A Clockwork Orange: Alex is one of the most interesting characters in the history of cinema

Table of Contents

Violence in A Clockwork Orange

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There are certain respectable people who are horrified when it comes to a Clockwork Orange because they think it is a violent film, that it is a film that spreads the evil among young people ready to imitate the violent attitudes proposed by the media. It is a possibility. For fragile minds, any seduction of evil is possible. Seeing a hijacker spreading panic in the city can also be a source of inspiration and imitation if you are cultivating negative energies within yourself. They are destructive energies that must find an outlet, but what you see outside of you is nothing more than a mirror of who you are. Your attention is mainly drawn to who you are in that moment, within you. This is why I am wary of those who say that A Clockwork Orange is a violent, uneducational and dangerous film. 

Instead of seeing the great possibilities of expanding awareness and Burgess and Kubrick’s great reflection on the more controversial aspects of civilization, the person simply notices the violent aspect. But to raise one’s level of awareness the violent aspect must be considered, it cannot be ignored. We live in a military universe: nature is organized with rigid universal laws and is sometimes violent, the society we live in is violent, the television we have in the living room that we turn on every night is a propagator of violence. The film and the novel A Clockwork Orange develop one of the most profound, moving and simple to understand discourses ever made against violence: it is a discourse that concerns every human being, because every existential path, at a certain point, must face certain themes. 

A Clockwork Orange and mind control

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Obviously not everyone, fortunately, undergoes such violent experiences as in A Clockwork Orange: but education, the subtle systems that society offers through illusory freedoms, persuasion techniques, the dominant values ​​of environment in which we live are things that no one can avoid confronting. That’s why when someone gives a negative opinion of this work of art comparing it to the latest splatter video game, I am thrilled. I am thrilled because the strength of Kubrick’s film, more than the novel, is to denounce the violence of the individual in society, and vice versa, with a narrative linearity and an extraordinary simplicity, typical of the story in the form of a parable. 

A Clockwork Orange is by no means a violent film even from an aesthetic and cinematic point of view. Violence is never an end in itself but inserted in a discourse of the highest social, philosophical and spiritual level. The news you see every night, that’s violent, and even if you don’t notice it ruins your life. The news is the enemy that ruins your life, while A Clockwork Orange is the parable that can make you a better person, which brings you reflections of the highest level. Whoever does not know how to recognize violence as an end in itself does not even know how to recognize its enemies. 

Alex DeLarge and the representation of the dark side

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There are people who are at such a low level of awareness that they have not yet integrated their dark side and project it outside on a cinema screen. Rejecting the dark side is a bad choice, because it is the best raw material from which creativity comes, art is civilization. The dark side is our greatest asset, it is our best chance to sublimate negative emotions and actions, aggression and violence. Denying it won’t do you any good, just accumulating it inside you until there is an explosion. And each explosion will drag you to lower and lower levels. 

A Clockwork Orange is a film that gives the opportunity to observe our dark side and that of society with an accuracy of data and a closeness to the Truth capable of transcending space and time. The story of Alex Delarge and his friends, thugs for fun and free choice, is not just the story of four violent young men in 1970s London: it could be set in any space and at any time. 

Political choices of repression of freedom of choice and brainwashing are the themes that span 5000 years of human civilization. Kubrick’s philosophical, spiritual and social treatise therefore deserves the utmost respect because it is a work of art that goes in the direction of the development of civilization, bringing a greater understanding of very complex themes with the simplicity of cinema. 

There are many films or video games that propagate violence for its own sake and are dangerous. Thousands of video games and movies that have the psychological depth suitable for a hamster’s mind. This is not the case with A Clockwork Orange, which is one of the greatest artistic peaks in the history of cinema. It seems quite obvious to me. And failing to discern the two categories is worrying. 

Below is an open letter from Anthony Burgess, the writer of the novel, who after seeing Kubrick’s film writes to defend him from accusations of inciting violence. 

A letter from the writer of Anthony Burgess

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In defense of the artist’s freedom

A Clockwork OrangeI saw Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange in New York: to enter I had to elbow like everyone else. It seemed to me that the show deserved a lot of crowds: it is in all respects a film by Kubrick, technically brilliant, witty, punctual, poetic, capable of opening up new perspectives to the spirit. I was able to look at the film as a total reconstruction of my novel, and not as a simple interpretation; it is not too far off to say that this is Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and this is the greatest homage I can pay to the director’s mastery.

