A Clockwork Orange (1971) film review

Rated: 4 / 5

It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you view them on the screen.

Spoiler Warning

This is one of the rare cases where I believe the filmmaker made the right decision removing the last chapter of the novel the film is based on for how it will end. In the novel, after everything that happened with the protagonist’s crimes, trials, and tribulations, it concluded on the note that disgruntled youth eventually grow out of their rebellious nature, inevitably becoming normalized and less of a burden and threat upon society. Kubrick’s film opted to expunge that outcome entirely, ending the film on the note that youth ultimately become more corrupted and an even larger threat to society as a result of a combination of their own ethical faults, familial and societal upbringing (along with the loves and influences and abuses that come with them), religious/political fanatical encounters, and government interference. Both endings are valid for different reasons. On the one hand, it is possible for youth to outgrow their malicious nature they tend to project during their teenage and young adult years. On the other hand, this possibility becomes increasingly slim the more unnatural methods are used to combat the malicious acts and personalities. It’s the latter scenario that is not only more frightening, but also more prevalent, and thus relevant, to the present. Which ultimately makes Kubrick’s film adaptation superior to that of the highly respectable novel (as is the case with The Shining).

Showcasing how an environment can influence the growth and personality of youth, the film opens in a black and white room full of naked female mannequins who are all in sexually suggestive poses; where the only color to be found is that of the hair wigs the mannequins wear. An environment that fans the flames of primal sexual urges. And yet, there is something more subtle and disturbing about this. The mother of the main protagonist (if he can be called that), Alex, has a purple wig (or hair dyed purple) herself. Possible indication that there was some Oedipal complex stuff going on in the past (though the implication of sexual abuse upon Alex is stronger with his Post-Corrective Advisor P.R. Deltoid; a subtle indication that abuse in his early youth caused him to be formed into the monster he is at the start of the film, an aspect of governmental figures abusing their positions of power causing corruption within the very society they are to serve). But there is another possibility. That the familiar innocent motherly love he grew up with has become corrupted with elements in society that portray once-revered aspects of the past. Like growing up with a childhood favorite film, only to see a porn parody of it years later.

I’m more willing to believe that latter scenario because it’s an ongoing theme throughout the film. As another example, consider that classical music gets Alex riled up, bringing out his “ultraviolent” urges. Music primarily showcased in the film’s first half, before Alex is arrested and his time for fun and games has ended. Music that wasn’t intended to bring that particular aspect out of individuals. Music that in its pure abstract essence was meant more to bring about a sense of joy with the journey of the notes and lyrics, rather than bring about violent tendencies. The irony being that this came out prior to families decrying the demonic/destructive influence that Iron Maiden and Marilyn Manson brought about upon youth. Except in this case, this is about classical music once considered sweet and innocent now defiled by the acts of those who had a different form of inspiration from them. Specifically the song Singing in the Rain, which up until this film’s release wasn’t a song ever associated with violent/sexual acts. Which enforces the theme of modern trends/acts corrupting what was once something with no malice associated with it.

This also extends to religion. First with Alex having these Jesus statues that don’t primarily represent sacrifice for sin, but rather is twisted in a manner seeming to encourage the very thing he stood against (or at least that’s how Alex view it). Then with how Alex envisions the stories in the Bible, not absorbing any of the ethical lessons to be gained from them; or rather absorbing unethical lessons from those stories, something that goes against what they were intended for. A Holy Book, which ends up influencing one in unholy ways.

There are ways the creator of a work intended his work to be viewed, ways society normally views the work, and the way an individual views the work. Not everyone will view the work the same way, regardless of intention. Can a work be considered holy if it can be viewed and used as unholy? Can something be considered innocent if it can be utilized in a malicious manner? If works (once) considered holy/innocent can be utilized in manners that are the opposite of such, does that mean they should be disregarded entirely knowing they can be used in that way? It’s like the development of a new technology, or the formation of a new system of government, or the formation of a new religion, the publishing of a new novel, the performance of a new song, the release of a new film, the creation of a new website, etc. They are all double edged swords, or coins with two sides. Regardless of intention, for good or ill, they can be used for the opposite effect. Or worse, the societal trend can make them evolve in such a way that makes them bad when they were once good.

