A Clockwork Orange

Synopsis from IMDB:

Alex DeLarge leads a gang of “droogs” that go around at night and commit crimes and ultra violence, but he soon gets caught and has to serve 14 years in prison, yet 2 years later Alex volunteers to go with a new experiment called The “Ludovico Technique” which will cancel his prison sentence and release him as he would be cured from violent acts, but has no idea what troubles he will face now.

We will follow the lead of Kubrick in one his rare explanations of intent. To the charges of the film advocating a fascist aesthetic he stated:

I would reply that it is an irrelevant reading of the thesis, in fact an insensitive and inverted reading of the thesis, which, so far from advocating that fascism be given a second chance warns against the new psychedelic fascism — the eye-popping, multimedia, quadrasonic, drug-oriented conditioning of human beings by other beings — which many believe will usher in the forfeiture of human citizenship and the beginning of zombiedom.

EYES WIDE OPEN

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The eye of the camera opens on the eyes of Alex. What we encounter is an unflinching, malicious stare above a mocking smirk. The palpable brooding menace of this opening scene and the glint in the eye of the protagonist is the overture to what follows. This is the film announcing its challenge and provocation to the audience. Kubrick will draw us into the mind of a vicious hoodlum who makes no excuses for his behaviour and has willingly embraced criminal activity which transgresses the social order.

There is an indication of this transgression in the bowler hat and the overalls which the gang members or ‘droogs’ wear, which combines the uniform of the office worker and the manual labourer. The most controversial transgression of the social order is the passion for Beethoven expressed throughout the film by Alex and the associated use of classical music in the choreographed scenes of violence. Through the voiceover of Alex the film will examine the ideology of our time and the nature of cinematic representation within that system and direct its lucid gaze on the enshrined ethos of Liberalism.

 

A BIT OF THE OLD IN-OUT REAL SAVAGE LIKEa-clockwork-orange-4fdbc32f745f5

The eye of the camera slowly draws back to display the stage from which the violence and drama is launched. The Korova Milkbar, never described in the novel, is presented here in a cinematic still life symbolising an underlying layer of the social order. The scene is a psychedelic space with furniture in the shape of submissive female bodies. The clientele, with the exception of Alex, are stupefied and passive from drinking the synthetic milk described in the novel as inducing a fifteen minute hallucinatory paralysis or, if spiked with other chemicals, could ‘sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence’.

The names of the various drinks are splattered in gloopy white text on the back walls. Alex and his droogs are wearing white overalls with codpieces and the overall visual correlation with sperm/testosterone is subtle enough to imply a connection with sex and violence. This is the opiate of the regime, the pleasure-dome where the active ingredient of the droogs will spike the milk of human kindness circulating so ineffectively within a culture saturated with sex and violence but unable or unwilling to concede a connection. The film will begin probing the entwined roots of these social issues by unleashing the ‘eye-popping, multimedia, quadrasonic’ imagery and stylised violence to impregnate the dreaming mind of the audience.

The film itself is a part of the entertainment industry which plays its role in the bread and circuses of our culture. Kubrick is well aware of this and the female mannequins are the literal visualisation of ‘laid back’, an adjective applied to the hippie ethos of passive enjoyment and surrender, and used here to indicate the subject acquiescing in their own manipulation and ultimate enslavement to’the drug-oriented conditioning of human beings by other human beings‘. As the scene closes the camera  continues to draw back and we see that the last two mannequins have their legs open whereas the others were coupled, conjoined. This is the implication of collusion on the part of the viewer with the seduction of the cinematic experience.

It’s funny how the colours of the like real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.

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In the film there are numerous indications that the power of the State is weak and endangered. We learn that the night is the domain of predatory criminal gangs. Violence and vandalism is visible in the tower block where Alex lives with his parents who exert no control over him. A government minister talks of the need to clear the jails of common criminals to make way for political prisoners. The Ludovico technique is designed to reform the criminals and clean up the streets. Obviously if the technique proves successful with the common criminal there would no compunction not to modify it for use upon the political dissidents under the rhetoric of ‘de-radicalisation’.

