this idea of binary oppositions isnt anything new. it sounds like dialectics. what exactly did levi-strauss add to the conversation that was novel?
if we look even superficially at “clockwork” we can see binary oppositions wherever we want to. we can say the very shots in the film are binary oppositions. how does that unlock meaning in the film?
Bobby W,: I don’t want to defend Levi-Strauss’s method with regartd to CLOCKWORK that vigorously, nor the entire structuralist project that it spawned. One example of a Levi-Sraussian analysis that IS useful is something called THE ASTRAL FETUS by two French anthropologists. They take 2001 apart image by image, color by color, and movement by movement using this mythological grid and come up with amazing conclusions. The book-length study was in French but part of it was translated in an old issue of QUARTERLYY REVIEW OF FILM STUDIES from the late 1970s.
As far as CLOCKWORK is concerned, you’re right: there’s nothing particularly NEW about binary oppositions. Anaxamander or Heraclitus (or one of those pre-Socratic Greek philosophers) came up with the idea well before Hegel, Marx, or Levi-Strauss. The idea of thinking of a film as a society’s myth and taking it apart shot by shot to locate those mythic elements is what can be useful. (I’m more familiar with using the framework of Nature vs. Civilization in 2001 or APOCALYPSE NOW, so I should probably demure on applying it specifically to CLOCKWORK - except for the title.) :)
For me, A Clockwork Orange has a message that for good and for worse, it is a crime against people to impugn on their ability to think and act for themselves.
It is Kubrick’s prediction of the future:
The Russians are coming (I’m serious)
no, it didn’t
To me A Clockwork Orange is about the human desire to control, to dominate; this coupled with the individual’s (any individuals) deep rooted desire to escape forms of domination and control, and how this desire and its importance is related to freedom and society at large. The film explores domination as not just physical (prison and material/physical divisions), but also mental (ideological/power/politics/media) . It is a tricky film with a purposfully unreliable narrator “your humble narrator” Alex, who practically lies his way through life, and in practically every scene in the film. The film incorporates government influence, medical subservience, and invites us to question the functioning of these entities in both abstract and direct ways. This is a film that can lead one to various different understandings, all of which aren’t the same, nor all equally satisfying. Besides what the film talks about, it is also brilliant for how it speaks to the audience. The editing in particular in this film often leads a viewer down one of two paths, as does the language; it is up to the audience to read the characterizations and visuals to garner a more meaningful and satisfying experience with the film. Unless you can see the divergent paths that Kubrick opens up in the narrative at certain key points, you will likely only see the one, more superficial path, and thus haven’t picked up on the other, more key narrative implication.
Kubrick is famous ending certain films by breaking the fourth wall (the final shot of 2001, end of A Clockwork Orange, end of The Shining; Bowman sees through the illusion (symbolised as the screen he looks through) at the end of 2001, as do we, and thus he sees us, imploring us to comprehend the political and cultural implications of his journey out of entrapment to his present state, as an observer of our condition. In ACO, the companion sci-fi piece of 2001, Alex looks through the screen at the end of the film (like Bowman) and undergoes a transformation (like Bowman). He is transformed from his former dominated self (socially/culturally/physically/mentally/politically) into a being that has not only gained mass sympathy, but who has comprehended an evil more pervasive and sinister than he (the Minister who wants to fill the emptying prisons with political prisoners, or ideological prisoners, and the intellectual writer who he himself, Alex, has wronged). This understanding comes along with him announcing in his first purely honest comment of the film “I was cured, all right”, followed by the film finally introducing Gene Kelly’s version of Singin in the Rain, the unperverted version finally plays as the credits roll. Moments before Alex’s announcement we see him fucking a woman (1 woman) in a wedding like scenario (a sign of sanity) as a renaissance like celebration (with applauding 17th century audience, telegraphing Barry Lyndon) co-exists with his monogomous fuck fantasy, the first time we’ve seen him in a 1 man to 1 woman ratio. There is so much else happening all throughout this film, like in every scene, that subverts the normal way we are used to watching any film. The magic of the film is that it doesn’t beat us over the head with it’s tactics, it merely waits for us to recognize meaning and hidden structure, while allowing us to float along with a seemingly simple narrative (yes, the film can be seen as simple, man vs. nature vs. civilisation stuff, like everyone posting before is saying). These simple conclusions miss the vast depth of language placed in the visuals and in the structure of the film.