But the fact remains that the film was born from a book, and I believe that some observations on the film inevitably concern me. In philosophical as well as theological terms, Kubrick’s orange is the fruit of my tree. I wrote A Clockwork Orange a long time ago, in 1961, and I have some difficulty in providing explanations on that far-away writer who, having to earn a living, had come to produce five novels (including this one) in fourteen months. The title is the easiest thing to explain. In 1945, on my way back from the front, in a London pub I heard an eighty-year-old cockney saying about someone that he was “high as a clockwork orange”. The expression intrigued me for the extravagant mix of popular and surreal language.

For almost twenty years I wanted to use it as a title for some of my works: I then had the opportunity when I conceived the project to write a novel about brainwashing. The British press had spoken with some insistence of the increase in crime. Young people in the late 1950s were agitated and mean, dissatisfied with the postwar world, violent and destructive, and it is to them (as they are more recognizable than the criminals of yore) that so many refer when they talk about growing crime.

What to do with these guys? Prison or reformers only make them worse: so why not save taxpayers’ money by subjecting them to easy conditioning, a sort of disgust therapy, which generates in them an association between the act of violence and malaise, nausea. , or even evocations of death? Many approved of this proposal (which at the time was not a government proposal, but simply an idea expressed by individual theorists, however influential).

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A Clockwork Orange was supposed to be a sort of manifesto, even a sermon, on the importance of being able to choose. My hero, or anti-hero, Alex, is truly evil, on a level perhaps inconceivable, but his wickedness is not the product of theoretical or social conditioning – it is his personal undertaking, which he embarked on in full lucidity. Alex is bad, and not just backslidden, so in a properly organized society cruel actions like his must be punished.

However, his wickedness is human: in aggressive acts we can recognize potentialities present in us, which for the non-criminal citizen materialize in war, in social inequity, in the wickedness that is exercised in the family, in the dreams that are cultivated in their own corner. Alex represents humanity in three ways: he is aggressive, he loves beauty, he uses language.

It is paradoxical that his name can be understood as “without a word”, while he has an entire invented vocabulary, his own, a group jargon. Yet he does not spend even a word on what concerns the management of the community, or the organization of the state: for him the latter is not a simple object, a distant thing like the moon, even if less passive.

From a theological point of view, evil is not measurable. Yet I believe in the principle that one action can be more evil than another, and that the ultimate evil act is dehumanization, the murder of the soul – which brings us back to talking about the choice between good actions. and bad. You impose on an individual the possibility of being one and only good, and you will kill his soul in the name of the supposed good of social stability.

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My parable and that of Kubrick want to affirm that a world of consciously assumed violence – chosen as a voluntary act – is preferable to a conditioned world, programmed to be good or harmless. In the film, as well as in the book, the evil done by the state, brainwashing Alex, is very spectacular. Alex loves Beethoven, and used the Ninth Symphony as a stimulus for his dreams of violence. This was his choice, but nothing would have prevented him from using that music as a simple consolation, or assuming it in the image of divine order. 

The fact that by the time the conditioning begins he has not yet made the best choice does not mean that he never will. But because of the disgust therapy, which associates Beethoven with violence, this choice is closed to him forever. It is a punishment that acts on an involuntary level, and is equivalent to robbing a man – a stupid and irrational act – of his right to enjoy the divine vision. What shocks both me and Kubrick is that some readers and viewers of A Clockwork Orange claim to have found gratuitous complacency in portraying violence, which transforms the work from a “social message” to mere pornography.

Of course, without the violence it would have been more pleasant, but the story of Alex’s amendment would have lost its strength if he could not be seen by what he was being corrected. For me, portraying the violence had to be a cathartic and charitable act at the same time, because my wife was the victim of cruel and reckless violence in London in 1942, at the time of the bombing: she was raped and beaten by three American deserters. Perhaps the readers of my book will remember that the author of the work entitled A Clockwork Orange is a writer whose wife was raped.

Some viewers of the film were upset that Alex, despite his cruelty, is still worthy of affection. But if we are willing to love mankind, we will have to love Alex as a still representative member. If A Clockwork Orange, like 1984, falls into the category of salutary literary – or cinematographic – warnings against indifference, morbid sensitivity and excessive trust in the state, then this work will have some value.

(Letter from Anthony Burgess sent to the Los Angeles Times on February 21, 1972 and subsequently appeared in Positif no. 139. In Italy it is attached as an appendix to the novel, Einaudi Tascabili, 351)

Fabio Del Greco

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