A Clockwork Orange (1971) – Film Analysis
August 20, 2011 5 Comments
A Clockwork Orange is another installment in the Kubrick canon, and ranks as yet another crucial film rife with deep social and psychological meanings. The film is adapted from the famous novel that places Alex DeLarge in a dystopian future where society has degenerated into a trashy, concrete mess. Gangs of thugs titled “droogs” run rampant, and Alex himself is a young gang leader. The film will raise the question of the use of mass pyschological warfare and control techniques from behaviorist psychology as a means for creating a populace controlled by a scientific elite.
Kubrick considered his film a piece of social satire that would question the notion of totalitarian regimes brainwashing the public into an android state. If the subject could be conditioned through a kind of shock therapy, the loss of willpower would ensue and the “droog” of the future – the future man, would be a controlled slave. However, my analysis differs from what you see in the typical approaches to reviews of clockwork. I think Kubrick presents another angle – a Nietzschian/elitist angle that the totalitarian scheme is, in fact, the norm.
In the opening milk-bar scene with the mannequins, the bar is full of sexual imagery. The film continues this motif throughout, combining sex with violence as the social norm. Alex’s parents are completely docile and impotent, having no idea of the actual state of world affairs. Strangely, Alex has an affinity for Beethoven, despite his predominate brutishness, which often plays over scenes of violence or sex, including rape.
Alex and his “droogs” engage in “ultra-violence,” and end up raping the wife of a liberal activist who opposes the state’s draconian control measures. Later, Alex attempts to rape a wealthy woman who lives in a country estate and is caught. What we see here is a prophetic view of the future of man’s world. A globalized, 1984-style slum, where a few elites and intelligentsia live outside the urban areas.
The intelligentsia like the writer and the behaviorist therapist seeking to cure Alex have a faulty view of human nature, and this is the key. The film is full of sexual (and other bodily function elements) images which display the fact that most men are led about by their bodily desires, and contribute nothing to society. The liberal activists and therapists continually try to make Alex a “productive” member of society and seek to influence him with religion and other salves. However, the crucial point of the film is that Alex remains Alex.
He begins a “droog” and ends a “droog.” As such the film becomes a powerful commentary on the unavoidable nature of classes. There will always be classes because there will always be well-bred and ill-bred men. Nietzsche wrote of master and slave morality, and that is appropriate here. The misguided placement of blame by the liberal writer ends up leading to his own demise, as the people he writes to defend and protect from what he views as the manipulative political class, end up raping his wife. In short, he has an unrealistic view of human nature and action, as do all “liberals.”
My view is confirmed by the fact that at the end, Alex is co-opted by the system, as he has been all along. Alex jumps out of a window and injures himself, becoming a martyr for the “people” (who hate the governing class), while the writer who captured and imprisoned Alex for raping his wife, is put away. Alex is then offered a job within the system, and is pictured with the politician who has offered to reimburse him. He then dreams of everyone watching him have sex in the snow. He chides that he was “cured alright.” In other words, having been run through cleansing/brainwashing of the system, he now becomes a cog in the system.
But all along, all he wanted was to continue his nihilistic savagery, and the final scene lets us know he hasn’t changed or been cured, just more adept at mischief. The politician and the therapist had made promises that “science” would “cure” Alex and make him a productive member of society. However, this failed, and Alex remains what he is – a monster. London recently exploded into riots run by a bunch of droogs. This was, of course, planned, and co-opted by the system as Alex and his droogs were. The system relies on the foolish utopianism of the masses to believe the lies they are told, particularly when it comes to “science” perfecting man, and making him into a “new man.”
No, no human means of do-goodery or feel-goodiness will ever perfect man or make him into the state’s archetype. Men are either well-born and well-bred, or they are savage. So no, no mystical esoteric doctrines here, aside from the fact that film’s imagery stresses the eye at the top of the pyramid, and given my analysis, I think it means the elite view is that there will always be a caste. You can’t change the nature of man, and no amount of blaming society or other ills, will ever lead to the “curing” of man in this world. Understanding this is understanding the nature of the system itself. As a friend pointed out, an orange is organic, and to try to treat it like a machine (clockwork), is a failed enterprise.