One example is when Alex ends up at “HOME” for the second time, meeting the man whose wife he raped. This could be seen as a simple repetition of events, showing the fatalistic aspect of this overt “morality tale” aspect of the narrative while throwing in some random absurdism (the bodybuilder replacing the wife, the murderous desire to kill Alex). But it isn’t that simple at all. The film reveals this entire seqence at “HOME” to be a dream sequence in the mind of Alex. Alex is soaked, bloody nose, after being beaten by his droogies. One cut later, he is at “HOME”; notice Alex falls into the house, as though he is unconscious (sleeping?). Notice when Alex is carried in, the bodybuilder stands in front of a mirror, holding alex, and that the weelchair man is in front of them, also in front of the mirror. I feel strongly that mirrors factor as projections of a given characters mind in Kubrick’s films, and in this moment the three characters are melded in the mirror, with Alex being held (like he is asleep). Notice that a bath is drawn up for Alex, and that in the bath his eyes are covered with a blindfold (another sign he is asleep? I think so). I believe this scene is meant to illustrate Alex’s increasing isolation as person (his family/friends abandoning him), realising the horrors he has commited, and his mind uses this nightmere as a way to illustrate the horror he has caused to the writer (notice that the writer leans over in his chair in a psudeo-vomit when he hears Alex’s singin in the rain, similar to the behaviour of Alex when he feigns his gag attacks). Notice Alex eats while drinking wine at a table, before passing out, yet again, this time literally. Notice he never gets drowsy from the wine; he simply collapses instantly. Bowman also drank wine at the end of 2001, in the renaissance room, a scene where he is clearly experiencing an alternate form of reality. Notice then when 2 more people come, Alex is outnumbered 4 to 1, just like the woman he raped was outnumbered 4 to 1. Notice Alex is wearing a white and red robe, with blue around his neck. He passes out, and we have a cut to Alex passed out in a room; he is wearing his suit now. Why would the people change his clothes? that makes little sense. He is wearing what he was wearing before he came to “HOME”, before he took his “bath”. He says that Ludwig Van is coming up from the floor (this is an act, everything Alex does to get out of prison is an act, I won’t get into the details or reasons of that here). We see a shot of the writer from the shoulders up twitching, like a Ludwig Van bust, looking up to the ceiling (like Alex looks up to the ceiling in the final shot of the film, before breaking the 4th wall, mirroring the shot of the writer, as though he is remembering his dream, the writer, before looking through the screen). Alex then jumps out a window, we see a shot of the house and the yard he jumps into; it bears no resemblance to “HOME”, arcitechturally, at all. The implication here is that Alex got his ass kicked and almost drowned by his former droogies, then went and found a room to stay, wherein he had a nightmare, and woke up in horror, the true implications and horror of his actions, and the effects it has had on others (the writer) now dawning. Then in a desperate act to gain any kind of sympathy for himself, wether alive or dead, he flung himself out of the window.
Midway into the films final scene, as the Minister hand feeds Alex, THE MINISTER brings up the writer, saying “there is a certain man, a writer of subversive literature, who has been howling for your blood. He’s been mad with a desire to stick a knife into you. But you’re safe from him now. We put him away (political/ideological prisoner). He found out that you had done wrong to him (the truth), at least he believed you had done wrong (minister shows that he has the power to alter the truth). He formed this idea in his head (minister makes writer sound like a looney), that you had been responsible for the death of someone near and dear to him (and then obscures the writer’s claim). He was a menace. We put him away for his own protection. And also for yours. We put him away where he can do you no harm.” Somehow, in this exchange, miraculously, Alex’s late night arrival and experiences at “HOME” are never mentioned, like they never happened (they didn’t happen, literally). The above is just an example, among many, of how events could be taken one way (as simple repetition of events in a fatalistic, morality tale sense) or in a completely different way, symbolic of a character’s subconscious as he begins to understand the feelings of one he has wronged (the writer).
I am certain Alex is never brainwashed in the film by the medical procedure. I won’t go into now, it has been a long post.
there are some good essays and analysis on kubrick.com .. for a deeper understanding you could swing by your local library and obtain kubrick: inside a film artists maze by thomas allen nelson which is a great book for interpreting his films.