There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. The Korova milkbar sold milk-plus, milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence.
There was nothing I hated more than to see a filthy old drunkie, a-howling away at the filthy songs of his fathers and going blurp blurp in between as if it were a filthy old orchestra in his stinking rotten guts. I could never stand to see anyone like that, especially when they were old like this one was.
So now it was to be Georgie the General, saying what we should do and what not to do, with Dim as his mindless grinning bulldog. But then I viddied that thinking is for the gloopy ones and the oomny ones use, like, inspiration and what Bog sends. For now it was lovely music that came to my aid, there was a window open with the stereo on and I viddied right at once what to do.

Where I was taken to, brothers, was like no sinny I ever viddied before. I was bound up in a straitjacket and my gulliver was strapped to a headrest with like wires running away from it. Then they clamped like lidlocks on my eyes so that I could not shut them no matter how hard I tried. It seemed a bit crazy to me, but I let them get on with what they wanted to get on with. If I was to be a free young malchick again in a fortnight’s time, I would put up with much in the meantime, O my brothers.

So far, the first film was a very good, professional piece of sinny, like it was done in Hollywood. The sounds were real horrorshow. You could slooshy the screams and moans very realistic, and you could even get the heavy breathing and panting of the tolchocking malchicks at the same time. And then, what do you know, soon our dear old friend, the red, red vino on tap, the same in all places like it’s put out by the same big firm, began to flow. It was beautiful. It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.

Now all the time I was watching this, I was beginning to get very aware of like not feeling all that well, and this I put down to all the rich food and vitamins, but I tried to forget this, concentrating on the next film which jumped right away on a young devotchka who was being given the old in-out, in-out first by one malchick, then another, then another...When it came to the sixth or seventh malchick, leering and smecking and then going into it, I began to feel really sick. But I could not shut my glazzies. And even if I tried to move my glazz-balls about, I still could not get out of the line of fire of this picture.

You’ve proved to me that all this ultra-violence and killing is wrong, wrong, and terribly wrong. I’ve learned my lesson, sir. I see now what I’ve never seen before. I’m cured, praise God!...I see that it’s wrong! It’s wrong because it’s like against society. It’s wrong because everybody has the right to live and be happy without being tolchocked and knifed.

Evidence of the ol’ glassies! Nothing up our sleeves, no magic little Alex! A job for two who are now of job age! The police!
She was very badly raped, you see! We were assaulted by a gang of vicious, young, hoodlums in this house! In this very room you are sitting in now! I was left a helpless cripple, but for her the agony was too great! The doctor said it was pneumonia; because it happened some months later! During a flu epidemic! The doctors told me it was pneumonia, but I knew what it was! A victim of the modern age! Poor, poor girl!
We always help our friends, don’t we? It is no secret that this Government has lost a lot of popularity because of you, my boy. There are some who think that at the next election, we shall be out. The press has chosen to take a very unfavorable view of what we tried to do. But public opinion has a way of changing, and you...you can be instrumental in changing the public’s verdict.

I was cured all right.

        

     “The adventures of little Alex in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (1962) have become a near archetype in popular culture. The cult of Thug the Aesthete, born in a bolshy great apartment block in some future socialist hell is alive in our revisionist beliefs in the Family, the posse, the license to kill in the modern age. We prefer our worst sociopaths, the ones from our movies, literature, and imaginations, to have a preternatural connection to and appreciation of great beauty, or art. We want to see a refinement in our natural born killers, and even a beauty, perhaps because of the demented fear that the human who is beyond good and evil puts in us, or perhaps because of the stratum of violence our souls is grounded in. Perhaps the Great Victimizer tells us we really do love our deaths, as well as those who kill.

     “And we do love Alex. He’s a wise guy, a wordsmith with a gift for irony, and a refined appreciation for classical music. The mysteries of his language, his argot, hint at the exotic. Why all the Russian words? Were they brought back from a war, or the product of an occupation, or a New World Order? Alex is a leader in a bad place, of bad people doing bad things. He is a pure sociopath, a condition we see as a supernatural state, which we try to see as a transcendent manifestation of purity. We do not want to think about sadism, or the ugliness of violence. He is the Young Man of his age, following his own peculiar evolution, his particular reflection of his times.

