I have heard different opinions of this movie. Some people condemn “A Clockwork Orange” to be an overly-violent, brutally sexual, and altogether pointless movie. Others praise the movie as a very important film in cinema and directing projects, and this is evident in the list of awards and recognitions it received. Personally, I agree with those who see the powerful meaning behind the elements of the movie that just seem offensive on the surface. If you watch the movie closely, you can see that there is more to the story line than a disturbing young man caught in a confusing web of society. Director Stanley Kubrick used the camera and sets as powerful tools in portraying the kind of world the characters are in, and the mood of Alexander de Large’s environment. The characters often sarcastically mirror the mindsets of figures in our society, in the government and in the church. This film excelled in the areas of allegory and metaphor, setting and directing, and satire and entertainment.
The first shot that you see in this film is a close-up of the disturbed main character named Alex, played by Malcolm McDowell. From the very beginning, the viewer is intrigued by the unusualness surrounding every aspect of the movie. But, aside from the strange feel, there are several things to uncover throughout much of the movie. The title itself is an abstract way to define the heart of the movie. The term “clockwork” in the title suggests a feeling of mechanical operation, and deeper, a conforming to society so that we behave in a way that is most suitable and acceptable to society. “Orange” is a contrasting term that simply defines the ordinary, unremarkable, and almost boring state of the human being.
As the story progresses, and we are shown just the type of character Alex is, the viewer is forced to observe the sad truths that there are people out there who have this mindset, and hurt others for the pleasure and satisfaction it brings. Now we’ve raised questions pertaining to the origin of this aspect of humanity. Are some people just born bad? Does it come from upbringing? Can we place all the blame on the parents? In this particular film, I believe it is to be understood that this is simply the person that Alex is, regardless of the seemingly loving environment that he has been brought up in.
Following the introduction of the characters are a few very graphic rape and violence scenes. As Alex and his “droogs” go out for some fun and “ultra-violence”, they come upon another gang trying to rape a woman and the gangs end up in a fight, for what looks like no reason at all. The set is important here, as it depicts a broken down opera house that you can tell was once a grand and beautiful place. The setting of this film is continuously depicted as the degenerated and corrupted world of the near future. Later on, Alex and his gang break in to a house and assault a couple, raping the woman and beating the man. There are mirrors in this scene that symbolize the fact that they have done this many times; this happens over and over again, It also accentuates the distress of the victims. The final scene in which the gang attacks is in the house of an old lady living with a bunch of cats. This Alex goes in alone and assaults the woman. The camera here switches to close-up and unsteady to show the chaos that is happening. Soon after this, Alex is betrayed by his gang and is caught by the police.
Alex is put into prison, and from the beginning of his arrest on, you can see the satire revolving around the police and government. An over-the-top sarcastic way of speech and way of walking about, it is a comical and entertaining element of the show. Another large example of satire is the whole process of the religion being incorporated into Alex’s sentence to try and reform him. There are a few points in which we think maybe he is changing a little bit. But this is dispelled when we see him reading the bible and only being fascinated by the sex and violence. Alex just wants to get out of jail, and soon he will be given an unusual opportunity to do this.
Up until the point when Alex is arrested, the sets have been colored very unusually. Bright colors and odd colors, from the set of the music store to his own attire. When Alex brings back two girls from that store, the film shows a high-speed orgy scene. It lasts a few seconds and then is cut back to Alex and his gang, where one of his droogs tries to confront him. The camera here moves very slow to contrast from the previous scenes and this captures the tension within the dialogue.
After all of the color and depressing clash and craziness of wardrobe, hair, and wallpaper, we are taken to the jailhouse. It is a much more boring, and real looking then the previous scenes. Alex eventually gets the chance to participate in an experiment to try and “fix” him so that he can get out of jail. The scientists and government are very eager to do this and make it successful for their own name, and so they go on with the project. The treatment that they give him makes him very sick whenever he comes across any form of sex or violence. The treatment happens to mix Beethoven in to this whole mess, so that Beethoven’s 9th as the same effect as sex and violence. Alex goes through many painful sessions of this treatment and when he has gone through enough, he is brought before an audience for a demonstration. We see here that the treatment has indeed worked, and there is no way that he will ever harm another again. So the problem is solved, right? The audience applauds the scientists and commends their accomplishment. Everyone except the religious leader that is. He come up front and argues that this was not a decision made by Alex and that he is still a bad person. He simply avoids these things because it makes him sick and the scientists have not reformed Alex at all. The response to this is that the concern was not for the personal reformation of Alex as a person, but to eliminate the harm he is doing and save the society around him from the trouble he would cause. So we have two contrasting points of view, and without forcing an opinion one way or the other, the film leaves the viewer to think for himself and decide where their personal priority should lie. Are they simply making machines out of human beings for a safer environment at the expense of a person’s free will and moral choice? Is the common good better than the personal or individual? These are all questions that the viewer is left to think about throughout the ending of the film.
After Alex is released, he is confronted by a lot of his former victims and is beaten by them. They clever effect here is that we see someone who is not doing any harm being beaten down and we tend to automatically feel sorry for him because he seems to be the victim, but some of us know that inside he is still the same person, he just can’t express his former impulses. We are shown upfront how deceptive a human can be and how contrasting one’s behavior can be from their real self inside. We are lead up until the ending scenes to think that maybe the treatment did do its purpose, and we confuse being right on the outside with being right on the inside. We see all of his former victims getting back at him and getting their revenge, and watching this, you are either thinking that he deserves this, or that he does not because he is different now. Even the music of Beethoven is used to torture him at the end. Something that he used to love has been distorted into something that gives him pain, another symbol of the distortion that has happened to Alex himself.
By the end of the movie, the viewer either has a definite opinion about Alex, or they are still confused about the story and whether he is a different person or not. The film is brilliant in this way because it is open and allows for an audience to think about the intrinsic questions and make up their own minds about what they think. Some viewers might sympathize with Alex by the end of the movie because he has been subjected to this terrible and superficial “reformation” and even though he is a criminal, he has been wronged. The government should be to blame. Other viewers might see the person that he is throughout the whole movie as unchanged. They do not sympathize with him, and think that he has deserved all of the consequences that have come from the treatment. They see the point that society is over-all better for it. There are many other perspectives to take on this film, but any way you look at it, this movie is very though-provoking and entertaining.
The viewer now has an opinion of Alex. Now we approach the end of the movie, as Alex is lying in bed after an accident caused by one of his former victims. He is talking and making a deal with a representative of the people who did the experiment on him. You can see the dialogue and behavior oozing with sarcasm and accentuating the levels that people can stoop to when they are afraid of endangering their own interests. The final scene is one in which we see Alex shaking hands with this guy and a vision that Alex is having in his head, one that depicts the original vulgarity of his criminal and vulgar self. This is a strong statement, and as Alex sarcastically states that he is a changed man, we can see that he is really the same person he always has been; he’s just been restricted in is behavior. This leads us to examine the importance of a person’s soul and choice in morality.
My personal observations after watching this movie is that we are all human beings that make up a society, not a society made up of human beings. Controlling crime is important, but not at the expense of sacrificing what it is that makes us human. Going down this path would lead humanity to be a huge system of “clockwork” -like behavior, and we would cease to be human beings. Personal choice is a freedom and a right, and there should be nothing that is put above moral choice in a person.