I thoroughly enjoyed the film but after I was thru I was (as usual) thinking about it and realized that it was very much a 2-d film, meaning that it didn’t have any depth it was all explained to you right then it didn’t take any thought from the viewer it was like you didn’t need to think which I had gone into the film thinking that it would be. I guess that I felt a sense of disappointment but not at the same time. What do you guys think, I’m sure someone has more knowledge than I on this subject.
For one, it explores the relationship between ethics/morality and free will. Specifically, it shows that a person who doesn’t have a choice in the matter and can only do good (or, more accurately, is incapable of doing anti-social things) isn’t really a person, but an automaton. A lack of free will makes the choice to be a good person meaningless – it is the temptations we face and the choices we make that make us human.
Further, it shows us what a society that favors keeping people from anti-social behavior over actually solving the problems that lead to this anti-social behavior would look like.
Also, it’s “clockwork” not “clock work.”
Ah yes thank you for the grammatical correction! I realize what you are saying but I feel as if everyone understood that by the end of the movie I feel like there is something more but I just can’t think of it. I don’t really know I guess its just a weird feeling I have but I feel like I’m missing something and if I just knew what that was it could give the film a whole different meaning even, I love movies that have alternate meanings it shows the diversity of the director and script. But thank you for your input Sacredchao, it is much appreciated!
The deepest meaning of A Clockwork Orange, both the film and the novel, is that Anthony Burgess’ house was broken into one night and his wife was raped, only to die shortly thereafter.
The entire story is his attempt to cope with that trauma, and to get into the mind of a person capable of doing such a thing, even making them sympathetic to some extent. It’s his therapy, essentially.
It begins as a film about an amoral society. Like Jarman’s later Jubilee, we are in an England that has been transformed by the elite powers that be into a giant housing project slum. McDowell’s Alex is meant to be very young, younger than he seems to be in the film — 16, I would guess. He and his droog buddies are addicted to the milk they get at the Korova Milk Bar, milk which also makes them ten times more violent than angel dust; but this milk is legal and probably being supplied by the government. In other words, all out class warfare: the poor are kept in a state of poverty, danger and control. We don’t even see any rich people until the home invasion scene, where the droogs brutalize the wife and husband, raping her and causing her death, and crippling him. Meanwhile, betrayed by his own gang (who are themselves afraid of Alex — it is never a good idea to be a leader, it puts your head on the chopping block), Alex is caught by the police who turn him over to a sinister government experiment. The government is extremely law & order and they want to eradicate crime, not by eradicating the sources of crime but by brainwashing criminals into pacifists. It’s when we see his beloved Beethoven music turned against him in this context that we realize there were actually good things about Alex — he was spontaneous, he loved music, he could pick up pretty girls and have sex with them, he was raped by his probation officer and now he’s being raped all over again. The good is going with the bad. At the point where he happily licks a fascist’s shoe we know that society is sicker than he is.
Society is always, always sicker than even its single sickest individual member. Important thesis that bears repeating. Society is always, always sicker than even its single sickest individual member.
So when he gets back out, what happens? His formerly passive victims are not saints but all too eager to give him payback. “It was old age havin’ a go at youth.” Because he can no longer form violent impulses without becoming physically, incapacitatingly nauseous (what a great metaphor; the conscience really is in our weak stomachs, our puke!), he allows himself to be pummelled by a bunch of elderly homeless people, like the one he and his droogs had beaten (to death?) earlier in the film. But no one is under the influence of Korova Milk so no one can bring themselves to actually kill Alex — they just toy with him like a cat with a mouse. Who is more merciful, after all?
When he stumbles into the house of the man (now crippled) whom he had beaten and whose wife he had raped and who died after that, we know we are in a Candide-like story where fate takes precedence over logic. Okay. The cripple is a do-gooding liberal who does not recognize his former attacker without his bowler hat and Pinocchio nose, but he is all too eager to help this poor abused homeless boy. Strange. We say in this country, “A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged.” In Burgess’ vision it’s just the opposite. WIth nothing left to protect (i.e., beautiful young wife) the cripple has become a kind of Mother Teresa.
Then he hears Alex innocently singing “Singin’ in the Rain” as he takes a luxurious bath in the crippled man’s bathroom — the song Alex sang when he was beating and raping the cripple and his wife — and starts to have a seizure of sorts. Is this the only song Alex knows? This pop song from an American musical? Whatever happened to the saving graces of rock and roll, which exorcize demons by giving them a name? This is a world where there is nothing between the dark, profound, midnight-of-the-soul music of Beethoven and… “Singin’ in the Rain.” Very strange. And given the care with which Kubrick always selected his music, I can only think that was highly intentional.
