In his 1962 dystopian satire novel "A Clockwork Orange," writer Anthony Burgess positions a teenager as a perpetrator of extreme violence. This teenager in question, Alex, is a product of a youth subculture that views violent acts such as murder and assault as thrilling pastimes. Although an inevitable product of his society, Alex chooses this specific brand of "ultraviolence" over any functional moral compass, the same way he chooses to blast Beethoven when fantasizing about aggressive acts that culminate in violent rapture. But what happens when this choice to be a morally-vacuous delinquent is forcibly taken away? Burgess addresses this essential conflict between innate choice and free will in his brilliant novel, which Stanley Kubrick brings to life in his vividly profound adaptation of the same name.
Although Kubrick mostly took an auteurist approach to most of his adaptations, he was surprisingly faithful to the essence of Burgess' layered text. However, Kubrick completely omits the final chapter of the novel in favor of an ending in which Alex's mind state clearly establishes the failures of the state-sanctioned Ludovico treatment. While Kubrick's ending is fitting for climactic purposes, it completely betrays Burgess' authorial intent. The director obviously had strong reasons for doing so: Kubrick deemed Alex's genuine rehabilitation and remorse as unrealistic and abrupt, as it invalidated the character's arc and the novel's thematic layers.
In Kubrick's eyes, Alex DeLarge is incapable of authentic redemption. Although harsh, this interpretation is more in sync with the nature versus nurture debate that lies at the heart of "A Clockwork Orange." In the end, there is no "cure" for an individual who relishes in the idea of defiling human lives, and any attempt to psychologically coerce a more humane inclination will invariably fail. How does Kubrick weave in these thematic threads throughout the film?
The Mutation Of Organic Evil
When Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is first introduced, he is in a state of complete control and authority. Apart from skirting the repercussions of his serious crimes, Alex is the self-appointed leader of his gang of droogs, who share his proclivity for ultraviolence and act as a toxic echo chamber of extreme maladjustment and misogyny. There is no space for tender emotions in Alex's near-dystopian world. It is a state-controlled hegemony where violence is the dominant emotional outlet, which makes crime rampant, and the ones in control are as corrupt and twisted as the ones committing violent crimes. Although Alex is a reprehensible figure, his fate emerges as sympathetic to a certain extent if one functions under the understanding that true reform only comes from within. As Alex's rehabilitation is essentially a form of mind control and psychological torture, any change in his behavior post-treatment is inorganic and unsustainable in the long run.
The key to unlocking Alex's true nature is the conversation he has with the prison chaplain during a Bible study session. During this sequence, Alex fantasizes about the crucifixion of Christ while reveling in the violence inflicted from the perspective of a Roman soldier. Although Alex's violent fantasy can be considered sacrilegious in the context of his presence during Bible study, there is something bitterly honest about his heinous tendencies. Alex is organically evil, lulled naturally towards murderous impulses, and he does nothing to pretend otherwise.
This lack of social pretense paints him as almost naively honest, especially in the very next moment when he tells the chaplain he wants to be "good." Is this manipulation on Alex's part, or just a painfully vapid inability to understand what being "good" innately constitutes? In this case, it seems to be the latter.
A Shock To The Senses
The sequence in which Alex is forced into undergoing the Ludovico treatment is strangely fascinating, as it is a classic instance of nurture (in this case, torture) attempting to suppress nature (Alex's natural urges). Unable to even look away, as his eyes are stretched open, Alex has to consume copious amounts of violence and pornography while Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 is deliberately played on a loop. When Alex associates Beethoven with his messed-up fantasies, the act is willful, as he finds solace and ecstasy in a classical piece that allows him to reach a frenzy. In stark contrast, the Ludovico aversion therapy is a violation of his free will, a shock to the senses, which conditions his body/mind to feel sick at the mere mention of violence. Also, this aversion is extremely superficial, turning Alex into a –- drumroll — clockwork orange: an organic evil force to mechanically mimic "goodness."
The unraveling occurs fairly soon, however. After Alex is deemed reformed, he is asked to reintegrate into society, which only leads to him being (rightfully) beaten up by the people he tortured and almost being left for dead by his former droogs, who are now enforcers of the law. In a reversal of fortune, Alex is rescued by the same man whose house he broke into and whose wife he brutally assaulted — although Frank Alexander (Patrick Magee) does not recognize him, he intends to use his case to oppose the government. However, old habits die hard: Alex, in a moment of callous cruelty, sings "Singin' in the Rain," the same song he crooned while rendering Frank immobile. Unknowingly, Alex has revealed himself to be the monster he is, and Frank uses his love for Beethoven against him, prompting him to attempt suicide. Did Alex truly change?
The Rot Lies At The Heart Of Society
Although Stanley Kubrick digresses from Anthony Burgess' original book ending, he does an incredible job of preserving the novel's visual language and literary style. The film, which received polarizing responses due to its controversial subject matter and depictions of violence, surprisingly does a solid job of distancing itself from the violence that lies at its core. Artistic portrayal is not an endorsement 99% of the time, and Kubrick establishes this by unfurling the narrative purely from Alex's subjective point of view. This subjectivity is highlighted intuitively with the use of ultra-wide angle lenses, surreal imagery, and alternative use of slow and accelerated motion. While "A Clockwork Orange" delves deep into the themes of hegemonic control and surveillance, the world of the film is exclusively tinted by Alex's warped and myopic perspective, and his evolving emotions during his dubious redemption.
In the end, Alex is tended to like a coddled child in the hospital, swarmed by government officials who wish to use him as a pawn to further their own political ends. The effects of the fall reverse the Ludovico treatment, meaning that Alex is no longer averse to violence; however, the state does not care about his moral status or violent impulses anymore, as it does not serve their narrative any longer. Instead, their acceptance of Alex is a snapshot of the moral rot that lies at the heart of this society, where complacency and hypocrisy are imperatives for societal integration. Alex, who started out as unflinchingly honest about his perversions, has now proceeded to hide them while fantasizing about these debaucheries, which he will certainly find a way to turn into reality.
But oh, he's "cured" all right, now that he's a pawn in a greater game of social evil.
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The post A Clockwork Orange Ending Explained: And He Was Cured, All Right appeared first on /Film.