Alternate Reading of a 'Clockwork Orange' by Stanley Kubrick

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A Clockwork Orange (2005) disturbs viewers because of its radically dark nature in depicting a futuristic reality, in which viewers refuse to want to believe. The dystopian world in which we are encapsulated in when we watch the film is highlighted through the presentation of good in opposition to evil, toxic masculinity and violence. My version of an alternate reading will be to look at this with the perspective of how this film successfully encourages modern cynicism. Modern cynicism is defined by Mazella as a general ‘disbelief, distrust, disillusionment or disenchantment on the broadest possible social scale’ (2007). Politics and culture are overlapping themes that stimulate viewers to distrust this fictional society; this is the very reason for the encouragement of modern cynicism. In A Clockwork Orange, society is warped into believing that psychological and social conditioning can ‘fix’ all the evil in the world, and in doing so, people believe they doing good. The prison pursues rehabilitation of their prisoners and prepare them for a conditioned societal life. Alexander DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) becomes the model prisoner by conforming to the set prison rules.

To be ‘free’ is human nature, however, prison is not nearly effective enough at curing criminal citizens. Thus, the Ludovico Technique is used, whereby Alex is conditioned to be physically ill when witnessing or thinking about violence. As the film is adapted from a novel, the author, Burgess, decisively believes that behaviour modification is unethical (Elsaessar 1976). This is highly embedded in the film. Once Alex is released from prison he cannot function in society and even attempts to commit suicide. The strain theory proposes that structural and environmental factors contribute to criminal behaviour (Elsaesser 1976). The solution of behaviour modification was initially sought to create ‘good’ through hypocritical execution, however we soon realise the immorality in violently changing its victim. This solution is in constant battle with a better solution; the disciplinary system should be focusing on the environment in which criminals are raised in, not on violent scientific techniques. The dystopian society brings out these detrimental questions of control and power, as well obligation and free-will through the extremities of a totalitarian dictatorship. In the film’s cynicism the spectator recognises the negative experiences, the failures and disappointments of his own everyday life; a hostile impulse is allowed to avenge itself on a hated and incomprehensible world.

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On the other hand, the sentimentality enshrines and reinstates those feelings, hopes and wish-fulfilling dreams whose impossibility and failure the cynicism confirms. This in itself is a vicious circle, but one that… [provides] a validation that functions as an important criterion of realism in the cinema: it ‘feels’ true to life (i.e. to one’s negative response). (Elsaessar 1976) As Elsaesser has explained here, it is a convicting narrative technique used to draw attention from viewers to explain how this warped society gradually takes away free will, causing ‘distrust’ and we would rather have free will than no will like Alex. Sexual violence towards women is used to display toxic masculinity in its deconstruction of the link between vision and narrative by repeatedly displaying scenes of debauchery. The lack of racial diversity and negative attitudes towards women is echoed in the dominantly masculine narrative and masculine voice-overs echoes the feeling of a misogynistic future dictatorship. During the first half an hour of the film, one of the first person voiceovers, Alex says he is ‘feeling a bit shagged and fagged and fashed, it having been an evening of some small energy expenditure, O my brothers, so we got rid of the auto and stopped off at the Korova for a nightcap’ (Kubrick 2005). This is the post-rape scene of a man’s wife in which Alex sexually abuses a woman in front of her husband. White male heteronormativity – all the characters are white; does this also display the lack of diversity in the future? Highly embedded in this futuristic society we can see that ‘Men don’t just have more roles, they also spend twice as much time on screen – this rises to nearly three times as much when, as most films do, the film has a male lead’ (Perez 2019). This is considerably true in A Clockwork Orange; the entire film is situated around males and a patriarchal society. Any time that women are introduced, they are dominated by men, or are portrayed as sex symbols.

For instance, the scene where Alex breaks into an elderly woman’s house, she can be seen in a room full of penis paraphernalia, this not only objectifies her, but the audience associates her as defying the conventions of society, which is why Alex has the need to try and stop her. This is another example of how ‘in the majority of Hollywood films, the gradual emancipation of real women is weakened by denigrated and harmless film images of women’ (Fol 2006). Though Kubrick is intentionally exposing the corrupt nature of this society through contributing to this statement, it is still true that no alternative woman is seen in the future. Both psychological and physical violence is raised as an issue that arises due to mental illness. The experimental psychological conditioning that Alex goes through may be considered modern cynicism, highlighting that Alex’s suicidal and violent actions are a cry for help. Alex lives in a society that does not care for the welfare of its citizens. The uncaring nature of society causes Alex to become the way he is; he unknowingly faces mental illness. Society does not stop him from committing the crimes he commits. Alex develops a personality that relies on violence. Techniques are performed on him that violate basic human rights and cause him to suffer from depression and contemplate suicide. Alex and his followers have no motive for the crimes they commit, just like the rest of society.

Mental illness within the society’s youth is a key contributing factor. In addition, the film leaves us in brutal disbelieve through its visuals of sadistic violence and casual depiction of rape and misogyny, and then transforming the perpetrator of these actions into a character of empathy. To illustrate this assertion, the narrative displays a pivotal scene, whereby the state performs experimental aversion therapy on Alex and publicly demonstrates its results. The demonstration scene invites the viewer to detect in its unfolding an operative distinction between theatrical and filmic reality impressions, to simultaneously envisage the mystification present in the story world and encourage the viewer to emotionally engage and enjoy the very presence of that mystification. Whereas the mise-en-scène (the equipment, the lighting and the setting) makes it clear to the viewer that both the treatment and the authority produced relies on the impenetrability of appearance; the scene raises this insight only to expose the uselessness and falsity of the comprehension of reality. Thus, the scene emotionally flatters a social consciousness that regards external reality with cynicism and resentment. The moral questions the audience wonder here are should we have free will? Should we have the option to choose evil? The finale of the film intends to be read retroactively against the preceding assumption and disavowal of torture and conditioning as ways to actively deal with the societal wrongs of perpetrators. We also must consider the ways in which sexism and violence are carried out; Kubrick offers the worst version of dealing with this, and in doing so offers a more proactive method, less radical and more socialist.

Viewers are therefore more inclined to this type of society and dissuaded from the lifestyle represented in the film. In conclusion, A Clockwork Orange encourages modern cynicism through the projection of violence and political views. The violence that Alex inflicts and that is inflicted on him caricatures the harsh and unjust society reflected in the film. With the police no longer caring for civilians and allowing gang members to join their forces, it is clear that they could be the reason that mental illness is prevalent. Also, the techniques used by the government to treat the prisoners, it only leads to far more cases, such as Alex, developing. With the complete lack of support by the government, it is understandable how Alex could have developed a personality so tailored to illness. This dissuasion the audience feels towards this fictional cinematic society is the first step towards modern cynicism; in opposing this totalitarian world, viewers are modern cynics. Kubrick’s stance on anti-Totalitarianism is enhanced through his use of filmic techniques, which ironically conditions viewers into distrusting this futuristic society. Thereby, this encourages modern cynicism by way of distrusting governmental strategies and dictatorships that are non-socialist and non-humane. It is certain that film creates a disturbingly amount of accuracy when projecting political views using the medium of radical film. Radical film reveals the systemic errors in our own culture, exemplified in A Clockwork Orange; projecting alternate views that the audience find more appealing.

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