     “Burgess asks some hard questions, from the obvious ponderings on violence in society to plumbing the depths of free will. Is it a sin to be violent, in a violent society? What special dispensation does the State have to use violence to run a tidy country? Is it better to choose to be bad than to be forced to be good? And the city of A Clockwork Orange is not some weird, future country, but something easily accepted as being, now or then. The vision of a State-abetted cycle of violence, from the home, to the school, to the street, to the prison, and finally back to the street again, a sociopath production system, is as disturbing now as it was in 1962.

     “This book also holds a Secret. The American editions left off a crucial twenty-first chapter, Alex’s coda. With Alex a few years older, Burgess stages a reprise of the first chapter. Alex still runs with his droogies, but it’s just not the same for him anymore. He is a salary man, rueing his wasted youth, his companions living in the “adult” world. He wants to get married, and have a son. The American publishers made it clear to Burgess that this “soft”, “English” ending was not necessary for American audiences, who were all tough and worldly. The ending brings the story home, and makes the book more than a fable. And Alex muses on the role of youth, and the journey to adulthood, bringing it all home to the question of free will. Kids will be kids, in ever more horrible ways, and there is little their parents can do to stop them. Alex vows to show his own son the foolishness of the wind-up, clockwork rituals of youth in a soulless urban society, that he may learn to choose a better way. This is a returning to the responsibility of the individual to make society a better place.

     “This is not a soft ending.”

Film critic, Pauline Kael, writes a lot about how little she thinks of Kubrick’s creation.

Literal-minded in its sex and brutality, Teutonic in its humor, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange might be the work of a strict and exacting German professor who set out to make a porno-violent sci-fi Comedy. Is there anything sadder — and ultimately more repellent — than a clean-minded pornographer? The numerous rapes and beatings have no ferocity and no sensuality; they’re frigidly, pedantically calculated, and because there is no motivating emotion, the viewer may experience them as an indignity and wish to leave. The movie follows the Anthony Burgess novel so closely that the book might have served as the script, yet that thick-skulled German professor may be Dr. Strangelove himself, because the meanings are turned around.

Burgess’s 1962 novel is set in a vaguely Socialist future (roughly, the late seventies or early eighties) — a dreary, routinized England that roving gangs of teenage thugs terrorize at night. In perceiving the amoral destructive potential of youth gangs, Burgess’s ironic fable differs from Orwell’s 1984 in a way that already seems prophetically accurate. The novel is narrated by the leader of one of these gangs — Alex, a conscienceless schoolboy sadist — and, in a witty, extraordinarily sustained literary conceit, narrated in his own slang (Nadsat, the teenagers’ special dialect). The book is a fast read; Burgess, a composer turned novelist, has an eubellient, musical sense of language, and you pick up the meanings of the strange words as the prose rhythms speed you along. Alex enjoys stealing, stomping, raping, and destroying until he kills a woman and is sent to prison for fourteen years. After serving two, he arranges to get out by submitting to an experiment in conditioning, and he is turned into a moral robot who becomes nauseated at thoughts of sex and violence. Released when he is harmless, he falls prey to his former victims, who beat him and torment him until he attempts suicide. This leads to criticism of the government that robotized him — turned him into a clockwork orange — and he is deconditioned, becoming once again a thug, and now at loose and triumphant. The ironies are protean, but Burgess is clearly a humanist; his point of view is that of a Christian horrified by the possibilities of a society turned clockwork orange, in which life is so mechanized that men lose their capacity for moral choice. There seems to be no way in this boring, dehumanizing society for the boys to release their energies except in vandalism and crime; they do what they do as a matter of course. Alex the sadist is as mechanized a creature as Alex the good.

