The film industry is America’s current infatuation. We seem to seek in movies what we cannot find in reality: a sort of escape from life’s heavy demands. Consequently, we are heavily influenced by what we see and hear in them, both in our thoughts and actions. A horror movie might induce fear and trauma, while a romantic comedy will provoke a moment of joy and laughter, encouraging us to operate our lives as the charming protagonist did. Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is no different. In fact, it has become one of the most controversial films in movie history, not only because Kubrick boldly divulges the horrors we are capable of, but because the film addresses the issue of government conditioning, of the taking of a person’s free will, creating little more than a robot.
A Clockwork Orange is an intricate tale, adapted from the Anthony Burgess novel. It follows the protagonist, Alexander DeLarge, a delinquent teenager who, with the help of his three “droogs”, takes pleasure in the torture of people (A Clockwork Orange).
Two of these friends, Dim and Georgie, later reveal their unwillingness to continue to blindly follow Alex’s brutal lifestyle. He responds by slashing them with his pocket knife and then buying them back with drinks, in an effort to make concrete his unquestioned status as leader. As they attempt to escape yet another murder scene, Alex’s comrades strike him with a bottle, leaving him momentarily blinded and helpless for the police to find. Alex is charged with murder and sentenced to 14 years in the prison of an unspecified British city. After serving two years of his sentence, Alex learns of an experimental treatment that will cleanse a prisoner of criminal thought and allow for his release within two weeks – the Ludovico technique. Alex cunningly volunteers for administration of the drug. After given the shot, he is subjected to grueling hours of violent, explicit films every day, over a period of two weeks. He is strapped to a chair, confined in a straight jacket, with his eyelids held open by metal tongs. The effects: an overwhelming sickness “at the prospect of sexual or aggressive behavior” (Burgess 33).
... now. As I slooshied, I knew such lovely pictures!' 'A Clockwork Orange,' Microsoft (R) Encarta (R) Encyclopedia 2000. (c) 1993-1999 Microsoft ... of misadventures and another trip to jail, Alex returns to his amoral ways. This film is recognized for its innovative cinematography during ...
The issue of government sleaze begins here. At first, their intentions seem prominently innocent and good-natured. In an effort to reduce the crime rate, the new Home Secretary is looking to sculpt a model citizen out of a sadistic murderer, a valid goal, but nonetheless distorted. Alex completes the experimental treatment and is released into the world, to be at the mercy of his former victims, who take it upon themselves to gain revenge (A Clockwork Orange).
Alex is “completely reformed”, ready to turn the other cheek (A Clockwork Orange).
He has been conditioned by the government to experience sickening physical reactions when confronted with a violent (now stressful) situation. Though this is obviously done with the city’s safety in mind, it is not a peaceful operation. It is a tyrannical means. The prison chaplain holds that while Alex has ceased to be a wrongdoer, “he ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice,” claiming that Alex has lost his chance at redemption, been “de-humanized”, and is a lost soul (A Clockwork Orange, Burgess 34).
Kubrick’s message is clear: Alex’s crimes, however nasty and brutal, are nothing to the horrors of the oppressive government. Alex remains cunningly charming while the Home Secretary is loathsomely manipulative, a characteristic displayed throughout the film. What is done to Alex is worse than what he did to his victims. Kubrick’s point is profoundly emphasized by the priest’s religious views, which he adamantly voices. Audiences cannot help but unite with his strong human principles.
The aversion therapy did more damage than it did good. The films are silent, with only classical music in the background. A fan of Ludwig Van, Alex deems it “a sin to use Beethoven like that”; the doctor in charge of the operation, Brodsky, calls it the “punishment element” (A Clockwork Orange).
... 'A Clockwork Orange' By: Anthony Burgess Anthony Burgess is a very strange author. He had ... book. They made the government seem pretty cruel by performing this treatment on Alex. The police had a ... before. After 2 years of jail they gave Alex the option to have an experimental treatment to ... that last, 21 st chapter. The main character, Alex, and his three friends thought they were indestructible. All ...
Alex is inadvertently conditioned against music, more specifically, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony – Alex’s favorite piece – as it is mixed with the obscenities of the films. After Alex’s suicide attempt, the Home Secretary visits Alex in his hospital room to formulate a sort of treaty, and the phrase “we’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” is all too real. He is “de-conditioned by a government now fearful that he may prove an embarrassing example of its social engineering” (Burgess 33).
The governor covers his tracks and gains Alex’s alliance, bribing him with an “interesting” job and fat salary; he even treats Alex to a surround-sound performance of the previously dreaded symphony, which he no longer find insufferable, in confirmation of their mutual understanding (A Clockwork Orange).
