A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange

One of the most controversial films of its age, and still provocative today, ‘A Clockwork Orange‘ [1971] was Stanley Kubrick‘s film adaptation of Anthony Burgessnovella of the same name [1962].
It takes place in a future London where charismatic delinquent Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) and his ‘droogs’ intimidate residents with ‘ultra-violence‘. The action is narrated by the amoral Alex who describes the art of their crimes with detached detail, in the fictional language of ‘Nadsat’. Burgess leaves it equivocal whether this language is part of youth colloquialism or used by the wider population, but the censorship of words and ideas are themes explored by many Science Fiction writers, and Burgess continues the tradition. By having a first person narrator who is also the anti-hero, the reader is forced into the conflicting position of empathy for the cynical and witty protagonist and a revulsion towards his choices and actions.
The opening scene in the film begins with the gang in Korova milk bar, where mannequin female bodies are used as furniture and tools, foreshadowing the most infamous scene in the film that has tainted Gene Kelly’s ‘Singing in the Rain’ for so many people.


Alex DeLarge, our anti-hero

In my opinion the novel is more disturbing than the film. I think Kubrick’s piece is a visual masterpiece and brings to life the gruesome visuals of Alex’s deeds, but Alex’s apathy and acerbic wit is most potent in the undisturbed narration of the novel. Alex lacks respect for individuals as humans, nor does he regard anything resembling authority or principles. He shows little desire for anything other than mindless self indulgence and short term selfish gratification. The story is an unsettling vision of a future generation; one that is amoral, desensitised to violence and completely lacking in empathy or selflessness.


“When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.” (p63)

In both the original and adaptation, issues of free will are pivotal. The government attempt to rehabilitate Alex through psychological conditioning, This indoctrination attempts to transform the delinquent into a model citizen, raising not only issues of defining moral good as well as authority and free will. Alex becomes a test subject, presented to a panel of intellectuals and politicians to prove his reformation. Whilst the panel are all impressed, in the film the prison chaplain makes a condemning speech claiming Alex’s free will has been violated. Alex feels nauseous when presented with ideas and images of violence and violation, reacting from a place of self-preservation and fear of pain.

There is a disturbing amount of state control and ambiguous definitions of justice presented in ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Alex the rapist, thief and liar goes on to become an iconic figure, almost of celebrity status, which is a counter-intuitive manifestation of justice. Furthermore, the extreme level of state control is troubling when juxtaposed with the obvious poverty, lack of integrated education and ineffective judicial system that allowed Alex and his ‘droogs’ to assault, steal, violate and eventually murder.
The tension between individual liberty and state security raises questions of interference in terms of the moral good.  Alex is an experiment, a case study for the government and the system of rehabilitation that is supposed to be reforming his behaviour ready for reintegration into society. Whilst it is naturally in the states’ interest to want law-abiding citizens, this motivation may not come from a place of moral duty. A state’s authority is made up of individuals vested with power, however defining a good and functioning state is difficult. Alex’s reformation may be a ‘good’ thing, however the motivations behind this transformation (of Alex but also the government) are equivocal.
Korova milk bar
After much public controversy, Kubrick issued a self-imposed ban on the film in 1973 which was only lifted in 2001.The film’s artistic and thematic style inspired a major cult movement, such as the use of false eyelashes on one eye. This was re-ignited after the film was made available to the public again and also recently, in light of the novel’s 40th anniversary.

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