A Clockwork Orange

Never far from controversy, Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 classic ‘A Clockwork Orange,’ over the years since its release, has sparked huge debate. Emotionally charged language has perpetuated reviews, papers and simmering complaints about the movie, whilst varied semantic devices and all levels of diction have been utilized by many levels of ‘scholar’ trying desperately to put across their points clearly on what is a complicated, and undeniably deep appraisal of youth, society and the portrayal of evil.

This essay will aim to contrast two different reviews written on the same subject, outlining the different techniques used and the overall feel of the two pieces. Whether through preconceived ideas or just general skill with semantics and grammar etc. they certainly strike different tones and studying the lexis, grammar, metaphorical and rhetorical language and typographic features I will discuss the reviews, noting the similarities and differences.

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The two pieces themselves are both reviews, one professional from Yvonne Ng from writing for ‘Kinema’, an online subscription journal that is clearly aimed at the academic, the other by Cesar Alvia who scribes for another site clearly as a fan of the film, rather than being paid for his opinions. Indeed, the second site boasts that ‘The reviews are written by fans who do it for the love of it- Not for money! Both of the reviews set out a brief background of Kubrick’s motivation to produce the film, various techniques he used to create the ambience of the movie and go through the events that unfold as the story progresses. However, they both clearly attempt to engage their own audiences, Ng with a well researched and referenced technical insight and Alvia with his familiar tone, witty asides and obvious love for his subject topic. Under the following headlines, I will explore in greater details, certain issues in the writing.

Register: The real difference that first strikes one between these two reviews, is the use of the register in the two pieces and the entirely different tone that categorises and appeals to the two audiences. In Ng’s ‘Kinema’ piece, the formal style is prevalent from the very beginning, utilising referenced quotes with a more mature and advanced grasp of semantics obvious: ‘has acquired a prominent place in the history of cinema’ as opposed to the latter review ‘If you’ve never seen A Clockwork Orange, then quit reading this review and go rent a copy. ‘

Although it would be impertinent to state that Alvia cannot string some interesting sentences together himself ‘showcases all the standard Kubrick stylistic flourishes’ it seems obvious that his exuberant, and sometimes slightly misconceived use of language, and thus more enthusiastic yet less formal register could not be used within an essay for example, yet may appeal to someone wishing to find out about the basic idea behind the film or simply glance over a view of the movie for enjoyments sake without feeling overawed by lexicon and succinct language.

Indeed, it seems to be that both of these pieces manipulate their use of register to appeal to the specific audience that these two websites are obviously targeted at. However, while I could imagine Ng’s insightful piece appealing to the observer of both domains, as it certainly does explore all sorts of aspects of the film and could be of interest to the ‘man on the street’ who wanted a full, literary, resource, I feel sure that Alvia’s review would not be bought by a journal, the register almost certainly not ‘tight’ enough to appeal to those likely to read and subscribe to the more ‘highbrow’ publication.

It is a more personable tone than anything and acts almost like someone talking to a friend or similar film buff. ‘If you’ve seen the film, then you know where I’m coming from’ Lexis: Again, intricately linked in with the overall register of the two reviews, the lexis is another key indicator as to the tone and style of these two reviews and, while the semantics used in both pieces undeniably show some sophistication and level of level of originality, there are some major differences.

In the amateur review one may note for instance, that Alvia often overuses, repeats and occasionally misuses adjectives ‘a teenaged miscreant wandering the blasted urban landscape’ giving an enthusiastic yet ‘slack’ feel to the piece. As well as this, he uses a lexical set of familiar terms and phrases to engage the reader; ‘And that’s where we find,’ ‘I only hope that you all can indulge me’ pitching him as the jovial, and certainly humorous, fanatic happy to share his experiences of the film.

In tune with this, he utilises a large degree of parenthesis in a similar way one may use spoken asides, double negatives for example, as may be found in impassioned speech ‘but not Kubrick. No,’ and arguably indulges in somewhat sensationalist choice of words. ‘Savagery’ and despicable’ for example. Of course, strong language also appears in the professional review, it is after all a violent film, but this seems to be slightly more in fitting with the lexical set and formed towards the highlighting of a certain act in the text rather than scattered wilfully as in Alvias version.

For instance the sibilant use of ‘sex-saturated’ and image-laden ‘vivid red on the white walls’ may be dramatic, but also wholly relevant and shows an informed use of semantics in ideal places to mark its effectiveness. There is also no ‘chummy language,’ the lexical set distinctly formal and appropriate to the publication which, although full of insights and opinion does not thrust its view of the greatness of the film on its reader except through referenced quotes.

Grammar: As far as the use of grammar and sentence structure goes in Ng’s professional review, it is noticeable that well formed compound-complex sentences are in evidence along with formally conceived comma parenthesis, marking out asides as more important when they are lumped into brackets, although I believe that it also showcases generally longer paragraphs that do not break the text up as well as the amateur version.

However, Alvia does seem to spend a lot of time linking independent clauses together with commas ‘beating a homeless man, getting into a gang fight, stealing a car, and raping a woman while forcing her husband to watch’ which somewhat takes from the flow of the review. Not only this, but there are minor grammatical errors through both pieces which could do with being cleaned up.

Metaphorical & Rhetorical Language: There is no doubt in my mind that a successful review will certainly contain a degree of metaphorical language and to some extent both authors indulge in such practice; ‘The result is a graceful ballet of athletic prowess’ and ‘moral theme buried at its heart’ are just two examples.

Such technique is vital to add a glittering originality to the reviews and imbue visions of cinematic action into the heart of the reader, and there is no doubt that Ng has provided some interesting metaphors amongst the flowing text, and whilst occasionally possibly stretching the relevance in her point, and thus perhaps cheapening the image that she produces, as in this example, ‘the red-haired Mrs Alexander becomes an animated version of the white female statues at the Korova’ adds much to her reviews through these techniques.

Although once again, it would be fair to admit there is not as much candid metaphor in the amateur review, and it could be said to contain a fair amount of bombastic rhetoric, this ambivalent style once again characterises the informal and personal approach that the reader looking for entertainment may well prefer. Hyperbole, or at least potentially naive opinion, is certainly evident ‘While all of the man’s films were incredible,’ oxymoron’s perpetuate the description of the protagonist Alex, but actually may well be necessary when writing about his split personality.