Film

Sexual violence in Cinema and A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)

Horrorshow droogs, after a discussion on the subject of old in-out and dratsing between the bolshy dedoochka Kubrick’s dobby sinny Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket, and dratsing sloochat with a bezoomny malchick. I was fashed, and I’d thought it interessovat to brosay this bitva to the gruppa for filly and gloopy smecks.

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I don’t know what Kubrick’s intentions were, but, allegedly,  it was he who in  1971 that had asked for the film to be withdrawn in the UK, not the censors. I imagine that his view of general public at that time would have been similar to Freud’s friend Basil Clarke (although it could’ve been Ernest Dichter or  Edward Bernays?) the man who’d created advertising and PR, who’d said dismissively ‘the public are stupid’.

As for the ‘movies cause violence’ debate, I firmly agree with Tarantino’s opinion that psychopaths and criminals commit acts of violence and rape because they actually want to and not because they watched a film and thought that it was fine, although many argue that films and television do desensitise and fetishize violence for entertainment value, which is probably true. I believe what Kubrick has a shown in his films, specifically A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket, is an essay on ideology and the themes of violence and sexual violence that were relevant to the decades with which they were made and discourses relating to Cinema.

I want to suggest that whenever Kubrick presents violence in his films he does so knowingly and with the audience in mind, whom is positioned as a kindof moral abritrator with which the representation of rape and violence is intended to be seen. In that case, perhaps his films are not designed for a mainstream audiences whose moral compass and intellect may not be so well attuned, and would percieve Kubrick’s films as an attempt to exploit violence without thought or reason. Probably Kubrick would insist that the opposite was true, and that his films are created for everyone to watch and enjoy.

I am not suggesting that people aren’t desensitised by violence, only that sane people, adults not children, can discern the difference between fantasy and reality. Furthermore, this is also entirely  dependent on the institutions and cultures that propogate these systems of power. It is ‘education’ and ‘equality’  which are the key components to eradicating  war and crime, not prison and occupation.

I have watched every violent exploitation film ever made, and although I’m criticised for being too liberal and opinionated, I’ve never raped or injured anyone as a result of watching a film – infact I’d walked out of Saving Private Ryan twice, and felt physically sick watching Scarlet Johansson abandon an infant during a scene in Under the Skin.

Why do people find A Clockwork Orange so hard to watch, where Full Metal Jacket exceeds Clockwork for misogyny and graphic violence ? In my opinion, Clockwork is a comedy satire, and as disturbing as it might sound, I find the scene in which Alex and his gang attack a middle-aged couple in their home whilst dancing and singing ‘Singing in the Rain’ amusing as it is shocking.

Interestingly, the scene is setup as school-boyish and surreal, placing an emphasis on the young men’s youth and adolescence, and therein portraying these boys as sons born of patriarchy, apathy and moral hypocrisy. The absurdity and Oedipal nature of the film might have been an influence on the lurid, child-like nightmarishness quality of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986); a film famous for exploring the dark themes of temptation and desire.

In fact, I don’t find Clockwork‘s scenes anymore disturbing than John Wayne sexually-assaulting his love interest in The Quiet Man (1952).  Or Eastwood dragging his love interest away to rape her in High Plains Drifter (1973).

With Clockwork, Kubrick singlehandely mocks fascism, socialism, intellectuals, liberals and feminists, because none of these seem capable of seeing the other’s point of view. The cartoonish violence and absurdity practically  turns the film into a Monty Python sketch, which I’d argue would’ve made the film more interesting had Alex and the cast been replaced with Michael Palin, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones and Eric Idle. 

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The most ironic moment in the film is where Alex, battered and destitute, experiences unhappiness and loneliness for the first time, but is fated to invoke the wrath of his victim who duly does what anyone might feel compelled to do: poisons and then tortures him. Kubrick shows us that all the ideology, theories and conditioning in the world won’t stop human beings behaving like evil bullies if we want to.

It’s hilarious that politicians and hypocrites deprive Alex of his one chance to atone for his crimes (and actually become a real human being) at the precise moment he might actually learn something about humanity. Meanwhile, parents, tabloids and critics are perfectly willing to blame Kubrick, Alex and his ill-begotten victim as the ones responsible for these crimes, not the culture or the systems of power

Clockwork does not exploit violence – Sylvester Stallone exploits violence. Clockwork doesn’t exploit violence anymore than The Conformist, Straw Dogs or The Wild Bunch to make its point. The point? Clockwork depicts a psychopathic juvenile raised by a juvenile, privileged society, someone with no respect or understanding of decency and freedom, enjoying themselves in the worst possible way. Kubrick, perhaps inspired by Monty Python or Peter Sellers and the Goon Show,  asks an intelligent audience, do you think this is fun? Do you think this person is human? And this allows an intelligent audience to decide for themselves.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I’ve found watching Clockwork is within the rape and torture scenes themselves. There are three scenes, the first being the attack on the author and his wife, and the second being the conditioning scene in which Alex is exposed to films showing rape and violence.

