Set in a late-sixties British boarding school, this film follows Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) and his chums in a nasty game of one-upmanship against the whips. Turning out as a leader of his own right, Mick is determined to resist and lead the crusade against the oppression, even if it is through violence and blood. No matter the consequences.
The occasional hints of sarcasm were highly appreciated and appropriate, giving an engaging, at times satirical tone to the story. Indeed, in directing this feature Lyndsay Anderson also aimed at exposing and denouncing a conservative side of British society, openly showing its ridicule and the suffering it can cause, especially to young free spirits who do not fit.
The alternation between black and white, and colour, enhanced the narration. For instance, during his getaway in the city, when Travis and one of his companions are in the coffee house, the scene is shot in black and white, making Mick’s feline dance with the waitress even more surreal than it already was. Like if this short parenthesis was a dream, or perhaps a fantasy.
And this ephemeral escape gave Mick a sense of what freedom could be like, how it was possible for him to live according to his own, personal desires. This flavoured bite made the rigid rules, and ultimately the limits, imposed by the school all the more unbearable to him.
What’s more, this out-of-school episode further emphasised on who the protagonist is: a free, daring, and eventually, uncontrollable soul. He is his own master.
Stanley Kubrick’s choice of Malcolm McDowell as A Clockwork Orange lead Alex DeLarge was almost certainly influenced by the actor’s previous performance in If…. Strangely enough (or not), as the film started it very much felt like watching a younger, softer Alex. And having watched Kubrick’s masterpiece so many times, seeing Malcolm McDowell’s face on another character seemed quite unnatural at first. Although both characters have obvious similarities, they are fundamentally different by nature.
Indeed, as Malcolm McDowell recently told me in Paris (he actually did), while it is clear that both characters have the same physical attributes, walk in a similar fashion, have the same voice and light-coloured piercing gaze, along with the charisma, Mick and Alex differ greatly deep down. The first is sweet and revolutionary at heart, while the latter is wicked and dangerous. Nevertheless, they both are sexy, intelligent and wild.
While Travis’ relationship with oppression is quite straightforward, as he fights against its tyranny, Delarge is at times tyrant and oppressor himself, and in other situations victim. He is more extreme, but in that sense only.
They both are leaders with their eyes set on what they want, in discordance with a system in which they don’t belong.
Finally, I have to say that watching this film felt like a jolly British experience. Take this the way you want. But let me tell you, I mean it as a compliment!