The Ludovico  technique, the ‘crime-cure’, is, as Anthony Burgess states in the introduction to the novel, ‘the application of a mechanistic morality to a living organism’. This is the ‘Clockwork Orange’ of the title. It is also a clear indication of the rationalistic liberal conception which has superseded the concept of the political organism:

An organism either follows its own law, or it becomes ill. This is organic logic and governs all organisms, plant, animal, man, High Culture. They are either themselves, or they sicken and die. Not for them is the rational and logical view which says that whatever can be cogently written down into a system can then be foisted on to an organism. Rational thinking is merely one of the multifarious creations of organic life, and it cannot, being subsidiary, include the whole within its contemplation. It is limited and can only work in a certain way, and on material which is adapted to such treatment. The organism is the whole, however, and does not yield its secrets to a method which it develops out of its own adaptive ability to cope with non-organic problems it has to overcome. (Imperium Francis Parker Yockey)

The technique is based on Pavlovian association therapy and designed, in the words of the minister to ‘kill the criminal impulse, that’s all’. In fact the aim is not to kill but to redirect the impulse to its diametrically opposite expression; domination to submission, rebellion to conformity, violence to passivity and so on, in order to avoid the nausea that will be associated with the original impulse after treatment. The body and mind are conditioned into health as the doctor explains: ’ when we are healthy we respond to the hateful with fear and nausea’.

In this rational conception of the human we can also see the influence of Behaviourism, developed  by John B Watson, which posits the conditioned reflex as the basic building block of personality and the key to social engineering by scientific means. The moral dimension is irrelevant to this model of humanity. In its place is the installation of an inner policeman, the scientific creation of a conscience. If Alex reacts with aggression or lust he is filled with dread and nausea, ‘quick as a shot came the sickness, like a detective that had been watching around the corner and now followed to make his arrest’. As testimony to the omniscience of the State he is transformed into a mechanised subject.

The use of coercion by the State gives rise to the question of free will a subject broached by the Prison Chaplain:

Chaplain: Choice! The boy has not a real choice, has he? Self-interest, the fear of physical pain drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement. The insincerity was clear to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.

Minister: Padre, there are subtleties! We are not concerned with motives, with the higher ethics. We are concerned only with cutting down crime and with relieving the ghastly congestion in our prisons. He will be your true Christian, ready to turn the other cheek, ready to be crucified rather than crucify, sick to the heart at the thought of killing a fly. Reclamation! Joy before the angels of God! The point is that it works.

LET THE STORMY CLOUDS CHASE EVERYONE FROM THE PLACE

The savage glee in irrational and destructive acts depicted in the film, the concern for the aesthetic dimension of such acts, the cabaret of carnage and the delight in violence displayed in the assault upon the writer and his wife remove the depiction from the sphere of social realist cinema and locate it in a metaphysical domain. The notion of an active principle of evil is anathema to the rational model of a progressive society. The linear thinking of the progressive paradigm dogmatically insists upon a trajectory of ascent and improvement from barbarism and superstition to civilization and enlightened reason. A character such as Alex, whose criminal behavior confounds the social worker assigned to him, is an indictment of that paradigm:

‘What gets into you all? We study the problem. We’ve been studying it for damn well near a century yet we get no further with our studies. You’ve got a good home here, good loving parents. You’ve got not too bad of a brain. Is it some devil crawls inside of you?’

Anthony Burgess, like the Chaplain, clearly sees the issue through the eyes of the metaphysical scholastic:

By definition a human being is endowed with free will. He can use this to choose between good and evil. If he can only perform good or only perform evil then he is a clockwork orange – meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State. It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally evil. The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good in order that moral choice may operate. Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities. This is what the television news is about. Unfortunately there is so much original sin in us all that we find evil rather attractive. To devastate is easier and more spectacular than to create. (from the introduction to the novel)

Kubrick, in the scene with Alex and his social worker, takes the issue out of the realm of theology and makes visually manifest the underlying relationship of dominance and subservience, of homoerotic desires and self-deception, bureaucratic dehumanization and patronising  control. The position of Alex on the bed echoes the same ‘laid back’ position of submission and passivity as the female mannequins in the Korova Milkbar.

