Now this is more what I expected from Kubrick week. I had no idea what to expect, and - in a way - I still have no idea what I’ve just watched. I had to take some extra time to digest this movie.
Clockwork Orange was intense, provocative, and cryptic. It follows a teenage boy through a dystopia future, detailing his obsession with sex and violence. While out on one of his capers, Alex is betrayed by his friends and nabbed by the police. He effortlessly demonstrates his charisma in prison, which attracts the attention of a shady doctor who offers to heal him of his ‘violence addiction’.
Alex happily agrees and is subjected to a week of graphic films and induced nausea. When the experiment concludes, he is left broken and depressed, helpless against a wave of reflex sickness when he looks at a women or is confronted with violence. It eventually takes a failed suicide attempt for the doctors to recollect Alex and reverse the treatment.
Figure 1: There were also plenty of scenes that made me feel like I was watching Jackass
Normally in movies, books, and cartoons we are taught that there are two kinds of desires. There’s the finer part of you, and the animal in you. The finer part of you likes jazz, fresh salads, and reading. The animal in you likes fart jokes, drinking way too much beer, and flexing in the mirror.
For as long as I can remember I have been under the impression that my desires split at this fork in the road. But watching this movie was the first time I’ve been brought to challenge that assumption.
What if, as Kubrick teases, there is basically one type of desire? What if the same part of you that enjoys your dad’s old Coltrane tapes is fundamentally the same part of you that enjoys popping a really big blister? What if an art student admiring the Mona Lisa is no different that one monkey admiring another’s fecal smearing? What if we are all basically animals?
This is how I view Alex. He is a human being given the power to see through this false dichotomy. To him, watching a naked women frolic in his bedroom is appreciated with the same fervor as the masterpiece of Beethoven’s ninth.
OK - take the art in the movie. Everybody’s home is shamelessly decorated with gratuitously sexual art (exaggerated breasts, graphic sex scenes, sculpted genitals, etc). I don’t think Kubrick was just trying to be weird.
I think the paintings looked different exclusively to Alex. The home owners in the movie would have defended their innocence - “I like the colors and textures,” - that kind of thing.
But Alex thinks this is hilarious. At one point in the movie, he even picks up a large statue of a phallus and jeers at the homeowner, “Naughty Naughty!” It’s as if Alex saw right through her claim to fine taste and was mocking the real reason she was drawn to piece.
There is another scene where Alex is grossly fascinated with the Bible. Though the reverend praises him for his piety, we see that Alex is simply drawn to the sex and violence littered throughout all of Scripture. Again, he is seeing the real reason people pick up the Bible.
The offensive suggestion here is that there are no finer tastes. There is only one type of desire. We are just animals wandering a big jungle, surrounding ourselves with things that arouse us. And if that were really true, every piece of art might as well be a giant phallus.
It’s a dark perspective, but we can take a minute to appreciate the challenge. Think about it - if someone studied your attraction to your husband or wife and hypothesized that it’s simply a chemical attraction, would you be able to prove them wrong?
Clockwork Orange makes a crisis out of something too many people take for granted. We proudly defend our humanity saying, “Look! I can choose what I do!” But examining this with the same suspicion Alex had, we really don’t have any choice at all. We can either give ourselves pleasure, or withhold ourselves pleasure. We cannot change what gives us pleasure. If that were true, by the film’s standards, ‘A man that cannot choose is not really a man at all.’
If we cannot change what gives us pleasure, then what is really that moral about simply withholding pleasure? I’m thinking of the moment when the scientists parade the “cured” prisoner in front of an audience. They marvel as a naked woman flaunts herself in front of Alex, but he is too sick to lay a finger on her. Meanwhile, everyone in the audience is free to stare at her beauty.
The film is very dirty, but does a great job of equivocating the classical sense of morality over a back drop of visually fascinating screen work.
Excellent film, as long as you don’t mind a bit of the ‘ol ultra violence. (I think I’m also going to be stuck on the “/little bit of the ‘ol/” thing for a while. I can’t stop saying it).
Alex and I were particularly excited when the movie A Clockwork Orange was next up in our list of Kubrick movies. The little we knew about the movie was that it is particularly odd and quirky. After just finishing Barry Lyndon, we were excited for some classic Kubrick weirdness. After watching A Clockwork Orange we were definitely not disappointed.
While watching the movie it seemed like at every turn was something unexplained or unexpected. It left quite a lot to process and try to dissect to find Kubricks intentions. But, there was one scene in particular in the film that I based most of my understanding of the movie off of. There was a moment when the main character Alex was in his room. On his wall there was a rather errotic painting and below the painting was his pet snake sitting on a branch hung on the wall. But below that was a small sculpture of four Jesus figures with their arms around one another. I couldn’t help but think that this must be symbolic. The painting on the wall was at the highest point of the symbolic hierarchy, which I assumed represented the desires of man, then next was the snake, which I assumed represented Satan and sin, and finally were the four Jesus figures, representing goodness, purity, and godliness. This theme seemed to continue throughout the rest of the film. The most important component of each character's life seemed to be their sexuality and their desires based on the physicality of the people around them. This was sadly clear after several rape scenes in the film. Then it seemed that the second most significant component of each characters’ lives were any other desires and finally, last on the totem pole, was anything that involved benefiting the people around them.
This flip in significance of the various parts of life relates to the other main point that I got from this movie. This second point is the question of what truly makes a man moral, or how do we define the morality of man. This movie creatively forces that question upon the audience after portraying a character as immoral and then making they seem moral and vise versa. There is also a large portion of the movie dedicated to an experiment that tries to use science as a way to make an immoral person moral. The character Alex finds himself in jail and then in the experimental process of correcting him into being a decent human being. What the film ends up with is that science was not able to ultimately be the decider in whether or not a man is moral. But the question of what truly does make human beings moral or immoral is something that you will have to decide for yourselves after seeing A Clockwork Orange.
A Clockwork Orange is a beautiful film with fantastic music, fantastic acting, and an extremely creative story that asks one of the most profound questions possible for humanity. Overall I think i’ll have to agree with Alex that the movie is a 10/10.