In the first actual rape scene, there is nudity, slapstick violence, but no graphic violence, torture or gore, which we would normally expect with R-rated films under the BBFC regulations. The rape is not depicted,  this action, as with Reservoir Dogs, cuts away at the critical moment and renders the sexual act ‘implicit’ not literal as it is depicted in The Accused, Straw Dogs or Irreversible.

It seems both a practical and a wise decision by Kubrick to omit the sexual act, possibly as away of avoiding the fetishization of sex, or making it unnecessarily graphic or pornographic; however, he would return to this issue in Eyes Wide Shut, which would fetishize the orgy scene to the point of farce, again without being graphic or pornographic in the  visceral style of Nine Songs or Baise Moi.

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Interestingly, the imagery in the films which Alex is forced to watch has been fetishized for visual pleasure. These are gratuitous, showing the bloody and stylised violence of a man being beated by a group of thugs, and during the gangrape of a naked woman it is filmed as if it was a pornographic film without sound and with the victim wearing a  bright purple wig.

In both instances, the sex and violence are separated into individual acts that are ‘appropriate’ to the gender, but provide no context or identification of the victims. Moreover, the violence, despite the abundance of blood, noticeably absence in rest of the film, appears just as staged and unrealistic as the battle scenes appearing in Monty Python’s Holy Grail.

Fascinatingly, I’d wondered why Kubrick chose to film the rape scene in this style using ‘dutch’ camera angles. He chooses not to dramatize or prolong the violence, but to focus on the humiliation of the couple, on the pleasure of the voyeur and aggressor of this violence, Alex and his audience; the spectating and morally susceptable audience. The scene is amusing, almost playful, up until the female victim is stripped naked and Alex looks directly into the camera to break the fourth wall,  acknowledging the vulgar display of power we are witnessing: ‘Viddy well, little brother!’.

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The visual close-up is later repeated during the scene in which the victim is confronted by his persecutor as Alex is rescued and then held captive.

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Clockwork feels like a cartoon  with its slapstick violence filmed from the point of view of a school bully, whom torments the elderly whilst abusing women for kicks. In contrast, Full Metal Jacket is a group of men killing and abusing men and women in a war they don’t understand or care about. How else could Kubrick have made these films without showing violence or rape to make his point, specifically from the POV of those condemning it?

A third rape scene happens during the brawl between Alex and his droogs and the rival gang ‘Billy Boy’, in which the group confront the offenders before the rape can take place. Ironically, they defeat their opponents and ‘save’ the girl. In this scene, Alex arrives and witnesses the gang undressing and assaulting a teenage girl,  who struggles as the men grope and force her down on a mattress as we watch her scream in terror.

Kubrick doesn’t include torture, physical violence or verbal abuse against against the girl. Instead it appears that the purpose of the nudity, violence and humiliation of the girl is meant to reflect power and excitement from the viewpoint of Alex and the other men in the scene, and possibly that of the audience. Here the eroticism and voyeurism is explicit without being pornographic, or as violent or horrifying as it is depicted in other films which represent rape, such as Straw Dogs, Baise Moi, The Accused and Irreversible.

Arguably, this is detrimental where paradoxically a visual representation becomes a violation in itself since it infringes upon the political status and human rights of the actress by deliberately downplaying the sadism and brutality of the rape act. It is both literal and a parody in its representation of sexual violence without somehow being explicit.

Once Alex challenges the other gang, which oddly enough is performed on a derelict theatre stage (rather conspicuously emphasing the theme of the scene itself), where after the girl exits the stage, she is rendered nothing more than a prop or plaything to be discarded before the fight. This is followed by a spectacular scene of B-movie slapstick fighting as chairs are smashed over heads and bottles are tossed through windows.

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The violence in the film is arbitrary and pantomime,  an effect achieved through distorted wide-angle lenses, fast-speed action and slow motion, which glorifies the energy of the scene and the thrill experienced by the characters. It’s apparent that Alex himself derides pleasure from an otherwise dull and repressive environment, but which exists within a society that enjoys the symbols of fine art, music, beauty and theatre without showing any moral value or the responsibility of power.

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