Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

05 Oct 2012

(Movie - 1971) A Clockwork Orange directed by: Stanley Kubrick

(Reaction) A Basket of Clockwork Oranges by: Jelo Singson

A Clockwork Orange is a reference to a Cockney phrase from East London, as queer as a clockwork orange - i.e. something that appears to be fully organic or normal externally may have some bizarre internal goings-on - which is actually quite an intelligent and succinct description of what Alex eventually becomes as a result of his treatments.

The film challenges us to empathize with Alex DeLarge, the thuggish, Beethoven-loving, sex-maniac central character. It is interesting to note that despite all the vileness that Alex portrays, the film is strangely human in that it does not, or rather refuses to really label its central character as a deviant or a miscreant; the director leaves the labeling and judging to the viewers.

Alex is beguiling simple: a man who has decided of his free will to use his strengths and abilities to slake his desire for violence and sex; often with those lines blurring into each other.

Thematically the film is a very complex play on the relationship of morality and free will. It raises questions like, if a man is robbed of his free will does he also cease to become human? i.e. is one reduced to the eponymous clockwork orange - human on the outside but inside an amoral biological automaton?

Alex, the film's anti-hero, for all his posturing and all his capacity for carnage is, ironically, a victim throughout the film and everyone seems to want him to further some scheme of their own.

His power and authority stems directly from his capability to inflict bodily harm upon his underlings, i.e. he leads and governs via the threat of force. He has no guile in that the crimes he commits are done not out of malice but for the sheer pleasure of dehumanizing people.

He has no real leadership capability and tragically no vision in that he merely lives from evening to evening in anticipation of the evil fun he'd be wreaking on the general public.

What he does have in lieu of leadership skills is a base cunning that serves as a very poor substitute for any sort of managerial ability which he uses to muzzle his equally savage cohorts.

Apart from his ability to harm and willingness to inflict it he holds very little actual sway over his droogs. In fact, this social structure that Alex and his group have formed has many parallels with perhaps the most primitive of all social structures, that of animals; wild dogs and apes in particular.

He soon finds out how inadequate violence is for securing the loyalty of his men when he finds out that that they've been planning jobs behind his back. In a memorable scene Alex executes a brutal surprise attack on his own men; a slow motion, sadistic ballet featuring Alex knifing Dim's hand and throwing his two other minions into the Thames so that they ...knew who was Master and Leader....

This vicious act was intended to quell any mutinous plans but this decision backfires terribly. His men view this action as a refusal to move up in the crime ladder, marking Alex as good only for mere juvenile, i.e. non-profitable crimes, and therefore unfit for their current needs. The droogs conspire once more and Alex believing that he had broken his men's collective fangs is lead into a trap, hook, line and sinker.

Alex has become a victim of his inability to understand the society he moves in. He has failed to understand why his men hung around him. They once saw him as the brains of a potentially profitable criminal enterprise; Alex on the other hand saw them as a mere means to satisfy his dark appetites for forced sex and violence. These two perceptions clash and Alex is left with the short end of the stick.

Alex is caught, tried and incarcerated and once more he is at the bottom of the pecking order. In prison, his old standby method of control, i.e. brutality, is no longer an option. It is here that he is truly robbed of all notions of control and influence that he has known.

In prison Alex is stripped physically and figuratively for inspection. His identity is reduced to an identification code; his personal belongings are confiscated and his daily routine is plotted out for him. Being one of the youngest inmates he finds himself bullied or worse, the unfortunate object of lust by the older, stronger inmates. Alex becomes a victim once more, perhaps in the worst possible way, when he is selected to receive an alleged treatment to curb his violent tendencies and sexual urges.

He is subjected to an inhuman conditioning process which drives home the whole concept of the clockwork orange. Alex endures the treatment and comes out of it as just that, human on the outside but stripped of the capacity to choose as he is now conditioned to feel immense discomfort at the mere suggestion of violence, sex and as an unfortunate side effect, Beethoven's music.

