Philosophy, Fantasy and Film
1. Clockwork Film
was an extreme recluse and a devoted Anglophile (sometimes known as the 'Mad
Man of St. Albans') and he directed most of his films in
On the whole,
the intensity of Kubrick’s love for
technologically and visually stunning film, 2001: a Space Odyssey –
which was written in collaboration with Arthur C. Clarke – was made at Pinewood
Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s novel, A Clockwork Orange
(officially released in 1971) was made directly after 2001: a Space Odyssey.
This story is actually set in
The mechanism at work in the "Ludovico" conditioning technique, which aims at the prohibition of violence, is one which forces the individual to take up a diametrically opposed position to what they really desire. It is not to aim towards the good, but to choose the lesser of two evils – excruciating pain and nausea if one acts toward the fulfilment of the primary desire (violence) or fulfilment of the desire to nullify the pain by denying the primary desire (passivity). Thus, the question of effective choice becomes secondary, and the issue of ‘moral choice’ is completely nihilated. The story of A Clockwork Orange is narrated by a particularly vicious, but cultured, young man (a murderer) by the name of Alex who undergoes this conditioning in order to secure his release from prison. The technique involves strapping him into a chair in front of a cinema screen; his head is prevented from moving so that it is impossible for him to turn away from the images that are projected onto the screen ahead. Even his eyelids are held apart by clamps so that he cannot shut his eyes. A timed drug, administered earlier, kicks in at the moment that violent acts are portrayed on film, which produces an extreme sensation of nausea. After repeated sessions, an unconscious correlation is gradually generated between the violence and the accompanying feeling of sickness. The result is that the ultra-violence, which was formerly pleasurable and exciting for Alex, becomes a torment to him and produces a profound agony that makes him feel as though he is going to ‘snuff it.’ The ‘treatment’ sounds quite simple and direct in its effects, but it becomes apparent that the methods of conditioning also produce side effects that the scientists had not effectively predicted.
Within the context of A Clockwork Orange, we are given a whole new definition of what it is to suffer for art – where Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is literally endowed with the power to kill because it has been used as a film score for a particularly nasty cinematic portrayal of violence. The unconscious correlation that is established goes somewhat further than the scientists had intended. It is at this point that we, the audience, are required to take a strong look at the issue of justice, the role of punishment and, interestingly enough, the theme of sin – which is invoked by Alex when he realizes that his treatment will make it impossible for him to enjoy Beethoven's choral symphony ever again. Although the conditioning is meant to absolve the subject from recrimination and punishment by the society whose laws have been transgressed by former crimes, there remains a frustrated element of unfulfilled revenge. The most poignant symbolization of this is played out in Patrick Magee’s brilliant performance as the writer who is beaten by Alex and forced to ‘viddy’ him practice the old ‘in out’ on his wife.
One of the most striking aspects of Burgess’s novel (which was published in 1962), is the gritty realism and colourful form of the colloquial expressions that mark the synthesis between British popular youth culture and the Slavic influence that has imprinted itself on the psyche of a post Russian occupied Britain (Nadsat slang). His extraordinary gift for synthesizing different linguistic forms and other pre-linguistic modes of communication is also seen at work in the film Quest for Fire (directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud – which depicts the rapid evolutionary development in humankind and the shift in the balance of power between different tribes in relation to the use and control of fire).
Kubrick’s cinematic version of A Clockwork Orange remains faithful to the style of Burgess’s unique use of language. The scenario is set in the not-too-distant-future after a period of Russian / communist occupation and so the political climate is in ferment. There are hints of a new wave of authoritarian rule, which is developing new forms of population control. The principal protagonist and narrator, Alex (played by Malcolm McDowell) is a sadistic, young gang leader who spends most evenings on a violent rampage with three young men, whom he refers to as ‘Droogs.’ Although his taste in lifestyle is somewhat primitive and brutal, he has charisma, imagination, and a refined taste in music, with a particular passion for lovely, lovely Ludwig. The opening scene of the film introduces Alex and his Droogs sitting together in a bar as a prelude to a night of fun, which consists in brutally attacking an old man in a subway, inter-gang, armed violence, the theft of a car, and the aformentioned rape of a woman in her home (who later dies as a result of the mental scars), while her husband, who is savagely beaten, is forced to watch – or as Alex puts it, to "viddy well." The "ultraviolence" is choreographed to the song "Singin’ in the Rain" and while it generates much pleasure for Alex and his Droogs, the victim is left a cripple (and, ultimately, also a widower).