Stanley Kubrick’s Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is not so much an expression of how this society has lost its soul as he is a force pitted against the society, and by making the victims of the thugs more repulsive and contemptible than the thugs Kubrick has learned to love the punk sadist. The end is no longer the ironic triumph of a mechanized punk but a real triumph. Alex is the only likable person we see — his cynical bravado suggests a broad-nosed, working-class Olivier — more alive than anybody else in the movie, and younger and more attractive, and McDowell plays him exuberantly, with the power and slyness of a young Cagney. Despite what Alex does at the beginning, McDowell makes you root for his foxiness, for his crookedness. For most of the movie, we see him tortured and beaten and humiliated, so when his bold, aggressive punk’s nature is restored to him it seems not a joke on all of us but, rather, a victory in which we share, and Kubrick takes an exultant tone. The look in Alex’s eyes at the end tells us that he isn’t just a mechanized, choiceless sadist but prefers sadism and knows he can get by with it. Far from being a little parable about the dangers of soullessness and the horrors of force, whether employed by individuals against each other or by society in “conditioning,” the movie becomes a vindication of Alex, saying that the punk was a free human being and only the good Alex was a robot.

The trick of making the attacked less human than their attackers, so you feel no sympathy for them, is, I think, symptomatic of a new attitude in movies. This attitude says there’s no moral difference. Stanley Kubrick has assumed the deformed, self-righteous perspective of a vicious young 5 punk who says, “Everything’s rotten. Why shouldn’t I do what I want? They’re worse than I am.” In the new mood (perhaps movies in their cumulative effect are partly responsible for it), people want to believe the hyperbolic worst, want to believe in the degradation of the victims — that they are dupes and phonies and weaklings. I can’t accept that Kubrick is merely reflecting this post-assassinations, post-Manson mood; I think he’s catering to it. I think he wants to dig it.

This picture plays with violence in an intellectually seductive way. And though it has no depth, it’s done in such a slow, heavy style that those prepared to like it can treat its puzzling aspects as oracular. It can easily be construed as an ambiguous mystery play, a visionary warning against “the Establishment.” There are a million ways to justify identifying with Alex: Alex is fighting repression; he’s alone against the system. What he does isn’t nearly as bad as what the government does (both in the movie and in the United States now). Why shouldn’t he be violent? That’s all the Establishment has ever taught him (and us) to be. The point of the book was that we must be as men, that we must be able to take responsibility for what we are. The point of the movie is much more au courant. Kubrick has removed many of the obstacles to our identifying with Alex; the Alex of the book has had his personal habits cleaned up a bit — his fondness for squishing small animals under his tires, his taste for ten-year-old girls, his beating up of other prisoners, and so on. And Kubrick aids the identification with Alex by small directorial choices throughout. The writer whom Alex cripples (Patrick Magee) and the woman he kills are cartoon nasties with upper class accents a mile wide. (Magee has been encouraged to act like a bathetic madman; he seems to be preparing for a career in horror movies.) Burgess gave us society through Alex’s eyes, and so the vision was deformed, and Kubrick, carrying over from Dr. Strangelove his joky adolescent view of hypocritical, sexually dirty authority figures and extending it to all adults, has added an extra layer of deformity. The “straight” people are far more twisted than Alex; they seem inhuman and incapable of suffering. He alone suffers. And how he suffers! He’s a male Little Nell — screaming in a straitjacket during the brainwashing; sweet and helpless when rejected by his parents; alone, weeping, on a bridge; beaten, bleeding lost in a rainstorm; pounding his head on a floor and crying for death. Kubrick pours on the hearts and flowers; what is done to Alex is far worse than what Alex has done, so society itself can be felt to justify Alex’s hoodlumism.

The movie’s confusing — and, finally, corrupt — morality is not, however, what makes it such an abhorrent viewing experience. It is offensive long before one perceives where it is heading, because it has no shadings. Kubrick, a director with an arctic spirit, is determined to be pornographic, and he has no talent for it. In Los Olvidados, Buñuel showed teenagers committing horrible brutalities, and even though you had no illusions about their victims — one, in particular, was a foul old lecher — you were appalled. Buñuel makes you understand the pornography of brutality: the pornography is in what human beings are capable of doing to other human beings. Kubrick has always been one of the least sensual and least erotic of directors, and his attempts here at phallic humor are like a professor’s lead balloons. He tries to work up kicky violent scenes, carefully estranging you from the victims so that you can enjoy the rapes and beatings. But. I think one is more likely to feel cold antipathy toward the movie than horror at the violence — or enjoyment of it, either.

