Does the composition of Stanley Kubrick's ultraviolent masterpiece A Clockwork Orange have a secret meaning?
Audiences interact with movies in complex ways. Film theorists can speculate about a director's intent just by looking at how scenes are blocked and constructed, drawing meaning from small details that could have deeper significance.
Filmmakers who recognize this complexity might find themselves opening up to a level of storytelling that they hadn't even considered yet in their own films.
Watch the video below.
Kubruck and composition
Kubrick was a master filmmaker obsessed with symmetry and composition. He often used one-point perspective, where the visuals in a scene all had the same vanishing point on the horizon. His subjects are usually placed in the center of that vanishing point, with perfectly arranged scene elements around them.
Collative Learning believes that vanishing point is used especially in A Clockwork Orange to indicate the shapes of pyramids or triangles.
A Clockwork Orange relies pretty heavily on triangles as a visual motif throughout the film and within its print advertising, as seen below. The poster places the protagonist, Alex, within one. In other versions there are concentric triangles, Alex always at the top.
Collative Learning suggests that this shape refers to a high-low hierarchical structure, and certain characters being placed above and below others. They also discuss things like the Egyptian pyramids as a symbol of dominance.
The placement of the protagonist within triangles on-screen might indicate different parts of his emotional journey.
Obviously this is just one film theorist's view, and a pyramid or triangle could mean different things to different viewers. Either way, there are some interesting ideas here.
Composition and pecking order
Within this world, Alex is a Beethoven-obsessed gang leader who engages in various forms of violence, until he is imprisoned and undergoes disturbing aversion therapy.
Collative Learning's video points out that when this triangular composition is used in the beginning of the film, Alex and his droogs appear at the top of frame, in a position of power and importance. They are on top of their world.
However, later in the film, Alex is imprisoned and now appears at the bottom of a triangle visible in the prison yard. This one seems fairly intentional, calling attention to a triangle in an environment where it might not naturally be a focal point.
In this moment, Alex is brought low and forced to mingle with those he once looked down upon.
There are many other examples pointed out in the video essay, but these feel especially stark.
Now, as mentioned, Kubrick was intentional about his framing and knew what exactly he wanted viewers to see. Triangles are indeed a visual element that appear throughout A Clockwork Orange. It may very well be that Alex's placement within these triangles indicate his emotional states, low and high.
But whether Kubrick was doing this with the idea that triangles indicate hierarchies and even the sacred powers of pyramids is up to the viewer. Kubrick tends to invite a lot of theorizing (Room 237, for instance), and there are many potential ways of viewing his films.
As aspiring filmmakers, we should be aware that, even subconsciously, we might be saying something more in the frame than initially meets the eye.
If this is something you realize, you might be able to incorporate it into your own projects and add another layer of meaning to the stories you want to tell. Remember that visuals have the potential to impact viewers on multiple levels.
What do you think of this theory? Is it reaching, or do you agree with its ideas?