This is a rather strange film I’ve never been able to wrap my head around, I sometimes wonder if it is because of a time and place distance.
The movie seems to both condemn what it shows but also glorifies it, it takes way more glee in Alex’s escapades than most villain protagonist movies. It is also strange how restrained it is in some things, Alex aside from his nightime ultraviolence is almost nerdy.
I almost feel afraid that there is really some kind of alarmist nonsense at the heart of it, but then say how could a film this cool be that stupid.
I feel like the film is trying to make a point that I’m not getting.
They’re showing you the story of an irredeemably awful boy, from his point of view, and how a ham-handed legal system tries and fails to fix him. If you’re looking for a feel-good morality tale, this isn’t it.
Not what I was looking for, in fact not what I want. The thing is I can’t help feeling like I’m supposed to come away with some grand message, but I’m not getting it. I feel like the film is trying to say something but failing, or I’m not picking up on it because of time and space seperation or something.
You are missing something.
Anthony Burgess wrote the book in three parts, each one of 7 chapters making 21 chapters total. This was done as at the time, 21 represented the age of adulthood. In that 21st chapter, Alex “grows up” for lack of a better term and comtemplates marriage and a family. Thing is, this final chapter was excluded from the US version which eventually became the basis for the movie.
You are right that the violence is glorified on some level. That glorification helps the viewer undestand what is attractive about the life and what is taken away from him when he is ‘cured.’ It’s brilliantly subversive and the underlying themes are truly distrubing.
Yes. Another theme for me is Unintended Consequences. Alex is a horrible person, yes, in ways large (murder, rape, theft) and small (a liar, truant, keeping a snake stuck in a dark box most of the time) but he does have one minor redeeming quality: his love for Beethoven. We can’t help but think that someone who loves such glorious music can’t be all bad, and maybe he is worth saving. But the “cure” takes that away from him. He’s forced to never do violence again, but can no longer listen to the music he loved, and even tries to commit suicide when he’s forced to hear it. To me that’s the saddest thing about the character.
I’ve always found it interesting that while there’s no doubt whatsoever that Alex is a hateful monster during the first part of the movie, you (well, I) feel sorry for him after he’s let out of prison, when he finds his old room taken, he’s beat up by his former droogs (who of course are now policemen) and is driven to a suicide attempt by the one person who quite rightly wants revenge. It’s mainly a testament to Malcolm McDowell’s acting.
The triumph was Kubrick’s; McDowell was never in anything remotely as good for the rest of his career, mainly because he never worked with a top-drawer director again. Kubrick’s movies have never been about naturalistic acting so much as Big Ideas and great lighting and staging. (I don’t want to single McDowell out for this; Kier Dullea, Matthew Modine and Ryan O’Neal were never in anything as great as their Kubrick films. George C. Scott was, but he was kind of an outlier. Kirk Douglas uniquely starred in two Kubrick films, but he had a pretty distinguished career behind him, for the most part.)
The “grand message” is that it can be as great and hubristic a sin to destroy a monster as to create one, if you do so by trying to reprogram him or destroy his free will. This is hammered home by making Alex a classical-music aficionado – his one connection to higher, beautiful things, as it were – and then having his violence-aversion treatment also incidentally separate him from that. (In the book, the treatment makes him phobic about all music, not just Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.)
One scene – a product of Kubrick’s imagination, not Burgess’ – always stays with me: Where the droogs come back to the milk bar after a fun evening of robbery, assault and rape, and Dim says to the drugged-milk-dispenser in the form of a naked woman, “How are you, Sherry [or whatever name he gave her]? Busy evening? We’ve been working hard, too. Excuse me.” [fills his cup from her nipple] Dim’s delivery here, his childlike innocence and gentle weariness in declaring this, when the audience knows exactly what kind of “work” they droogs have been up to. . . it’s just perfect, it’s a true Cinematic Moment of Zen. It’s the kind of thing that leaves one wondering in slackjawed awe, of the director, “How did he do that?!”
I’ve always maintained that the 21st chapter ruins the book. It reads like an awful “The bad guy cannot win” edit forced on him by the Hays Code. Like how at the end of every “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, if the actual story ended with the criminal succeeding, Alfred would always have to come on and state the police found him in the end.
A lot of different interpretations possible. Is that a good thing or a bad thing, I don’t know.
My interpretation of the end is that Alex, after much trial and tribulation, finally finds the sphere where a psychopath can be himself - politics. So much of the story up until then is driven by the government. His weird case officer, the run down place he lives, his old droogs becoming police officers, and of course the whole prison experience. The bigshot politician (was he the PM?) eventually recognizes the potential in Alex and brings him onto the staff where he will continue the uncaring policies and bizarre social experiments.
Nah, it just gives the book a nasty-twisty ending, which may be more dramatic, but isn’t what Burgess was saying. Eliminating the last chapter eliminates Burgess’s point that if a monster like Alex is to be redeemed–or if not redeemed, at least tamed into a decent excuse for a human being–the process can only come from his own free will, as human nature and maturity do what external forces like prison and the Ludovico treatment could not.
So, what you’re missing, perhaps, is that you reject this message at some subconscious level and then you wonder if there’s more to it than this.
I felt the same way when I saw the film. However, it appears the message is held as “morally right”. Even Anthony Burgess himself says:
“What I was trying to say was that it is better to be bad of one’s own free will than to be good through scientific brainwashing.”
What he was referring to as ‘scientific brainwashing’ is an aversion therapy that can cure a criminal in several weeks. However, highly functioning societies do have ‘scientific brainwashing’ methods it’s just they take longer and what I suspect he was objecting to was having an external force directing one’s (wrong or right) choices. He never explains the process by which an individual “decides” on wrong or right choice, he merely establishes that neither should be “directed”.
His little essay on what the story meant also contains an interesting discussion on free will and predestination within Catholic (himself) and Calvinist doctrines. I must say I was blown away how he was able to connect Catholic dogmas and the ideas in the book.
However, I’m not buying it. To me it’s a wrong moral dilemma.
Any individual is capable of doing wrong deed or good deed and the society does establish set of external forces that direct (or, brainwash) an individual in choosing a good deed. The way I see it, someone doing a wrong deed, one way or another, has certain psychopathic factors playing into it. Just the fact that such behaviour is marked as “psychopathic” is a brainwashing method imposed on an individual. Anyways, it’s much more complicated than this.
Try not to ignore the genuine glee in everyone’s face when the reprogramed Alek is under their power – the old beggar, not so much Alek’s parents, but definitely their boarder. Yes, obviously, his old drougs are going to be relentless, and the old man who’s wife committed suicide after her rape is likely to be seen as justifiably angry. But he really enjoying playing that boombox of classical music under Alek’s bed. We all demand to be safe from thugs in our life, but, if we had the advantage over them… can we be relied on to not be cruel?