itself to be about self-determination. Alex chooses to commit crimes, because
they excite him. He could do otherwise, but does not. He is arrested and sent to
pay the proper price for his actions. He maneuvers for the chance to be
"reformed," on the double, and it is granted to him. But the chance
turns out to be a trick, one that does not serve his needs but those of a few
who want to hold on to their high position in society. (Thus, one's initial
stirrings of sympathy towards Alex.) Even more so, it seriously robs Alex, in
ways that are not fair, and leaves him incapable of functioning as a person.
(Hence, our further sympathy for him.) And, in the end, everyone pays the
consequences: nobody gets off easily. If Alex is the protagonist of the story,
then inhumanity, in both its corporeal and non-corporeal forms, is its
a figure who commits abhorrent acts at the beginning of the story, becomes, in
the film's second half, a character with whom one feels, not only sympathy, but
even compassion and pity. The film's ofttimes vituperative reception, which
contributed to Kubrick's unease over it, can be laid partly to this. Audience
members either praised the film as insightful -- or, realizing how they were
reacting towards it, rejected it outright, cutting off their feelings towards
the film altogether.
contrast, Natural Born Killers, the only other film to use extreme
violence in order to make dramatic and moral points, winds up in the end in a
different place altogether. It, too, deals with characters who were made, or
have become, twisted by circumstance, only, in the case of Mickey (Woody
Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis), they find a measure of happiness in the
love and devotion that develops between them. The film also has, in the form of
Harrelson and Lewis, two talented performers who depict their characters in ways
that, at times, touch the level of brilliance.
the film's conclusion ends up saying that the source of the protagonists'
troubles is not murder, violence, and pathological abnormality (like Alex,
Mickey and Mallory seem to find violence and homicide exciting, as well as a way
to act out their deep emotional disturbances). It's the media, which encourages
violence so that it can find continual grist for its exploitative and perversely
celebratory mill. In such a way, the film sidesteps having to say anything
conclusive, one way or the other, about the characters' actions -- and,
unintentionally or not, seems as exploitative and perversely celebratory as the
media that it ostensibly seeks to condemn.
compassion for Alex, but it does not condone the wrongful things that he does.
(If anything, they are illustrative at most, rather than something to make the
fans in the bleachers roar.) If Alex's final comments at the end of the film,
and the images that accompany them, provoke a laugh or two from audiences, it is
a laugh of recognition, that both we and Alex know, even if the others don't,
that they've let a tiger loose in their midst, and have no idea what they're in
for. (Burgess' 1964 novel ended with a concluding chapter that showed Alex in
middle-age. This chapter was dropped from U.S. editions of the book and replaced
by a short "nadsat" glossary to allow readers to follow what was going
on in the story. The concluding chapter was not included in U.S. editions until
the 1980s -- causing people to rummage madly through boxes and closets for their
1970s paperback copies of the novel, because the new editions had dropped the
"nadsat" glossary.) Would Alex have gone on to end up calling for
people to give him "the power," as Christopher Jones did in Wild in
the Streets? Maybe not, but I wouldn't put it entirely past him, either.
how will modern audiences react to the movie, this ice cold
martini-with-a-chaser that Kubrick has concocted? Will a Planet Hollywood-style
chain of Korova Milk Bar franchises suddenly spring up, like toadstools, across
the nation? An exclusive cable channel where "droogs" can, at home,
"glazzy" 24-hour broadcasts of "real horrosho" programming?
Glossy monthly magazines written in "nadsat" and displaying the latest
styles in "droog"-wear by Vivienne Westwood and "droog" home
furnishings by Damien Hirst?
people didn't start merrily crashing their cars into each other once Crash passed
the hurdle erected by a London borough counsel and started showing on theater
screens, there. Britons have been a little touchy about screen violence. The
condemnatory wave towards "video nasties" in the Eighties swept many
titles off the shelves of retailers and rental shops overnight, films that had
already received certification for showing. (Films in Britain must receive a
certification, which "rates" the film for exhibition, for theatrical
showing, and then certification from another board for release on video.) And
the tabloids raised enough of a ruckus over whether the two boys involved in the
James Bulger case saw a video of Child's Play 3 (and it was later proved
that they had not) before they murdered a third, younger boy, that the video
ended up being banned in the U.K.
a U.S. perspective, that may not seem like much of a loss. But Clockwork
Orange is, in fact, not only a considerably better film, but in essence a
considerably more humane piece of work. As Philip French, esteemed critic of the
London Observer, put it, "It is ironic that a powerful multinational
corporation such as Time-Warner should have been taking such draconian actions
over a picture so morally concerned with the oppression of the weak by the
powerful and the defense of free will." His February 27 article also quoted
Luis Buñuel as having observed that "it is the only movie about what the
modern world really means." Its return to Britain could very well be
greeted in jubilant terms.
And, who knows...they could even do a remake ...