A Clockwork Orange: Behaviorism and Freedom

A Clockwork Orange: Behaviorism and Freedom

Last update: 15 October, 2018

What can be said about A Clockwork Orange that hasn’t been said before? What can be said about Stanley Kubrick? You could spend hours and hours talking about the movie, its ending, and its philosophical analysis. It’s impossible for me to summarize the importance of the film in a few brief lines. It’s impossible for me to go deeper into all of the issues it presents. However, I’m going to try to get closer to the underlying meaning of the movie.

Stanley Kubrick brought this movie to the big screen in 1971. However, in many countries, it wasn’t viewed until later on. The movie suffered censorship and prohibitions. Nevertheless, A Clockwork Orange still became a great classic and is regarded as a cult film.

A Clockwork Orange is based on Anthony Burgess’s eponymous novel. This novel is considered one of the most important dystopian novels from the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, keeping in mind how difficult it is to cover the whole analysis, I’m just going to focus on the cinematic version. After all, this is the best-known one and it strays from the book a bit.

A Clockwork Orange is an art

There’s no doubt that A Clockwork Orange is a cinematic work of art. Kubrick was able to create a movie where he left his personal seal. The colors, settings, music… everything in A Clockwork Orange is designed and measured to the very millimeter. Visually, you’ll be fascinated and captivated from the beginning.

The language is also noteworthy. The slang used by the protagonists combines words from other countries, especially Russian. This slang was invented by Anthony Burgess, the author of the novel, and it’s known as Nadsat. The music plays an essential role. Let’s not forget the use of synthesizers and the presence of classical music – especially Beethoven’s.

Discovering Alex of A Clockwork Orange

Alex is the main character. He’s a young man who adores Beethoven, loves violence, and doesn’t know anything about morals. A Clockwork Orange takes us to a dystopian future where Alex and his droogs enjoy ultraviolence. It seems that the young people of the future don’t know the limits of violence. They enjoy it and it’s their only form of entertainment. Rapes, robberies, fights… everything goes for Alex and his droogs.

Alex is a young man who’s motivated by instinct. He’s incapable of thinking of the repercussions of his actions or distinguishing between good and evil. It seems that there’s no reason nor motivation to explain his innate violence. Aside from that, he’s very influential and he’s the leader of his droogs (friends). The world where he lives and the relationship with his parents may also have something to do with his behavior. However, in this dystopian future, young people seem to spend their time committing crimes without any other purpose in life. This leads us to believe that perhaps society does have something to do with it.

Alex doesn’t treat anyone well, not even his droogs, who betray him during one of their crimes. Alex becomes a young murderer and, as a consequence, he’s sent to jail. There, Alex loses his name and acquires his new identity as an inmate, becoming prisoner #655321. In jail, Alex feels a certain attraction for the Bible. But his interpretation of this book is very different from the conventional one. Alex identifies with the most violent scenes. He sees himself as a Roman who participates in Christ’s flagellation.

A Clockwork Orange still of men against a wall.

The nature of evil

Due to his interest in the Bible, the jail chaplain takes a certain liking to Alex. He sees him as a young person to be helped. Nevertheless, Alex despises the chaplain, although he never reveals it. Alex confesses to him that he’s heard of an experimental treatment called Ludovico which helps you leave the jail quickly. He tells him that he’d like to participate it in order to become a “good man”.

The movie asks us to consider the true nature of evil. Is Alex evil by nature? Is he evil due to his circumstances? Does society have something to do with it? There are many questions that arise as we get to know Alex. But we have even more questions when we start to discover what the Ludovico treatment is like.

The State, in its struggle to eradicate violence, has developed an experimental treatment that turns “bad” people into “good” people. Through this experiment, they’re able to not only lower the rates of violence, but also have more productive and useful people. They also lower prison costs. In reality, the treatment is nothing more than a government strategy. It’s nothing more than a way to make that portion of the population who only generate costs more useful. Are the people who try to make Alex good actually evil?

Freedom in A Clockwork Orange

The government believes that prison isn’t a place for rehabilitation. Rather, it makes people more violent. The Ludovico treatment promises to change these youths and change their antisocial behavior to appropriate and socially-accepted behavior. This treatment is based on classical conditioning in the Pavlov’s purest stimulus-response style. Alex submits to the treatment and turns into a good man.

All of this leads us to question whether Alex has lost his freedom or his free will. Alex didn’t choose to be good. The treatment conditions him to such an extent that he becomes incapable of defending himself. He becomes incapable of doing what he really wants to do. It’s not possible for him to touch a woman, to respond to an insult, or to avoid humiliating situations. This is not of his own will, but due to the effects of the treatment.

Still of A Clockwork Orange.

A Clockwork Orange is a study on violence. There is violence connected to the protagonist’s sexual conduct, violence for the sake of violence, and the nature of violence. But who is most violent? Are the state’s actions not violence? Recall that, in the movie, we see how the inmates are deprived of all of their freedom. They’re deprived of their identity and subjected to violent situations. The Ludovico treatment is able to neutralize Alex completely, turning him into a puppet of the State. He is only used for its interests and for its own advancement. It allows for a sort of permitted violence, disguised as something socially acceptable.

The state and violence

Alex is able to leave prison, that place that had robbed him of his freedom. Nevertheless, he’s even less free now. Everything seems very paradoxical in A Clockwork Orange. Not only does he lose his freedom when he leaves prison, but he also has to face his past. He’ll live a tormented life. His old friends, on the other hand, keep their violent ways. However, now it’s justified and allowed: they have become police officers.

The State has so much power that it exerts violence on individuals, turning them into puppets and using them for publicity. It seems that Alex is no longer an evil person. Now he’s a victim. Is Alex the same man now that he’s incapable of making his own decisions? His past behavior wasn’t restricted by morality, but does morality exist within the context of the Ludovico treatment? The movie opens the door to a multitude of reflections, so many that it becomes impossible for me to summarize them in a single article.

characters clockwork orange

A Clockwork Orange is, without a doubt, one of the greatest films ever. It’s visually magnificent, aggressive, thought-provoking, and hypnotic. Its imprint is so strong that it has conditioned some of us as much as the Ludovico treatment conditioned Alex. So much so that, each time we listen to a Beethoven piece, it’s very difficult for us to avoid thinking of the scene from A Clockwork Orange.

“Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?”

-A Clockwork Orange-

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.