Category Archives: Anthony Burgess

Thoughts on Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange

I think the “good” film adaptations are mainly those of Shakespeare’s work. I didn’t analyse yet as to what exactly makes them good, i.e. faithful and accurate, but I announced my impression.

I read A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess when I was still in Russia. I didn’t then plan to go to Britian, and I didn’t even imagine I’d end up living in Burgess’s native Manchester. Having lived there for a number of years, seeing the notorious yobs and hearing crime reports, I certainly would envisage a different kind of screen adaptation. But even if Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange (1971) is fascinating as far as cinematography is concerned, as a kind of “translation” it is incomplete – and this is now I explained on Reddit the other day.

Re: A Clockwork Orange – don’t judge the film before you read the book. For all the visual beauty, the film is incomplete. Also, it’s an adaptation, hence it’s a kind of cinematic translation. Burgess, having come from Manchester, must’ve known well the kind of lads he was writing about – and they still inhabit Manchester, even though Burgess had gone. I lived in Manchester and Salford in 2000s, there are still gangs of youngsters who speak their own language and are ready to knife, rob and rape anyone they like. Sad but true. What happens in the novel, though, is that after all his tribulations Alex returns home where he’s not wanted and at some point realises that he no longer wants to be in a gang. He wants to have a place, a home, a family, a boy… who will probably end up making the same mistakes – because he’ll be from the same background as Alex. He doesn’t merely find the golden middle, he realises that the values and actions he thought had belonged to him are in fact completely alien to him. And it’s this latter part that Kubrick didn’t bring to screen, and it’s for this reason I think the adaptation is incomplete. It’s like if you translate a book and think “hang on, I’m not going to translate this because I think it will make a wrong impression” – and so you lose an integral part of the author’s plot“.