Full Metal Jacket, and even Nicole Kidman, at one point, gave the knowing nod looking directly through Tom Cruise’s soul(lessness) in Eyes Wide Shut.
But McDowell did it the best, partially because he did it the most inscrutably. His interpretation of writer Anthony Burgess’s antihero Alex is menacing not because of the deeds he’s capable of (and they would be enough) but because he’s clearly having a lark.
The look on Alex’s face as he sits with (well, lords over) his three droogs is one of diseased bemusement, not one of simple homicidal rage (as in the case of Nicholson’s Jack Torrance). That glimmer is one all of us can recognize within ourselves.
That’s what makes Clockwork Orange so complicated, so frustrating and, ultimately, so distasteful. I respect the film for its craftsmanship, but it remains one of the few Kubrick movies I constantly wrestle with, rather than accept for its majesty. The movie’s message is so comparatively muddled that it easily reads as an endorsement of anarchism. Which would still be “too hot to handle,” but Kubrick’s touch is closer to “too cold to hold” on the Bobby Brown sliding scale.
Nevertheless, not many movies can leave you feeling as morally conflicted and aesthetically confused as Kubrick’s anti-masterpiece.
Here are the screen times for the next month’s worth of Retros at Willow Creek:
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Jan. 27th 9:30pm | Jan. 28th Midnight | Jan. 29th 10:30am & Midnight
Groundhog Day (1993)
Feb. 3rd 9:30pm | Feb. 4th Midnight | Feb. 5th 10:30am & Midnight
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Feb. 10th 9:30pm | Feb. 11th Midnight | Feb. 12th 10:30am & Midnight
Dirty Dancing (1987)
Feb. 17th 9:30pm | Feb. 18th Midnight | Feb. 19th 10:30am & Midnight
Child’s Play (1988)
Feb. 24th 9:30pm | Feb. 25th Midnight | Feb. 26th 10:30am & Midnight
And here’s a sneak peak of what’s coming down the pipeline for March and April. See if you can guess which movies are being referenced.