He has become an automaton incapable of choosing evil because of the pain it causes him and it asks a very deep question: Is it better to be allowed to choose to be or to commit evil than to be forced to do or choose to do good?

Even after prison Alex is merely a tool for greater powers. A former victim tries to use him against the government while inflicting his own revenge upon Alex. Ultimately though he regains the freedom of choice and the ability to take pleasure in violence once again.

The film implies that Alex is not restored to his horrible former self in the strict sense of the word but instead has gone through another metamorphosis. He has become another variety of a clockwork orange.

Externally, he looks and acts like the old, that is to say, sociopathic Alex, but internally still lacking free will as he has now become a government marionette, dancing to the tune of whoever is pulling his strings for whatever purposes he may now serve. Ultimately, Alex never rises out of his role as victim but merely goes through several permutations of being a victim.

Ironically the character who most reveled in his freedom, his capacity to do what he wanted whenever he wanted to whomever he wanted, is revealed to be the character with the least freedom - a pawn to be used and discarded by others.


A Clockwork Orange is director/producer/screenwriter Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of Anthony Burgess' 1962 dystopian futuristic satire novel of the same name. This was Kubrick's ninth film and is currently tied with The Shining as one of my personal favorites. It should come as no surprise that Stanley Kubrick also happened to direct The Shining but I digress.

Beyond the horrid and vivid portrayals of sex and violence the film is a truly unique sensory treat. The set designs, done by John Barry, are garishly colored, often using clashing color schemes or colors unnatural on a species, such as the test girl with the periwinkle wig, and are unrestrained in the use of sex/nudity/genitalia as part of the decor's theme.

The costume designs by Milena Canonero are every bit as over-the-top. Who can forget the now iconic ensemble of Alex and his droogs of black bowler hats, white overalls, canes, codpieces/groin guards and matching bloody eyeball cufflinks?

The musical score of the film was extremely cutting edge for its time; a wonderful contrasting mix of classical music and early electronica, care of Wendy/Walter Carlos via a Moog synthesizer.

Then of course there's the dialogue and the narration delivered in nasdat, the artificial language created by Burgess with is a combination of Russian/Slavic, English and Cockney Rhyming slang.

A Clockwork Orange works as an effective modern day parable and a cautionary tale of sorts for me. Over time we, the collective audience, have been conditioned to accept violence as sensual pleasure/entertainment. From the days of gladiatorial matches to the slasher-horror movies of the 80's and the near snuff-movies produced by Eli Roth we are slowly but surely being dulled to violence.

Directors used to say that they are merely depicting reality and that they are actually doing the reverse; that they are sensitizing us to violence. Life is cruel and according to them, and for heroes to be effective they must be as brutal as the villains, otherwise they don't connect with the audience anymore. For sometime now those in the industry have been working on the conjecture that you play into the hands of people that want censorship if you're offended by movie violence - that only prudes and sissies want censorship. This would deny the people that don't agree or believe in censorship the use of a counterpoint to balance all this: the freedom to question the implications of the content of these films.

We must make use of this freedom to question otherwise we pretty much say that all violence, all modes of brutality are acceptable. Its funny that when one really analyzes the situation that those who are concerned with violence and call for censorship are actually more concerned with sex and nudity. This means therefore, that virtually no one is alarmed anymore by the possible increasing effects of movie violence upon the viewers, and this perhaps is what I find most alarming. I become more anxious with every night that passes when my viewing choices on TV are little more that rehashing of the same themes of brutality served up as entertainment.

The film doesn't give any definitive answers to this question but I do get a clear sense of a sense of fear and outrage from the possibility of a society turned clockwork orange, that is to say a life is so tightly controlled and sanitized that men lose their capacity for moral choice. Ironic, but I see this already happening as little by little people are being discouraged from displaying anything pertaining to religion or spirituality in an attempt to accommodate all and offend no one.

What alarms me more though is this: the realization that we, the collective viewing audience, are becoming clockwork oranges because we can accept, without question, all this pop culture. It troubles me that people can talk about the technical nuances of a movie but be completely oblivious to the fact that the directors are pandering to desires of hooligans in the audience.

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