Visions of Pretty Polly Dancing in Kubrick’s Gulliver:
posted by Jen on 11/16/01
I didn’t dislike the movie at all. In fact, I used to be intrigued and amused by the futuristic clothing, the Anglo-Russian dialect, the self-important Mr. Deltoid, the intentional contrasts of good and evil, the mal-formed lollipops and the psychedelic record store, and the classical music backdrop. The acting was nothing short of phenomenal, the characters portrayed just about perfectly, from the band of droogs, to the prison wardens, to the minister, to the outliers. You could watch the movie and laugh for hours at Alex’s impish responses to the picture cards and the nurse holding them. Malcolm McDowell does a tremendous job as a most villainous criminal demanding both repulsion and sympathy. No, the movie in and of itself is not at fault.
A brief synopsis follows: Alex and his band of “droogs” willfully choose to perform evil acts against their fellow citizens, purely for their own entertainment purposes. Alex is the leader and most criminal of all the droogs, and he inflicts pain on them to prove it. They spend their nights first drinking Meloko Vellocet (milk laced with synthemesc and other drugs) to get themselves roused for a night of violence and mayhem and proceed with acts of “ultra-violence,” raping, pillaging, and murdering innocent victims.
OMG! Nude pic on the internet!
After his band of droogs grow tired of Alex’s reign of terror, they proceed to murder an innocent woman, break a glass bottle over his head, and ensure that he takes full responsibility for the crime. Alex is sent to jail and, after two years of non-corrective rehabilitation, opts for the “Ludovico technique.” This technique, one that Alex doesn’t know a thing about, is guaranteed to “get you out of prison” in two weeks.
What the unsuspecting Alex doesn’t realize, is that the Ludovico technique is actually an untested and highly dangerous form of behavioral treatment. Basically, the lab technicians strap him in a chair, place pincers in his eyes so he can’t shut them, and force him to view acts of violence. Which might sound like a pretty nice deal for malicious little Alex, but the scientists administer vomit-inducing drugs, which cause Alex to associate evildoings with being sick to his stomach.
and for your punishment...you will now be forced to watch One if By Land, Two if By Sea
When Alex ventures out into the world, his conscience is still impelled toward evil, yet he cannot act upon the evil because it creates a sick feeling in his stomach. So he becomes good entirely not by his own choice, but because being any other way would cause him physical discomfort. He gets beaten and abused by everyone in society whom he used to abuse, because he is physically incapable of defending himself (not because he consciously chooses to be good) and eventually winds up back on the operation table where doctors “un-program” his mind from the repulsion of evil. Alex returns to his original, malevolent self and proclaims, “Yes my brothers and sisters, I was cured.” The movie ends and we are left with the idea that Alex simply returned to his former state of complete wickedness and we are left to wonder if he’s now a free man who will proceed to rape and pillage and murder until he is caught again.
Only three logical conclusions draw from this ending:
1) Burgess is trying to show us that the aversion therapy was a sound tactic and should be redeployed to make Alex safe amongst the rest of society. Because with the aversion therapy, Alex was “good” and without it, Alex is “bad.” If you draw this conclusion, you concede that Burgess lauded the efforts of the government and that, a morally controlled Alex is better than a harm-doer. This conclusion is flawed, because Burgess never paints governmental figures as the ideal beings. Every governmental figure in both the book and the movie are amoral or blatant sadists…So obviously Burgess does not fall on the side of the government.
2) You might conclude that Burgess thinks that members of society, and not Alex, are inherently evil. He thinks that Alex’s brutality is actually helping to weed out the true villains in the world. This conclusion might hold weight if Burgess deliberately painted the victims as morally corrupt or evil…but Burgess takes victims from all ends of the socioeconomic spectrum…from the tattered-looking bum to the well-to-do art collector. Burgess even inserts himself as a victim in the movie, the terminally ill writer and husband of the latter. If Burgess were denouncing the common citizen, he would have spent more time with their own sins, with their own evil tendencies. It might have been an interesting theme to explore, but A Clockwork Orange was not intended to be parabolic.
3) Finally, you might conclude that Burgess advances the notion of government deregulation. If this were true, Burgess would then have to defend the merit of having Alex back among society instead of remaining imprisoned. Because as the movie ends, Alex’s basic moral character is completely unchanged and completely incapable of being changed. So if this conclusion were correct, Burgess would have to say it’s better to have Alex back among society, killing, murdering, and pillaging, than remaining in prison.
