Comments on "A Clockwork Orange"
My viewpoint on "A Clockwork Orange" may be considered radical because I have been forced by the State to live with a few individuals similar to the main character of this film. This is personal, as philosophy should be. So be it.
First a few quotes from philosophers to set the tone:
"Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power's disappearance." Hannah Arendt
"But if there is no one who desires to be miserable, there is no one, Meno, who desires evil; for what is misery but the desire and possession of evil?" Socrates, "Meno" (Plato)
"It may be confidently asserted that no man chooses evil, because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks." Mary Wollstonecraft, "A Vindication of the Rights of Men"
"The gifts of a bad man bring no good with them." Euripides, "Medea"
"One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion." Simone de Beauvoir, "Old Age"
"As long as people believe in absurdities they will continue to commit atrocities." Voltaire
"The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me." Ayn Rand
"Women have received from the gods the same ability to reason that men have." Musonius Rufus
"Poor human nature, what horrible crimes have been committed in thy name!" Emma Goldman
"At one time through love all things come together into one, at another time, through strife's hatred, they are borne each of them apart." Empedocles
"No evil dooms us hopelessly except the evil we love, and desire to continue in, and make no effort to escape from." George Eliot, "Daniel Deronda"
"Most men are within a finger's breadth of being mad." Diogenes The Cynic
"It [the Self] is a tool tuned, in varying degrees, to the reality of brain and world; like other tools, it can malfunction, for example, in schizophrenia." Patricia Churchland
"This is the very worst wickedness, that we refuse to acknowledge the passionate evil that is in us. This makes us secret and rotten." D.H. Lawrence, "Letters of D.H. Lawrence"
"I couldn't claim that I have never felt the urge to explore evil, but when you descend into hell you have to be very careful." Kathleen Raine
"There is only one good, knowledge, and only one evil, ignorance." Socrates, "Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers" (Diogenes Laertius)
"If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- forever.” George Orwell
"Jails and prisons are designed to break human beings, to convert the population into specimens in a zoo - obedient to our keepers, but dangerous to each other." Angela Davis
"Humanity, you never had it to begin with." Charles Bukowski
I was told that the above quotes are not relevant to the film . . . sigh . . . we each have different realities.
OK, on with the show:
While the State still seeks to re-program the disaffected in order to provide safety for the constructive citizenry, the goals, targets and methods have changed. As well, the State, the disaffected and the criminals themselves have changed. Now, most of the common criminals are non-violent drug offenders, themselves victims of emotional, physical or sexual abuse while children. The violent criminals are the rich elites who plunder the world's resources, engaging in wars and State terrorism to further their goal of amassing vast amounts of treasure in order to live without constraint. The desires of the current elite are embodied in the film by the main character. The terror of society breaking down into roaming gangs of antisocial thugs perpetrating endless acts of random violence against random individuals is no longer with us. Now the bogeyman wears a turban (Islamic Terrorists) or a black bandana (Black Flag Anarchists), and their target is the State. The goals of the our new bogeymen are embodied in the film by the State.
As well, the psychological re-programming is no longer done by the State upon violent criminals by way of scientific methods, but by the Media upon the general citizenry, who in turn demand their leaders partake of the same illusionary reality. The political leaders themselves are no longer in control, being merely marionettes in a puppet show orchestrated by the invisible owners of the Media. All who act contrary to this shared hallucination of good and evil are not only deemed mentally and/or emotionally unbalanced, but ultimately question their own sanity also. When society is sick the sane people can only be found in the ranks of the malcontents and the radical fringe. The methods the sane must employ are harsh because the foe they struggle against wields unimaginable power, and terror. Rising up in revolt against the culture of a sick society that enslaves the minds and lives of its citizens is a sacred act. But to equate the defense of the glorious freedom of Self to the perverted passion of malignant hate evidenced in this film's main character is sheer nonsense. This film is shallow and has nothing to say that is uniquely constructive. It therefore qualifies for consideration of obscenity.
It is true that there is, within Society, a concerted effort to deprive the individual of Choice. But that effort nowadays is spearheaded by monopolistic marketing philosophies instead of the therapeutic psychological treatments stereotyped in the film. Overtly mucking about with a person's mind has become taboo, but surreptitiously influencing behaviour has become the norm. Overtly denying a person Choice has become taboo, while denying Choice by nurturing a system where there is only one "Choice" is acceptable. Evidence the dominations in the following examples: Microsoft controlling the software industry, the oil conglomerates controlling the energy industry, special interest groups controlling the political arena, Wal-Mart controlling basic consumer goods, the Media controlling the flow of news and information, Chinese imports controlling the USA economy, the pharmaceutical companies controlling medical treatments, HMOs controlling healthcare availability, the two-party political system denying democracy and wielding totalitarian power and so on. The list is endless in every direction, but the denial of an Individual's Choices portrayed in this film is no longer a real threat. To be on guard for a 'Clockwork-type' of radical brainwashing is to joust with shadows. Better to defend one's Self against mind controlling prescription drugs marketed on television that promise normalcy and happiness.
Initiation into the mindless masses nowadays is done out in the open by our mind control system, otherwise known as our education system. Even there it is not due to overt mind control, but merely a result of a market-driven profit system -- the students do not, and will not, pay to learn. Instead they pay to begin a career. The goal is financial security, not education. The road to the goal is to fit in, have fun, network socially and conform, not to study, learn, ask and answer Questions of Life.
The aggression portrayed in the film is random and mindless. To elevate it to rebellion is to pay homage to insanity. To equate it to gang violence is to glorify psychopathy. The force driving the main character is not reasoned purpose, it is not emotional expression, it is not environmental conditioning, it is not directed toward any goal or against any master or for any higher purpose. It is simply rampant sadism. It is unsatiable, unsustainable and unrewarding. The pleasures it provides are fleeting and worthless. The power it gives is petty and transient. The knowledge it bestows is warped and myopic.
