An analysis of clockwork orange and its use of mise en scene


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An analysis of clockwork orange and its use of mise en scene

  1. 1. An Analysis of Clockwork Orange and Its Use of Mise En Scene Villain Vs. Protagonist: The Conflict Within One BodyThere is nothing like a good villain. They chill, entertain, and frighten viewers simply with theirpresence. Though they are cruel in nature, one cannot help but want to see them and to hear oftheir evil plots. In Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange (1971), Alex, the protagonist, is in fact thevillain. Given to evil deeds, he is frightening yet fascinating at the same time. And like all goodvillains, he is neither a one-dimensional nor a static character. Clockwork Orange follows Alexslife journey, tracing his transformation from violent wrongdoer, to reformed youth, to renewedvillain. Throughout the film, different parts of Alexs personality are revealed, allowing theaudience to see both sides of him. Kubrick uses elements of make-up and costuming, setting, andcolour to reflect the character Alexs moral ambiguity as well as the changes that he undergoesduring each period of his life.Alex DeLarge is a young man, perhaps in his late teens, who lives with his mother and father in asuburban area. By day Alex has a decent reputation, and although he is known to have done somewrong in the past, he is going to corrective school and is not known to be a substantialtroublemaker. This is not, however, how the viewer first sees him. The first scene of the movieintroduces viewers to a second side of Alex, a cruel and violent rapist who nightly goes on raids toterrorize and assault the people of his community. The first shot of Alex is a close-up, whichdraws immediate attention to the make-up on his face. On the right eye is a set of dark, fakeeyelashes grotesquely framing his steely blue eye. The dramatic effect of the eyelashes splits theframe in two, giving Alex an immediate two-facedness. From the left side of his face it can be seenwhat a young and attractive boy Alex is, but the disturbing appearance of his right eyeoverpowers his other features and immediately instils fear into viewers.As the camera tracks backwards and more of Alex is revealed it is seen that both Alex and histhree accomplices, or droogs as they are called, are wearing pure white outfits, accented by blackhats and black boots. Alex also has two bloody eyeballs attached to the cuffs of his sleeves, achilling splash of colour against his otherwise neutral attire. On top of everything Alex wears asuspender-like apparatus that accentuates his sexual organs. This also is white and makes theoutfit somewhat obscene and awkward to look at. Though the white and black colours of theoutfit make Alex look clean and well kempt, the suspenders and the eyeballs on the sleeves mar
  2. 2. the costumes respectability. Later Alexs costume becomes even more chilling when he wears amast to conceal his identity when he breaks into someones house. The mask gives him the lookof a demented clown, which is a clear and disturbing juxtaposition with the graphic rape thatensues. Rather than something that makes people laugh, the mask becomes something that onecould have nightmares over. Alexs most dramatic costume change within the first half of the filmoccurs when he visits a ritzy market, where he finds two young ladies who he later has sex with.In this scene he wears an extravagant and ostentatious purple coat. Not only is this a greatchange from his usual attire, the royal and prestigious look of it contrast greatly with the lustfulmotivations he has during this scene.Setting is also a major indicator of Alexs moral ambiguity. An excellent example is Alexs room.The colors are bright and childlike, and yet there is a graphic painting on the wall of a woman in asexual position. Directly under the painting is a statue of Jesus wearing his thorny crown. Alsohanging in Alexs room is a picture of Beethoven, whose music is Alexs greatest passion. Theroom is small, and it is obvious that Alex has had a very modest upbringing. In this room it ispossible for the viewer to identify the real human emotions in Alex, and it is in his room thatpeople are finally able to form some emotional connections with him. Though his two sides bothshow through in his room, there are many more indicators here of Alexs more humane side thanof his evil side. The area around Alexs flat similarly creates a slight connection and even affectionfor Alex. The outside of the flat is littered with trash and everything is broken down. Alex walkspast broken chairs and couches and an elevator, and last a mural on the wall, which has beendefaced with paint and graffiti. All of this gives Alexs existence a slightly pitiful edge and allowsviewers more warm feelings toward him. The atmosphere of Alexs flat, however, is completelydifferent than that of other settings such as the Korova Milk Bar. All of the furniture in the bar isextremely sexual in nature, with numerous statues of naked women. The atmosphere feels crudeand uncomfortable, which results in viewers being very removed from Alexs character.Several of the scenes in Clockwork Orange are juxtapositions of themselves. An excellent exampleis the scene in the theater. The scene begins with a beautiful pastel painting of flowers, which ispainted on the wall of a grand but abandoned theater. As the camera zooms out the viewer cansee that on the stage of the theater are four men tearing the clothes off of a woman and preparingto rape her. The scene is also very harshly and brightly lit, with very sharp and defined shadowshitting the wall behind the four men and the woman. The bright lighting is surprising in such agraphic scene, because it allows every detail to be shown and seeks to hide nothing from theviewer. This horrific juxtaposition between a beautiful theater and the terrible event that isoccurring within it shows Alexs moral ambiguity quite potently. Every aspect of the setting