Consider trends of today. Films, videogames, board games. Today’s society dictates they must primarily follow neoliberalist philosophies. They must promote female empowerment, minority empowerment, majority guilt. Not exactly a trend entirely absent from films in the past, but less prevalent in the past when anyone could make pretty much anything so long as they had the budget, and means of production (along with a cooperating company). Now things are more restrictive than ever, or at best as restrictive as they were during the Hay’s Code era.

a clockwork orange GIF by Maudit

To be honest, I believe this film predicted such trends all the way back when it was filmed, even during a time period when the Hay’s Code ended and independent films were beginning to surge. What happens to Alex as the result of the Ludovico treatment indicates as much. A treatment utilized at the behest of an ambitious politician to promote societal reform. No longer is the old-fashioned system of imprisonment to be utilized to reform criminals and those deemed to have committed unethical acts in society. The new fashion, the new trend is to be used, further restricting freedoms and thus making members of society adhere to what is deemed lawful/ethical by government entities (who may be influenced by external forces, whether corporate or of a foreign nation) by force.

No dear boy, you must leave it to us. And be cheerful about it.

If a film is deemed to be repulsive with the acts on screen, the viewer will be forced to become revulsed by them. Only a single interpretation is allowed. Even if this inadvertently results in revulsion of other subtle aspects contained within the film governments overlook. Now it’s no longer just violent acts, from brutal beatings to violent rapes, that are to be reviled, but so is classical music, among other potential works that are not, and never intended to be, inherently evil. It is inevitable that such works that are a part of the foundations of a society’s culture are thus doomed as the result of such forceful adherence to the deemed ethical standards. The more radical the method and enforcement, the more extreme the consequences, both intended and unintended.

Of course, we mustn’t forget the main lesson the story is telling. That this forced moral reform, taking away an aspect of an individual’s freedom for the sake of security for the nation, ends up leaving the individual susceptible to the very violent whims of others he is unable to do himself. Whether it’s being forced to take insults, being victim to the beatings of those seeking vengeance for his past deeds (which the treatment is supposed to negate, as the individual is deemed to have paid for his crimes once released from prison and given this morality cure), or just being victim to goons who have become authority figures, or falling prey to radical political reformists. Alex may be “cured”, but everyone else isn’t. And if Alex is this defenseless at the whims of other common members of society, how defenseless would an entire society be who has been forced to take this treatment? What are they to do against an oppressive government, or against oppressive authority figures? What are they to do against an oppressive foreign nation/entity? They would all be forced to be nothing more than victims of oppression.

Well, these new ridiculous ideas have come at last. And orders are orders. Though I may say to you in confidence, I do not approve. “Eye for an eye” I say. Someone hits you, you hit back, do you not? Why then should not the State very severely hit by you brutal hoodlums hit back also? The new view is to say “no.” The new view is that we turn the bad into good. All of which seems to be personally unjust eh?

Beware the other trap. This doesn’t necessarily mean the prior (or still normal, for now) method of law and order, of punishing those for certain crimes, is itself perfect. The film does a respectable job showcasing that authority figures themselves can abuse the law when they deem it necessary (which, in all fairness, sometimes exceptions should be made for special cases; but that doesn’t mean there aren’t times they act in the wrong). Prison is shown to do anything but reform the criminals they hold. Hell, the main prison warden visually resembles Hitler, who last I checked is an individual most societies deem to be an immoral man. Which I find to be rather amusing, showcasing Kubrick’s sense of humor. This warden is firmly against the Ludovico treatment, and the treatment resorts to showing Alex WWII footage of the Nazis which he is forced to be revulsed by. Of course the warden would be against the treatment. Yet there’s also the interesting twist, which fits in with Hitler being one firmly against pornography and he himself be shy and reclusive and formal when it came to sexual relationships (in that he probably never had any). With his shock at seeing a naked woman tempting Alex, as a way of proving the Ludovico treatment works by forcing him not to give in to his sexual urges with that woman. Which is something the warden highly approves of, and wins him over to use of the treatment. Thus implying this may be a radical technique of societal reform Hitler would approve of (as he historically utilized methods of removing anything pornographic in 1930s Germany, among other radical reforms). Hence the indication that the old-fashioned society can be persuaded to give in to this new method of reform.