Alex agrees only because he is once again altered, this time to his former thuggish state.
Alex is a powerful character, charismatic and witty, but also sadistic. Dim, Georgie, and Pete fear Alex and want out of their nightly routine of “surprise visits” (A Clockwork Orange).
But they’re merely the dogs and Alex, the master. They bend to his will, acting upon his request purely out of fear. He is intimidating, but the viewer struggles to find hatred for him; star actor Malcolm McDowell has created a loveable character, one to sympathize, impossible to hate, and endlessly charming, in spite of all his brutal work. Burgess suggests that the violent acts committed by the foursome are actually clean, masked by the “mythic stylization” and “balletic” feel of the stronger scenes; however, quite the opposite is true (Burgess 35).
The choreographed style shifts your attention away from the simple physical reality of the crime and focuses it “upon the quality of feeling: cold, mindless brutality.” (Burgess 35).
McDowell gives Alex a twisted, mesmerizing persona, and the viewer roots for him throughout, eager to see through to his success. His portrayal of Alex, a gruesome, obviously psychotic youth, is the prime example of a true character, ridiculously memorable. Unfortunately his nasty portrayal of the young hooligan, undeniably Oscar-worthy, did not earn McDowell a nomination. The film was one of two movies rated X on its original release to be nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards. A Clockwork Orange was also nominated for best director, but it won none (Internet Movie Database).
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Awarded or not, the film is one for the ages. The central themes about choice, government de-humanizing, and human cruelty instills in the viewer a raging desire to learn more. Shortly after released, the movie was withdrawn from England due to mock-crimes and death threats to Kubrick and his wife (Internet Movie Database).
Naturally, people harnessed their time and energy into finding a copy of the movie across seas. Forbidden territory induces curiosity.
The end scene is unclear, a moment when the audience will be confused and left to concoct a conclusion from vague details. Alex attempts suicide, maddened by his conditioning against Beethoven, and lands himself in the hospital. While in his virtual death, Alex dreams of men “messing around with…the inside of [his] brain” (A Clockwork Orange).
The Home Secretary deviously took the opportunity to de-condition Alex once again, this time “in the complete opposite direction” (Dirks 3).
He is programmed once again by the government, essentially forced back into his old ways. Alex is never cured; rather, he remained a clockwork orange, operating mechanically, lacking the ability to decide anything for himself. Throughout the film we have been conditioned to love Alex. He suddenly experiences a grotesque fantasy, and when he grins sardonically beside the Home Secretary, there is a shared triumph between Alex and the audience, as he satirically chuckles: “I was cured, alright” (A Clockwork Orange).
A Clockwork Orange broke down barriers previously established by the traditional sci-fi thriller. Its unconventional issues raise forbidden questions, and its release in 1971 could not have been timelier. While its circumstances could be applied to any age and time, the world today is evermore threatening, despite claims of the film being beyond its time. Every day we confront new scientific achievement, a new medical breakthrough. The film’s main conflict revolves around the question of whether psychological conditioning is a “dangerous new weapon” used by a new totalitarian government to “impose vast controls on its citizens” (Burgess 34).
Furthermore, it raises controversy among the Christians, as choice is an innermost theme in the story. The issue of man’s hallowed right to choose evil is beleaguered in reality just as much as in the film, entirely supported by the prison chaplain. What’s even more astonishing is that the Home Secretary dismisses these religious fears as “subtleties” (A Clockwork Orange).
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This draws a daunting parallel to our world, where every day, religious and humanitarian views are shunned, quieted, and ignored. Kubrick uses the film “as a stick to beat not only totalitarians, but the whole of human race” (Burgess 35).
This weapon acts like a parent’s scolding, a wakeup call to the children: what you’re doing isn’t right and it’s only going to get worse if you continue. Kubrick’s imaginative achievement “is the technique of brainwashing”, its dynamics “are the dynamics of totalitarianism” (Burgess 35).
The film is a lesson, a warning not to be taken lightly. There is no denying that A Clockwork Orange, frighteningly timely, has left more than just a mark in movie history.
Burgess, Jackson. “Review: [untitled].” Film Quarterly. Volume 25. Issue 3. (1972): 33-36.
University of California Press. 30 June, 2010
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Dirks, Tim. “A Clockwork Orange (1971).” AMC Filmsite. N.p: American Movie
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Imdb.com, Inc. “A Clockwork Orange.” Internet Movie Database. Amazon. 1990-2010. 29