Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange is a 1971 film adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel of the same name. It was written, directed and produced by Stanley Kubrick. It features disturbing, violent images, facilitating its social commentary on psychiatry, youth gangs, and other social, political, and economic subjects in a dystopian, future Britain.

Alex (Malcolm McDowell), the main character, is a charismatic, sociopathic delinquent whose interests include classical music (especially Beethoven), rape, and what is termed “ultra-violence”. He leads a small gang of thugs (Pete, Georgie, and Dim), whom he calls his droogs (from the Russian друг, “friend”, “buddy”). The film chronicles the horrific crime spree of his gang, his capture, and attempted rehabilitation via controversial psychological conditioning. Alex narrates most of the film in Nadsat, a fractured adolescent slang comprising Slavic (especially Russian), English, and Cockney rhyming slang.

A Clockwork Orange features a soundtrack comprising mostly classical music selections and Moog synthesizer compositions by Wendy Carlos (then known as “Walter Carlos”). The now-iconic poster of A Clockwork Orange was created by designer Bill Gold.

The film’s central moral question (as in many of Burgess’ books) is the definition of “goodness” and whether it makes sense to use aversion theory to stop immoral behaviour. Stanley Kubrick, writing in Saturday Review, described the film as

…a social satire dealing with the question of whether behavioural psychology and psychological conditioning are dangerous new weapons for a totalitarian government to use to impose vast controls on its citizens and turn them into little more than robots.

Similarly on the film production’s call sheet (cited at greater length above), Kubrick wrote

It is a story of the dubious redemption of a teenage delinquent by condition-reflex therapy. It is at the same time a running lecture on free-will.

After aversion therapy, Alex behaves like a good member of society, but not by choice. His goodness is involuntary; he has become the titular clockwork orange — organic on the outside, mechanical on the inside. In the prison, after witnessing the Technique in action on Alex, the chaplain criticises it as false, arguing that true goodness must come from within. This leads to the theme of abusing liberties — personal, governmental, civil — by Alex, with two conflicting political forces, the Government and the Dissidents, both manipulating Alex for their purely political ends. The story critically portrays the “conservative” and “liberal” parties as equal, for using Alex as a means to their political ends: the writer Frank Alexander — a victim of Alex and gang — wants revenge against Alex and sees him as a means of definitively turning the populace against the incumbent government and its new regime. Mr Alexander fears the new government; in telephonic conversation, he says:

. . . recruiting brutal young roughs into the police; proposing debilitating and will-sapping techniques of conditioning. Oh, we’ve seen it all before in other countries; the thin end of the wedge! Before we know where we are, we shall have the full apparatus of totalitarianism.

On the other side, the Minister of the Interior (the Government) jails Mr Alexander (the Dissident Intellectual) on excuse of his endangering Alex (the People), rather than the government’s totalitarian regime (described by Mr Alexander). It is unclear whether or not he has been harmed; however, the Minister tells Alex that the writer has been denied the ability to write and produce “subversive” material that is critical of the incumbent government and meant to provoke political unrest.

It has been noted that Alex’s immorality is reflected in the society in which he lives.[6] The Cat Lady’s love of hardcore pornographic art is comparable to Alex’s taste for sex and violence. Lighter forms of pornographic content adorn Alex’s parents’ home and, in a later scene, Alex awakens in hospital from his coma, interrupting a nurse and doctor engaged in a sexual act.

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