Okay. What follows is a brief passage that is somewhere between comedy and a caper film. The cripple and his leftwing cronies (A Clockwork Orange is right-wing art, let’s just get that out of the way first off) plan to use Alex to disgrace the current social engineering methods of the government by basically making a martyr of Alex. It’s neither particularly funny nor tense — do we care what becomes of Alex? Do we like the cripple? Not particularly, he should have died back there with his wife, his life now is a disturbing sham. I’m actually drawing a blank on how Alex escapes from them… but at the very end, Alex is made a hero for foiling the anti-government plot, and in the film’s most cynical move (way more cynical than the pardon Snake Plishkin is offered for rescuing the President from the City of New York), Alex is granted his fondest wish — a reversal of the brainwashing that made him incapable of violence. A hero must have what he wants. And it is implied that Alex is the only true hero left to our society, in spite of the fact that he sometimes goes too far and strangles the cats who are up a tree and require saving. The government needs the ultraviolent Alex, after all, to get rid of more of its leftwing enemies. In the last shot, with sensuous slow motion, he is back to his favorite sexual position — fucking two girls at once — as Beethoven plays triumphantly and, with a twist this time, the news media is there documenting the recovery and return of the hero. The first reality TV show?
A very disturbing film.
Burgess’ and Kubrick’s greatest regrets.
In the original ending to A Clockwork Orange there is a chapter showing Alex to having remained reformed. This was dropped by the original publisher. And Kubrick kept the ending as originally published. It’s actually more powerful that way altho it does change some of Burgess’s original intent.
I’ve never heard that before. Are you sure? Do you have a source?
I just read through his biography and his first wife died of cirrhosis of the liver and his second died in 07, fourteen years after he did.
Burgess has talked about it a few times, Sacredchao. He goes into it during an interview on the recent blu-ray release of the film.
I shouldn’t have written “shortly thereafter”, though. She was raped during WWII, resulting in a miscarriage and her alcoholism, which is eventually what killed her.
Chuck Palahniuk said something similar about the inspiration for his novel Fight Club. He was camping, and he got into a fight with some guys who were also camping. He got beaten up and he wrote Fight Club as an attempt to understand violence like that. It’s interesting that both Burgess and Palahuniuk masochistically celebrate the men who hurt them.
Actually, I think so fact checking is in order…just from looking at the Wikipedia entry, it’s clear that his wife was assaulted and a subsequent miscarriage may have been the direct result of it. But it’s not clear that it was the cause of her death. Granted, if the man himself has mentioned this in interview, I’ll take his word for it. And of course, whether the two events (the assault and a death) were directly linked, I’m sure a rattling event like that gets a guy thinking…
As long as we’re a little muddied about apocryphal origins of the novel, my recollection is that Burgess’ received an inaccurate diagnosis with virulent terminal cancer, pumped out a slew of novels to help support his current wife and child(ren), and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE was one of them, written very quickly and with some exploitation value in mind to increase sales for the posthumous financial support of the family. Then, after the book’s completion, it became clear that the doctor’s prognosis was wrong, and Burgess lived for many more years. Anyone else ever hear this?
So much for my request for further fact checking…I should go look into my own story…
The jist of Clockwork Orange encompasses a couple of central themes: order in society versus freedom of choice or free will and evil as a neccessity in a free society. The film revolves around the arguments presented for and against these themes. Does individual liberty outweigh the values of society and order? Alex is stripped of his evil tendencies in the film, the very tendencies that make him feel most alive and give his life some kind of depth and meaning, however skewed it may be, and when he’s “cleansed” of those tendencies, he becomes docile and less human, albeit “safe.” The argument is: Is this a good thing or a bad thing? How do you reconcile it? And in the end, it shows that no matter how hard society tries to condition people to be a certain way ansd to conform to certain behavioral patterns, it is all subject to randomness, for as we see at the end of the film, Alex’s sociopathic and criminal tendencies return, they have been embedded so deep in his psyche that they’ll always be there. Then, what does society do?
The big question is: Hoe does society balance free will with social responsibility?
Ben-You are correct. He was misdiagnosed with a brain tumor I believe and given about a year to live. He wanted to turn out as many novels as he good so his family would have some income. His goal was 12 but the final total was 5 ot 6.
All of it is correct.
The rape of his wife, his misdiagnosed brain tumor, and Mr. Biberkopf’s dissertation…
And while we’re on the subject of his rather soap opera-ish life, he also married his mistress almost immediately after his first wife’s death, and finally acknowledged his illegitimate son, though there’s a good chance it wasn’t actually his child at all.
Why is it that white, male novelists have the most interesting lives?
Brandon, that’s easy! We have the smallest penises so we have to fuck as many different people as we can to compensate for it. And naturally, in hindsight people view it as super-potency.
It is my understanding that the actual numbers of the chapters of Burgess’ novel hold significance, 21 being recognized as the age of maturity. The oft ignored (and even omitted in many American editions) 21st chapter is supposed to illustrate the period of a man’s life when childish things are put away. This unique literary organization always seemed essential to the novel, IMHO, and Kubrick’s film (while undeniably powerful, in it’s own right) does suffer structurally for excluding it.
