Intense, stylised, blinding, Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 classic retains the power to distort your mind. That it still manages to look slightly futuristic is testament to its design brilliance, although now some its touches look like retro-futurism.
The music of Ludwig van assaults your ears while Kubrick’s camera positions and cutting play with your perceptions, as do the heightened performances from almost every actor, though of course it’s Malcolm McDowell who steals the screen with every glint of the eye, every twitch of a cheekbone, every curl of the mouth.
Are the film’s messages still relevant, about power and the state, about the individual in society, about free will and mechanised control? Probably more than ever in this age of rage and helplessness, when random stabbings happen every day and social media bots target your brain even as you stroke your keys…
The film’s violence isn’t as shocking as legend would have it – the film was withdrawn, rather than banned, only legally re-surfacing in 2000 – but there is a strain of misogyny, of leering Kubrickian gaze that feels out of step, although the crazy old genius might just get away without #metoo revisionism: one could claim the sex, rape and topless cavorting here is part of the thesis into decadent, recidivist behaviour, part of the psychological check list Alex Delarge is put through.
It’s almost too iconic – and too clinical, so blindingly white, so cleanly angular – to actually enjoy. You go through the wringer with Alex, as much as he puts you through the ordeals; they do his head in, and the film does your.
But there’s a hypnotic power in the language, both visual and verbal, that remains unique nearly 50 years on.