What Do You Mean 'A Clockwork Orange' Didn’t Win An Oscar?
As part our series for Awards Season we take a look at some of the most surprising films not to win anything at The Oscars. This week we head back to 1971 to examine Stanley Kubrick's screen adaptation of A Clockwork Orange...
What’s the story?
Based on Anthony Burgess’ dystopian 1962 novel, Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 adaptation of A Clockwork Orange stars Malcolm McDowell as Alex, a charismatic but sociopathic young man with a keen interest in classical music and what he terms “ultraviolence”. Set in an unspecified future Britain, Alex and his three delinquent friends, Georgie, Pete and Dim, spend their time getting high on 'Moloko Plus', a milk-based cocktail laced with drugs, before embarking on a crime spree that includes assault, car theft, rape and eventually murder.
Following a botched home invasion where Alex bludgeons a wealthy ‘cat-lady’ with a sculpture of a giant penis, he is arrested and subsequently sentenced to serve 14 years in prison. Two years later, Alex is visited by a government minister who offers him the opportunity to complete his rehabilitation in two weeks if he agrees to be subjected to the ‘Ludovico Technique’, an experimental form of aversion therapy. The Ludovico Technique involves, among other things, being drugged, strapped into a chair with his eyes propped open and forced to watch increasingly disturbing footage of violent acts. Alex is then pronounced ‘cured’ by the Ministry of the Interior when he takes part in a demonstration that shows he is unable to fight back when attacked, even being physically sick at the sight of a topless woman.
Much like Burgess’ novel, the film deals with the concepts of good and evil, and the idea that new forms of psychological therapy could in fact be dangerous tools applied by totalitarian governments to their populace. The film was subject to much controversy, despite critical acclaim, following a spate of copycat crimes that ultimately led Kubrick to withdraw the film in the UK. It wasn’t re-released until after his death 27 years later.
What was it nominated for?
The film was nominated for four Oscars in total – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Editing, but walked away with nothing.
What was it up against?
In all four of the categories A Clockwork Orange was nominated for, it lost out to The French Connection – which, to be fair, is a great movie too. William Friedkin’s film also bagged a Best Actor award for Gene Hackman in the lead role.
What should it have won?
Hindsight, as they say, is always 20/20, and though we wouldn’t want to take anything away from The French Connection, in retrospect many would agree that A Clockwork Orange is the more significant film in terms of its influence and legacy. It could easily have walked away with Best Picture, as well as Best Director for Kubrick’s efforts. In addition to this, Malcolm McDowell didn’t even receive a nomination for his portrayal of Alex and the film’s soundtrack by Wendy Carlos perhaps also deserved a nomination at least, but it wasn’t to be. On top of the Oscar snub, the film was also nominated for several awards at The BAFTAs and The Golden Globes, only to walk away empty-haned from both of these too.