  3. 3. suggests the feeling that Alex has when he commits acts of violence and lust. Because he seesbeauty in such events, the visual design of the film makes the audience see beauty, thoughaudiences may find it disturbing and grotesque. Another scene in which juxtaposition is used iswithin another rape scene of the movie, when Alex and his droogs break into the house of ahusband and wife living called "home". The outside of the house is extremely tranquil-it is a clearnight, and there is a calm pond that Alex and his accomplices cross over to get to the house. Highkey lighting is used inside the house, and it has a very warm and clean feeling to it. Even as Alexcuts the clothes off of the woman he is about to rape, the setting is fully lit and all action is clearlyvisible.Within both of the scenes described above there was a prevalent use of the color red. In thetheater scene, the curtains over the stage are red. Many of the props lying on the stage are red,and so are the chairs directly in front of the stage. In the "home" rape scene the husband is typingat a red typewriter right before Alex and his droogs break in. Also, the woman who is raped iswearing a red outfit. In fact, the color red is used in abundance in many of the scenes in the firsthalf of the movie. There are two reasons for this. One is because it is the color of blood, thereforethe color of violence. But also, it is the color of passion. The audience usually sees the color redwhen Alex is happy and passionate about what he is doing, often during the scenes in which he iscommitting acts of violence. Alexs car is red, seen when he is driving a great speeds and runningother cars off of the road. Alexs red blood is splattered against the pure white walls of thequestioning room after a policeman punches him for being vulgar.After accidentally killing one of his would-be rape victims, Alex is arrested and sentenced tofourteen years in prison. When he arrives there on the first day he is asked to take all of hispossessions out of his pockets and give them up to the guard. Three of these things- a pen, anaddress book, and a bar of chocolate, are red in color. Inside the prison and also the treatmentcenter there is a very reduced usage of red, the primary colors becoming blue and white. Inprison Alex seems to be reforming, for he takes to reading the bible-the audience later finds out,however, that Alex enjoys the bible only for its stories of violence and adultery, another ironic factthat shows his moral ambiguity. By the end of Alexs treatment, however, there is little conflictbeing shown. It is apparent that he has been brainwashed. In the scene in which Alex is tested tomake sure he repels sex and violence he stands against a background of dark blue curtains. Thespotlight that shines on him also has a blue tint, so that he is bathed in blue, helpless and nolonger truly himself.
  4. 4. When Alex is released from prison he returns home to his mother and father only to find thatthere is another man living in the house, renting his room. Thrown suddenly into depression overwhat he has gone through, Alex begins to cry, the first real and blatant human emotion that hehas shown. It is also the first time in the movie that Alex shows weakness and the shot is slightlyout of focus, making him look soft and vulnerable. In the very next scene Alex is seen walkingacross a bridge, the color of the water dull in the background. The lighting is also very dreary.Both the soft colors and the moody lighting are great changes from any of the visual design at thebeginning of the film. This new style of visual design relates Alexs sadness to the audience andfinally, viewers relent some feelings sympathy for him. Though it is known that he is a veryviolent as well as lustful person, the dreary visuals force the audience to feel some of Alexs pain.Later, when it is night, there is a terrible rainstorm, the first time in the film when there is bad orviolent weather. The overall visual design works to make viewers begin to see Alexs treatment asa bad thing, and one may even find themselves missing the old Alex. At this point it is obviousthat Alex was never pure evil, nor would he ever be pure good. To be himself, he would have to bea bit of both.In this section of the film the color orange is used often, in the costumes of the two men nowliving at "home" and also in the room where Alex is locked when he is force to listen toBeethovens Ninth Symphony. The color orange can be seen as a sick, or paled version of red.Though Alex is trying to return to his normal life, he is finding it impossible because so manyforces are working against him.In the end, though, there is a return to the visual design style at the beginning of the film afterAlex unsuccessfully attempts suicide. Realizing what the treatment has done to him, doctorsreturn Alex to his original state of mind. Lighting once again is bright and the colors at last returnfrom the dreary blues to become more vivid and contrasting. In the final shot there is a return toblack and white when Alex has a fantasy of having sex in the snow with a woman wearing blackgloves and leggings. When Alex delivers his last line, "I was cured all right," the viewer is unableto decide whether to be happy about his recovery or not.Alexs journey from violent rapist, to jailed murderer, to helpless victim, and then back to hislustful and violent self is one that the viewer can rarely watch and take only one stand on- for oragainst him. Each period of Alexs life reveals a different element of his personality, thus slowlyrevealing his moral ambiguity. There is no doubt that Alex is a villain, but he is also proven to bea man with true feelings and the desire to belong.Published by Cassandra Chowdhury