AFInity: A Clockwork Orange

By Kim Hollis

October 23, 2009

Probably not the best spokesperson for the Got Milk campaign.

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Truth be told, I started out thinking it didn't have nearly the impact that it did then, though I suspect that's due to my growth as a human being and consumption of copious amounts of literature, music and film since that time. As a naïve college student, I hadn't had the opportunity to experience many classic films, and now that I have, A Clockwork Orange just looks very, very good as opposed to "Oh my gosh! It's the most amazing movie I have ever seen in my entire life!"

Even with that said, it's a movie that stays with me and keeps me pondering its ideas after the fact. Additionally, its usage of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony - both in its original and updated formats - has lodged the soundtrack and score solidly in my brain, and I'm having some trouble shooing it away.

The movie is set in a dystopian Britain, where gangs of young men flout the law and run about stealing, raping, assaulting, and generally engaging in whatever mayhem suits them. The film's central character is Alex DeLarge, the leader of such a gang. He appears to be deeply intelligent, but also psychotic. He revels in his anarchic splendor and seems to be completely lacking in remorse or conscience.


Alex's world is thrown into turmoil after he bludgeons a woman to death with a sculpture of a penis (yes, you read that correctly). Fed up with his cruelty (to them), his gang members betray him and throw drugged milk in his eyes, causing him to be temporarily blinded. Alex is arrested and sent to prison, where he volunteers for a revolutionary new rehabilitation process known as the Ludovico Technique. Effectively, he is drugged and then forced to watch videos of various violent acts, causing him to become ill whenever an urge to do "bad things" comes to his mind. The film circles around to showing Alex encountering many of the people he injured or wronged, and the consequences of these encounters are dire indeed.

One of the things that I truly admire about A Clockwork Orange is its examination of "goodness". It's certainly true that Alex is not a "good" person. He's a thief and a rapist who sponges off his parents and cares only for himself and his own pleasure. And yet, there may be only one person in the film who can truly be classified as "good". Obviously, none of Alex's friends are "good," even though two of them eventually become police officers. His parents turn away from him when he is released from prison and actually incapable of doing wrong - but also unable to defend himself. He's a pawn of a variety of political types who hope to turn his plight into a symbol for their various causes (there's no distinction between conservative and liberal here. All are guilty). The only person who really seems to have benevolent motives is a chaplain in the prison. He takes a genuine interest in Alex and seems to be trying to help him in his reform, and also strongly objects to the Ludovico Technique on the grounds that it eliminates free will. But ultimately, we do have to question whether Alex is indeed the most "evil" intended person in the film.

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