This sweet car...needs your sweet ass in it, baby.
After watching the movie and reading excerpts from the book, I just assumed this was Burgess’s intention. To confuse us, to make us wonder what his original intent was, and just to shrug with the satisfaction of having taken part in another one of those damn cult classics. But what I should have done, and what everyone who watches the movie should do, is read Chapter 21 of the novel before letting yourself be confused.
When Burgess originally wrote the novel, he divided it into three segments, each 7 chapters each. He deliberately picked 21 to symbolize the age of becoming a man, of having the ability to vote (figuratively, the ability to choose). The names in the book were deliberately chosen as well, Alex, appropriately, A-lex, or in Latin, a man without law. His full name was Alexander DeLarge or “Alexander the Great.” (www.filmsite.org/cloc.html). At the risk of analyzing what isn’t there, I’ve also convinced myself that his parents, named “Em” and “Pee,” were chosen to represent the letters M and P, with NO never uttered by either of them to their son. Because A-lex was without law and without proper instruction. The language chosen in the book, an obscure mixture of Anglo-Saxon and Russian, was both influenced by Burgess’s long sabbatical in Russia with his late wife and a testament to what he thought were the two most powerful languages of the time. (www.filmsite.org/cloc.html) When I first saw the movie, I just thought the Russian dialect was Burgess’s renunciation of the Russians, written at a time in history when Russians were evil (also, hence the profusion of bloody red imagery throughout the novel and movie). Yes, I read way too heavily into literature when it’s almost always irrelevant, but it’s fun that way. The costumes and scenery were deliberately timeless, promising that the events of the novel could take place at any point in history. For a novel as deliberate and planned as this, and as accurately covered in Kubrick’s remake…why would Burgess deliberately try to confound the reader/viewer at the end of the novel?
Because he didn’t. In his original novel, and the one that was NOT used in scripting the movie, Burgess wrote of a man who had become a changed man in chapter 21, and not through any sort of chemical dependency or governmental strong-arm. Alex had become good at the end of the novel purely of his own accord, because of an internal desire to choose good over evil, for its own moral value. Eliminating this last chapter in the novel so rapes the book of the original intention, it’s ridiculous. Burgess wanted to show us a fourth conclusion: that a totalitarian government state has incredibly harmful implications for society and individuals. Alex and, in a larger sense, all criminals, are capable of being reformed by their own means and inner desires. Any sort of governmental God-role is completely inappropriate, in the eyes of Burgess. While the government we all live under today doesn’t administer brain-washing techniques (that we know about) it still enforces the hand of God among citizens, namely, in the form of the death penalty. Yes, this novel or adaptations of the theme DO have relevance in our time.
The original version of A Clockwork Orange, complete with Chapter 21 and Alex’s subsequent moral transformation, as practical or impractical as it may have sounded, was the one that should have been published and the one Kubrick should have used for the direction and production of the movie. Because looking back at the movie, with Burgess’s original intent in mind, the ever-subtle struggle between good and evil becomes more apparent. Alex’s promise to the girls in the disc store, “Come with me. Hear angel trumpets and devil trombones. You are invited.” Alex’s facial expressions, half covered in dramatic eyelashes and an evil sneer, and half guileless and expressionless. Alex’s love of Beethoven amid a desire to kill and maim, a love for a most civilized and proper musician despite impulsion toward evil. Even his walk down the riverside with his droogs, the scene where Alex struggles with brutally beating his cronies or staying in a role of lessened power. Alex WAS born inherently evil, but there was a shred of decency in him and he was trying to find it somehow.
The trouble with watching A Clockwork Orange or reading the abridged novel is misinterpreting Anthony Burgess’s original intent. To mistakenly think he somehow condoned evil or even worse, to think he thought it was better to remove a man’s ability to choose, rather than willingly choose evil, would be completely to miss the point. If nothing else, read Chapter 21: (http://www.cs.waikato.ac.nz/~butting/kubrick/aco.21.html) to see how the theme in the book and, more popularly, the theme in the movie changes drastically. Because it’s great to appreciate the artistic accomplishments of both the abridged novel and the movie…but if you’re as big a fan as you claim to be, you should realize why it was written in the first place.