Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is a masterpiece of modern cinema. It is a dystopian satire of the conformity that pervades modern society. It shows that such conformity essentially steals a person’s humanness and indeed his or her spirit. The film creates an allegory of this aforementioned theft by juxtaposing the human being in his or her natural state versus the human being who is coerced into total supplication to the social norms. The main character and narrator of A Clockwork Orange, Alexander, is himself that allegory.
The plot of A Clockwork Orange has three distinct parts: (1) introduction, (2) reformation, and (3) resolution. In introduction, Alexander is shown in his natural state, where he is totality uninhibited by laws and social norms. In reformation, Alexander is arrested and found guilty of murder. In prison, Alexander is chosen for a psychological experiment that conditions him against the thought of sex or violence. In resolution, Alexander is released from prison because he has completed the experiment, but the loss of his free will ultimately leads him to killing himself.
The film begins with a screen that is blood red, symbolic of both sex and violence, which is termed “ultra-violence” by Alexander. Alexander narrates that he and his Droogs (i.e., his gang) do “ultra-violence.” The rest of the introduction shows what is meant by that term. The Droogs meet an old drunken Irishman who is singing In Dublin’s Fair City and asks for charity. The drunken Irishman says that he does not care if he lives because there’s “no law and order anymore,” so life is not worth living. The Droogs find this amusing, and they laugh insanely as they beat the drunken Irishman with their bats. Later, Alexander and his Droogs at a derelict casino come across rival gangsters who are trying to rape a young woman. There is classical music playing in the background. Alexander and his Droogs fight the rival gangsters. Both sides laugh insanely and grin during the fight, which Alexander and his Droogs win and then flee because they hear sirens. Later, Alexander and his Droogs drive on a country road much faster than is allowed. They drive in the center of the road, forcing other cars off the road, wrecking havoc. Alexander calls this “playing Hogs of the Road” and says what he wants now is “the old surprise visit.” In this visit, the Droogs enter a random house in the isolated rural countryside, wherein they beat a man until breaking his back and then rape his wife in front of him; meanwhile, Alexander sings Dancing in the Rain.
These are spectacularly cruel acts of aggression, but they are combined with sex and music, both of which represent a person’s humanness. Sex is the human being’s primitive self. Sex represents a human being’s bodily urges. Such urges are what make human beings part of nature because animals, often called “lower animals,” also have such urges. And music is the human being’s rational self. An unintelligent creature is not capable of planning and creating a symphony of music, particularly the sort of music that Alexander likes (i.e., Beethoven’s symphonies).
Later, Alexander and his Droogs rob a house, in which they find a woman. Alexander struggles with her and kills her by smashing in her head with a phallic statue that is found in her house. By killing a person with a penis shaped statue, Alexander’s love of sex and violence is captured figuratively, but that also leads to Alexander’s capture literally.
Alexander is caught, there, by the police. He is then charged with and found guilty of murder. In prison, Alexander faces a fourteen year sentence. He wants to avoid the whole sentence, so he volunteers for a psychological experiment that holds the promise of reducing his prison sentence. He does not quite understand what is involved with this experiment. He is conditioned against sex and violence by being forced to watch films for hours that have a lot of sex and violence while being made ill. An unforeseen consequence of this is he is unable to enjoy Beethoven because one such film had a Beethoven soundtrack. The result of weeks of such conditioning is feeling physically ill whenever he feels sexual or violent urges; so much so indeed that he projectile vomits at the sight of a naked young woman, so Alexander’s “ultra-violence” is now impossible with his newly constructed psyche. Alexander has the same reaction to Beethoven’s ninth symphony. The prison priest objects to this, saying such conditioning steals Alexander’s free will and therefore his humanness. Thus, Alexander’s three loves—sex, violence, and Beethoven—are taken from him. Alexander no longer has his Id or Superego. Alexander is no longer human because he can’t experience bodily pleasure nor control his mind, even though he has both a body and mind. Nevertheless, Alexander is released from prison.
Once free, Alexander meets the people whom his previous self had wronged. He goes to his parents’ house, but he is unwelcome, so his aimlessly walks about London. He passes the drunken Irishman who he had beaten, and the drunken Irishman does the same to him, to which he is unable to respond. Police stop the beating, but the policemen are his former Droogs. They take him to the countryside and try to drown Alexander, but they are lazy, so they give up after a minute or two of Alexander struggling. Alexander does not know where he is, and he wonders into a house for help. That house happens to be the same house that Alexander had made “the old surprise visit.” Alexander meets the crippled man who now has a body builder carrying him about his house like a baby. Alexander tells the crippled man that the police beat him, so the crippled man shows him hospitality, offering him dinner and a bath, in which Alexander sings Dancing in the Rain. The crippled man recognizes that as the same song and voice that was sung as his wife, who’s since killed herself, was raped. The crippled man holds captive and tortures Alexander in his attic until Alexander kills himself by jumping out of a window. Before jumping, Alexander explains: “Suddenly, I viddied what I had to do next and what I had wanted to do. And that was to do myself in. To blast off forever out of this wicked, cruel world. One moment of pain, perhaps, and then sleep forever and ever.”
The final scene is of Alexander in a hospital room. A naked nurse and a doctor, then, pop out from the side of the room and notice that he is conscious. He narrates: “I came back to life after a long, black, black gap of what might have been a million years.” Alexander’s parents, doctors, friends, and public figures come to apologize to him. Alexander’s love of sex and violence has returned to him, but it’s not explained why that has happened; nor is it explained why everyone had such a change of heart toward Alexander, or how he survived and got to a hospital. Thus, Alexander is wrong. He has not come back to life, but, rather, he is returned to his natural state because he is in the afterlife.
A Clockwork Orange. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Perf. Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri, and Miriam Karlin. Polaris, 1971. Film.