Matchup of the Day: A Clockwork Orange vs. Scarface
This week we’ll be doing matchups featuring the work of director Stanley Kubrick. Let’s commence with a bit of the old ultra-violence – A Clockwork Orange vs. Scarface.
Brian De Palma’s Scarface, as I have mentioned in a previous article, was the first film to truly horrify me. The chainsaw dismemberment scene, in particular, was quite shocking for a viewer still in his early formative cinema exploration phase. That scene, which was based on a real-life incident, was one of the factors that almost brought Scarface an X rating. A shot of the victim’s arm hanging from the curtain rod ending up being cut from the film to secure an R rating instead. A Clockwork Orange, on the other hand, was released with an X. It was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, and is only the second X-rated film to do so after Midnight Cowboy. In a review of Kill Bill, critic Xavier Morales compares Clockwork‘s Alex DeLarge to Tarantino, writing
“…he presents violence as a form of expressive art. We watch in wonder and awe, not horror. Intellectually, we should be horrified by what we see. But the violence is so physically graceful, visually dazzling and meticulously executed that our instinctual, emotional responses undermine any rational objections we may have.”
It could be said that Kubrick himself was doing the same thing Alex was. Orange is such an aesthetically impressive spectacle of depravity that the film is almost genteel compared to the much rawer Scarface. There are horrible things that occur in Kubrick’s film (the home invasion accompanied by “Singing in the Rain” being the most notorious), yet the drug-fueled world of violence created by De Palma seems like a much more palpably terrifying place to live. Interestingly, though, Stanley Kubrick shot Clockwork at locations not far from his home in London. He ended up having his film pulled from British theaters after the film was blamed for inspiring violence and death threats were directed at his family. Scarface was set in Miami, but ended up being shot mostly in Los Angeles after members of the Cuban community protested the film’s subject matter.
Anthony Burgess, the author of the novel “A Clockwork Orange”, did not approve of Stanley Kubrick omitting the novel’s final chapter from the film. The novel ends with the sociopathic Alex turning over a new leaf from his criminal past. The film ends on a darker, pessimistic note, of which Burgess said
“The twenty-first chapter gives the novel the quality of genuine fiction, an art founded on the principle that human beings change. There is, in fact, not much point in writing a novel unless you can show the possibility of moral transformation, or an increase in wisdom, operating in your chief character or characters. Even trashy bestsellers show people changing.”
Tony Montana in Scarface is probably more honorable than Alex DeLarge. His downfall, aside from his unhealthy fixation on his sister, comes when he refuses to carry out an assassination that endangers children. This leads to retaliation from his former associate. What follows could be the subject of one of Alex’s ultraviolent fantasies – armed men assault Tony’s mansion, which climaxes in a bloodbath of epic proportions. Does Tony change morally for the better? No, he pretty much takes his lifestyle choice to its logical conclusion. Alex doesn’t change, either, but rather ends up being rewarded for his evil inclinations. The difference between two characters may be that Tony is capable of choosing right and wrong, while Alex can only do so through psychological tampering. After all, Tony doesn’t randomly harm innocent people. Alex does.
Scarface and A Clockwork Orange were financially successful despite their controversial depictions of violence. Both have become a lasting part of our popular culture, from video games to cartoons to music. What that says I’m not sure. I can certainly credit the pair for desensitizing me to cinematic savagery. And I like that neither character improves morally. This quote from a Slant review of Clockwork might sum it up
“If there’s an inherent problem in Clockwork Orange, it’s that Alex’s cruelty is depicted with such bravura cinematic technique and such harsh irony that there’s a whole audience that tunes in just for the shock and awe.
That’s why I still love these movies. I don’t think it’s a problem…