The black humour of the film is handled masterfully. Kubrick creates a tension throughout the film in which the audience is suspended between extreme shock and curious amusement. He also captures some of the characteristic style of British youth culture. At the time of the film’s release, the media made a great deal out of its negative influences and charged Kubrick with having created a narrative of visual savagery that was seeping into the psyche of contemporary youth and manifesting itself in street violence. The question is: did Kubrick’s film really cause this violence or did it merely expose or anticipate that which was already there below the surface of the strictly regimented style of the culture and politics of the British people?
(or soccer) hooliganism is globally infamous. It is perhaps significant that it
is so at odds with the British style of politeness and rigid moral conduct.
It is not
immediately apparent what Kubrick’s views were, regarding the role of art in
relation to violence, but he eventually withdrew the film from public
screenings after many violent threats were made against him and his family. He
was able to withdraw the film because he retained full distribution rights.
However, this was not a global withdrawal, but merely confined to
In the early
nineties, however, the Royal Shakespeare Company presented a series of live
performances of A Clockwork Orange in
2. The (Missing) Final Chapter
To see the important difference in emphasis at work in the film, as distinct from the novel, we need to look at the meaning of the title. The expression "a clockwork orange" has a number of different senses. Anthony Burgess liked the cockney expression "queer as a clockwork orange," which means nothing more than a general and absolute absurdity, like ‘a fish needing a bicycle.’ Additionally, The clockwork element has a very obvious meaning with respect to the Pavlovian behavioural conditioning treatment that the main protagonist, Alex elects to undergo in order to be released from prison. In his essay, "Clockwork oranges," Burgess writes, “When I began to write the book, I saw that this title would be appropriate for a story about the application of Pavlovian, or mechanical, laws to an organism which, like a fruit, was capable of colour and sweetness (1985. "Clockwork oranges," p.92).
also drew from his experience in
Yes, yes, yes, there it was.
Youth must go, ah yes. But youth is only being in a way like it might be an
animal. No, it is not just like being an animal so much as being like one of
those malenky toys you viddy being sold in the streets, like little chellovecks
made out of tin and with a spring inside and then a winding handle on the
outside and you wind it up grrr grrr and off it itties, like walking, O my
brothers. But it itties in a straight line and bangs straight into things bang
bang and it cannot help what it is doing. Being young is like being like one of
these malenky machines (Anthony Burgess. A Clockwork
If freedom of choice is set against external control, what about the non-volitional dimensions of human maturation that play a regulative role in the kinds of choices that one is motivated to make – which is to say, one’s internal unconscious drives? In the final chapter, the limits of responsibility regarding possible choices with respect to our own drives and the evolution of who we are as maturing individuals is taken into account. Choice, responsibility, and knowledge are bound up with the issue of freedom – which can never take place in a void. Alex’s perception of his elevation from the primitivism of his youthful predilection for "a bit of the old ultraviolence,’ simply becomes a matter of a change in ‘taste.’ The macrocosmic political meaning of mechanical conditioning, as an act against the individual is at odds with that sense of the ‘mechanical,’ which describes the atavistic tendencies in play in each individual that are always already at work in our actions and motivations. The child / id clockwork machine is the father of the man / ego (orang).
Alex perceives himself becoming more than clockwork – which is, in a sense, just another manifestation of the clockwork programme that always already pre-existed the human spirit and even "Bog Himself." There is regret, but there is never any sign of remorse. He finds that his desires and tastes are simply changing. He even begins to yearn to have his own child. However, the question remains as to how to teach the child to avoid his mistakes…
My son, my son. When I had my son I would explain all that to him when he was starry enough to understand. But then I knew he would not understand or want to understand at all and would do all the veshches I had done, yes perhaps even killing some poor starry forella surrounded with mewing kots and koshkas, and I would not be able to really stop him. And nor would he be able to stop his own son, brothers. And so it would itty on to like the end of the world, round and round and round, like some bolshy gigantic like chelloveck, like old Bog Himself (by courtesy of Korova Milkbar) turning and turning and turning a vonny grahzny orange in his gigantic rookers (Ibid.).
...But, what of responsibility?
...And, what of conscience?
* * *
We shall examine two more dystopic visions
of the future, concerning the issues of individual and population control: Nineteen
Eighty Four (VCV 1769) and