Kubrick’s martinet control is obvious in the terrible performances he gets from everybody but McDowell, and in the inexorable pacing. The film has a distinctive style of estrangement: gloating closeups, bright, hard-edge, third-degree lighting, and abnormally loud voices. It’s a style, all right — the movie doesn’t look like other movies, or sound like them — but it’s a leering, portentous style. After the balletic brawling of the teenage gangs, with bodies flying as in a Westem saloon fight, and after the gang-bang of the writer’s wife and an orgy in speeded-up motion, you’re primed for more action, but you’re left stranded in the prison sections, trying to find some humor in tired schoolboy jokes about a Hitlerian guard. The movie retains a little of the slangy Nadsat but none of the fast rhythms of Burgess’s prose, and so the dialect seems much more arch than it does in the book. Many of the dialogue sequences go on and on, into a stupor of inactivity. Kubrick seems infatuated with the hypnotic possibilities of static setups; at times you feel as if you were trapped in front of the frames of a comic strip for a numbing ten minutes per frame. When Alex’s correctional officer visits his home and he and Alex sit on a bed, the camera sits on the two of them. When Alex comes home from prison, his parents and the lodger who has displaced him are in the living room; Alex appeals to his seated, unloving parents for an inert eternity. Long after we’ve got the point, the composition is still telling us to appreciate its cleverness. This ponderous technique is hardly leavened by the structural use of classical music to characterize the sequences; each sequence is scored to Purcell (synthesized on a Moog), Rossini, or Beethoven, while Elgar and others are used for brief satiric effects. In the book, the doctor who has devised the conditioning treatment explains why the horror images used in it are set to music: “It’s a useful emotional heightener.” But the whole damned movie is heightened this way; yes, the music is effective, but the effect is self-important.

When I pass a newsstand and see the saintly, bearded, intellectual Kubrick on the cover of Saturday Review, I wonder: Do people notice things like the way Kubrick cuts to the rival teenage gang before Alex and his hoods arrive to fight them, just so we can have the pleasure of watching that gang strip the struggling girl they mean to rape? Alex’s voice is on the track announcing his arrival, but Kubrick can’t wait for Alex to arrive, because then he couldn’t show us as much. That girl is stripped for our benefit; it’s the purest exploitation. Yet this film lusts for greatness, and I’m not sure that Kubrick knows how to make simple movies anymore, or that he cares to, either. I don’t know how consciously he has thrown this film to youth; maybe he’s more of a showman than he lets on — a lucky showman with opportunism built into the cells of his body. The film can work at a pop-fantasy level for a young audience already prepared to accept Alex’s view of the society, ready to believe that that’s how it is.

At the movies, we are gradually being conditioned to accept violence as a sensual pleasure. The directors used to say they were showing us its real face and how ugly it was in order to sensitize us to its horrors. You don’t have to be very keen to see that they are now in fact de-sensitizing us. They are saying that everyone is brutal, and the heroes must be as brutal as the villains or they turn into fools. There seems to be an assumption that if you’re offended by movie brutality, you are somehow playing into the hands of the people who want censorship. But this would deny those of us who don’t believe in censorship the use of the only counterbalance: the freedom of the press to say that there’s anything conceivably damaging in these films — the freedom to analyze their implications. If we don’t use this critical freedom, we are implicitly saying that no brutality is too much for us — that only squares and people who believe in censorship are concerned with brutality. Actually, those who believe in censorship are primarily concerned with sex, and they generally worry about violence only when it’s eroticized. This means that practically no one raises the issue of the possible cumulative effects of movie brutality. Yet surely, when night after night atrocities are served up to us as entertainment, it’s worth some anxiety. We become clockwork oranges if we accept all this pop culture without asking what’s in it. How can people go on talking about the dazzling brilliance of movies and not notice that the directors are sucking up to the thugs in the audience?

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