It’s almost impossible to put everything from a novel into a film, particularly things that have to do with words and numbers on the page as Samuryan signifies. The closest I’ve ever seen is Fassbinder with Berlin Alexanderplatz and also Effi Briest.
the made up language in the book really has to be earned by a reader/participant. In a movie, it’s passing you by whether you’re engaging with full attention or not.
a quick footnote: “Singing in the Rain” was a bit of a fluke. They tried the scene without the singing (that is, it wasn’t originally written with that in mind) and it just was flat. Kubrick asked MacDowell if he knew any songs he might sing while doing the deed. He happened to know “Singing”—they tried it and, well, the rest is history.
Richard, thanks, that’s interesting. Like everything else that ends up in a film, whether intentionally or unintentionally, it belongs to the interpreters, i.e. the critics.
While I agree that certain literary elements are impossible to translate to the screen, I think chapter breaks in films are not that uncommon, and were even used in Japan, at around the same time, as a structural device in films like Lady Snowblood. However, Kubrick was famous for adapting unadaptable texts with his own inimatable style, even at the author’s chagrin. With every other film he adapted, I understood the justifications for his deviations. However, Clockwork’s denouement always felt frustratingly incomplete to me; as if the film, itself, were deliberately rebelling against the original text. Perhaps I missed more than I thought…
Great way to put it. And that really is one of the most rewarding aspects of the novel: the book has to be “earned.”
It’s my understanding that the final ‘redeeming’ chapter was always present in the British version of the book but omitted from the origninal American printing which is the version that Kubrick read and based his script off of. Kubrick apparently became aware of the chapter before beginning filming but never seriously considered using it. Mr. Burgess praised the film and his only real criticism was the removal of the last chapter for which he blamed the publisher. The irony is that Burgess was left to defend against the accusations that the movie was amoral while his vision with the character seeing the error of his ways was arguably more moral than Kubrick’s.
I think I’m probably a certified Clockwork Orange geek because I’ve seen the movie like ten times, read the book three times and now I just read all these posts and I actually didn’t learn anything.
I should be more productive…
You could spend your time learning Nadsat. :) At one point, I tried to commit the glossary of terms to memory. I’m curious actually why the soviet connection? Was this a nod to the cold war?
No deeper meaning? A movie with a meaning is very unusual. Some movies have no deeper meaning (Der Untergang, Blade Runner, etc.), some movies has a little pocket philosophical meaning (Stalker, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, etc.). Some movies is fucking awesome and gives alot of meaning: for example 2001 and A Clockwork Orange.
A Clockwork Orange is founded on a thought experiment – as Kubrick says: Alex is “natural man in the state in which he is born, unlimited, unrepressed.” It’s the dionysian (abe) man, who is controled of his instincts, living in the apollonian state. During the film, Alex is transformed into a apollonian creature, who suppresses his natural bahavior, the dionysian spirit: music, sex, violence, ecstacy, inspiration, spontaneity. Dont ever say that isn’t deep again!
CLOCKWORK ORANGE (novel & film) deals with one of THE greatest themes there is: Nature vs. Civilization. Hence, the title: a clockwork is a manmade mechanism (like human society) vs. an orange, a natural object. Society keeps trying to turn oranges into clockworks.
This theme may NOT be that obvious in the film, and does require a little thought, and perhaps some reading of Claude Levi-Strauss, the French anthropologist who found the theme of Nature vs. Civilization to be THE theme par excellence in the native myths and legends that he studied. Hence the title of one of his books, THE RAW AND THE COOKED.
well its certainly obvious that the film is about the nature of man and what civilization wants that nature to be, and the gap in-between. i never thought of a levi-strauss reading of “clockwork.” what does he say that opens up a level of meaning for the film?
@Bobby W.: Levi-Strauss basically says that life and art are based on a series of “binary oppositions”: War and Peace, Man and Woman, Human and Animal, etc. but according to him the most prevalent theme in native myths is Nature vs. Civilization, the “master narrative” of them all. MANY films epitomize this theme, including APOCALYPSE NOW, HUCKLEBERRY FINN is a classic example from literature.
It’s also a featured theme in many coming-of-age films since maturation is often a matter of giving up one’s natural urges and becoming more “civilized.” Truffaut’s THE WILD CHILD is an obvious example.
As far as CLOCKWORK is concerned, Kubrick seems to think that mankind in the state of nature is inherently and congenitally violent, a stance that seems to be reflected in 2001 as well. This may not be that deep a reading, but it’s a way of applying a structuralist view to the film. Most of the scenes, characters, and incidents can be seen in light of the binary oppositions in Alex’s life and in British society.