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This state of an inert object is the subject-citizen as conceived by the rational social paradigm: a broken machine part to be fixed and reinserted into the machinery of the State as soon as possible. The false teeth in the glass he mistakenly drinks from and his vitriolic spit in the face of Alex when he surrenders him to the prison system illustrates the artificial concern for the individual and the perversion of human relations within the Liberal State.

THE LIBERAL CUCKOLD

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Seemingly opposed to this treatment and its implications are the writer and his friends who wish to use the post-treatment Alex as a weapon in a liberal polemic against the overweening ambition of the State to shape human behaviour. As he explains  on the phone to one of his colleagues:

He can be the most potent weapon imaginable to ensure that the Government is not returned at the forthcoming election. The Government’s great boast, as you know sir, is the way they have dealt with crime in the last few months. Recruiting brutal young roughs into the police, proposing debilitating and will-sapping techniques of conditioning. Oh, we’ve seen it all before in other countries. The thin end of the wedge. Before we know where we are we shall have the full apparatus of totalitarianism. This young boy is a living witness to these diabolical proposals. The people, the common people, must know… must see! There are rare traditions of liberty to defend. The tradition of liberty is all. The common people will let it go! Oh, yes they will sell liberty for a quieter life. That is why they must be led, sir, driven… pushed!

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Interestingly, Kubrick visually depicts the writer as echoing a clockwork orange by his orange dressing gown and his wheelchair. The suggestion that he too is employing a mechanistic morality to the organic, or that he is in some way a product of the rational mentality responsible for the conception of the Ludovico treatment is worth exploring.

The middle of the 18th century is the beginning of the word liberalism and of the idea-complex ‘liberalism’. Since human nature is basically good there is no need to be strict with it, one can be ‘liberal’. This idea was derived from the English Sensualist philosophers. The Social Contract theory of Rousseau originated with the Englishman Locke in the previous century.  All Liberalism predicates a sensualist, materialistic philosophy. Such philosophies are rationalistic in tendency, and Liberalism is simply one variety of politically applied rationalism.                                          (Imperium Francis Parker Yockey)

The central tenet is liberty, which in practice is freedom from the bonds of cultural traditions which reflected and distilled the previous order and maintained social cohesion. The writer believes fervently that the ‘the tradition of Liberty is all’. But the liberation from the bonds of religion, hierarchy, family, etc creates chaos which entails the subsequent installation of an alternate order. The old dynastic and clerical tradition is replaced by the rational and  plutocratic reign of foundations and corporations. There is the rise of a professional class of scientific and economic elites, psychologists and advertisers, educational and social reforms, until finally society is reduced to a social engineering project, the manipulation of matter by a technocratic regime, ‘the application of a mechanistic morality to a living organism’ as Burgess describes it. The writer is complicit in the ushering in of a totalitarian materialistic conception, devoid of any transcendent quality, which may well lead to ‘the forfeiture of human citizenship and the beginning of zombiedom’.

There is a nihilistic element within Liberalism which invalidates it as a constructive movement. It is nothing but critique, negation, dissolution and dismantling. Kubrick has touched upon the contradictions of the writer defending the tradition of Liberty when Liberal thought has all but destroyed traditional institutions and undermined the conditions which provided some protection for the individual from the predations of the rich and powerful. The emancipation of the individual results in deracination and subsequent enslavement to the technocratic prison of modernity and its horrowshow sequel of post-modernity.The ‘zombiedom’ of a dumbed-down, spaced-out and sexed-up population is a consequence of the rationalist pursuit of ideological utopias articulated by the rhetoric of Liberalism.

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