Prison taught him the false smile, the rubbed hand of hypocrisy, the fawning, greased obsequious leer. Other vices it taught him, as well as confirming in those he had long practiced before.

One cannot ignore the warnings of what those who are religious would say about this, particularly with regard to the elimination of free will. Warnings of the dangers of the new way that would give forth to the modern age.

Goodness is chosen. When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.

[…]

He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature of moral choice.

His typewriter was red earlier in the film. Same color as the typewriter in Alex’s room. Implication that Alex could’ve been one who would’ve taken up the same political stance as him if different choices were made?

Then there are those who know what harm there is in this method intended to reform society, the harm that it will inflict. Citizens who are involved in politics at a level similar to that of those who make podcasts and blog posts today. Particularly, the man who had become a cripple, who is a writer of “subversive literature;” so says the Minister of the Interior, whose ideologies and promotion of the Ludovico technique are the very thing the writer rallies against. The writer is correct to rally against this, to write against it, and to organize against it. But his methods become radical too once he becomes hellbent on vengeance when he learns of Alex’s identity. The point being even those who take up noble causes are also susceptible to personal grudges that override his primary purpose. On the other hand, there’s a good chance he fully intended to make Alex a martyr for his political cause regardless. From what I gathered from the novel, that seems to be the case. Him learning that Alex wronged him (and his wife) in the past just made it more personal for him, to revel in the suffering of another.

A victim of the modern age – poor, poor girl. And now, you, another victim of the modern age, but you can be helped.

Tumblr: Image

Everyone in this has an agenda. Alex has no choice but to fit in with their agenda while he has no freedom to choose otherwise. Those forced to adhere to a determined ethical code have no choice but to be pawns in the agendas of others. All for the sake of swaying public opinion. A public that is often a pawn in these games, those who go along with the agendas of one organization or another due to their ethical codes, how they’re enforced, and what exposures they have regarding knowledge of events. Ultimately, the last act of the film is the Minister turning his back on the Ludovico technique and publicly befriending Alex for the sake of poll ratings to save face. For he must be seen as a friend to the victims of the modern age to that the public in the modern age can sympathize with him and go along with whatever agenda he sets.

But public opinion has a way of changing.

In the end, Alex himself decides to go along with this. But he does so in a mischievous way viewers can catch onto if they remember something he said earlier. Something he said without sincerity. When he asks Alex if he has made himself clear, Alex responds, “As an unmuddied lake, Fred. As clear as an azure sky of deepest summer.” It is not just prison that taught him the false smile, the rubbed hand of hypocrisy, the fawning, greased obsequious leer. And given that he will have a respectable job with respectable pay provided by the government, it is implied he will become involved with politics in a manner similar to how his droogs became involved with law enforcement. And he will ultimately be as devious and malicious as ever in that role, with a greater amount of power and influence than what he had before. Someone else with an agenda to dictate the road society should travel down. One of those who dictates how the modern age shall be formed. Destined to be surrounded by others with false smiles and rubbed hands of hypocrisy; who will all push forth an agenda alongside him upon the public.

Thus Alex is morphed into a being, who at some point may have been able to grow past his violent youth, whose growth is now (possibly) irreparably stunted due to methods of intervention that are unnatural. Unnatural in that they go against the very nature of man. He has ultimately become something worse than what he could’ve been had government (and an aspect of science) not interfered as it did. And the societal repercussions of that result in a morbid future.

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