The social relevance of this film has been greatly exaggerated by those titillated by the brutality they can never let themselves enjoy as the protagonist. They wish they could do as the main character does, but fear the repercussions or their inability to dominate their victims. So they conceal their degenerate proclivities by claiming the violence in the film is a vehicle for deeper themes -- as if those self-same deeper themes are somehow unintelligble or uninteresting without a good old gang-rape or two. Evil is in all of us, raw and hostile. It is better to acknowledge it than to try to deny it exists. Denial has a way of veiling the mind with ignorance, which only feeds the evil within. In order to conquer the evil within oneself, the evil must first be accepted as having great power over oneself.
Evil is known by many names in order to deny the unrelenting love we have of it, and in psychology evil bears the name psychopathy. To be clear on the nature of psychopathy, and therefore evil, I here include the official Hare's Psychopathy Check List - Revised (PCL-R) (each rated on a scale of 0-2)
Factor 1: Aggressive narcissism
1. Glibness / superficial charm
2. Grandiose sense of self-worth
3. Pathological lying
4. Cunning / manipulative
5. Lack of remorse or guilt
7. Callous / lack of empathy
8. Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
9. Promiscuous sexual behavior
Factor 2: Socially deviant lifestyle
1. Need for stimulation / proneness to boredom
2. Parasitic lifestyle
3. Poor behavioral control
4. Lack of realistic, long-term goals
7. Juvenile delinquency
8. Early behavior problems
9. Revocation of conditional release
Traits not correlated with either factor
1. Many short-term marital relationships
2. Criminal versatility
The main character exhibits the extreme of all of these characteristics except the many short-term marital relationships, and that only because the main character is only an adolescent. The main character is undeniably a psychopath, and therefore only worthy of a philosophical discussion regarding the nature of sanity and insanity. That countless philosophical tracts have been published relating how the main character represents a revolt against the State just exhibits an ignorance of reality. Many philosophers are handicapped about the extremes of real life because they are usually pampered pets of Society. No matter how hard philosophers try to make us think otherwise, they do not live the life of the common people. They are, by definition bestowed upon them by university degrees, uncommon people. While it is true there are exceptions to every rule, including this one (Bukowski springs to mind), that does not exclude the babbling majority from this judgment.
The other characters of the film are extreme stereotypical constructs without normal human depth. As such there can be no serious philosophical discussion about them, only cursory philosophical comment. Everyone in the film has emotional or behavioral deficiencies sufficient to warrant professional counseling, some are even psychotic, none have ordinary human depth, but only the main character is a psychopath. In this regard the film has some social relevance, but it is a tired and trite essay on society engineering communities of failed human beings that has been repeated by countless others throughout recorded history.
Additionally, the film relegates the entirety of womanhood to "a bit of the in and out." Women in this film are rabidly objectified. Women are nothing but objects of momentary pleasure and targets of scorn. They are to be violated as a man wills, then discarded. The primary attributes of women in this film are vanity, vacuousness and vaginas. They are ineffectual things that break easily and have no intrinsic worth. Women are seen as weak and stupid. The storyline and the moral of the film would not change if every woman was replaced by blow-up dolls.
While rape and all sorts of violence against women are happily shown by Kubrick, even when unnecessary, the film cowardly refuses to investigate the violence against the main character in prison. This indicates that the brutalization of women in the film has no constructive message. We are not allowed to see the main character treated as he treats women. From what we are shown, his time in prison was a carefree vacation. One inmate blows kisses at him, but otherwise he spends his on-screen time around comical guards and an easily duped preacher. The narration and dialogue indicate this prison is a terrible place, but why? Because of a few blown kisses? Granted, those kisses are a threat, but a threat that never materializes harm. There are far worse things in prison than a few blown kisses. We don't get to see any of the terribleness. Is he beaten and raped? Is he demeaned and belittled? Is he forced to be a victim of every transient whim of someone stronger? Does he lay bloody and broken, naked upon the shower floor? Does he fear to wake up in the morning because the torture will begin all over again? If so, why are we forbidden to see it? That would certainly be an enlightening piece to show us -- more so than anything else in the film. Instead, we have a prison environment where he is kept safe from all violence, and spends his time reading the bible daydreaming his sick thrills, and plotting a con to get out early. This ends up contrasting to the life on the streets where there is no safety for anyone, and he gets to act on his sick impulses willy-nilly. Therefore, the conclusion must be that the main character's flaws are not forged by his environment, that is he wasn't born a healthy individual and his upbringing delinquitized him. Neither is his psychopathy a hereditary mutation to allow for survival in a vicious new society. He is simply pusillanimously insane.
There is some memorable imagery in the film, and the use of characters with a light comedic twist helps juxtapose the horror, but there is no innovation or originality on the director's part. Kubrick is merely following the path written out by Burgess, and using the most common tricks of the trade to put book to film. The movie is competently enacted, and McDowell breathes life into the main character. But he gets no kudos for doing what he's supposed to do. That's his job, and while he did it well it was not a work of art or of genius. A bit of the old leer, is all it was.
The use of music in the film seems, on the surface, to be intriguing. However, this is only because we have been conditioned by countless other movies to equate a jarring cacophonic soundtrack to on-screen violent actions. If there is a spark of ingenuity in this story (as the use of music comes from the book, not a creative fabrication of the director's mind) it is the cognitive dissonance manipulated upon the audience that music so wondrously symphonic as Beethoven's, so light and popular as Freed's, can be so intimately entwined with violence so senseless. That music is powerful, and that music can both implore emotion and charm reason, is not a matter for denial. Neither is it reasonable to argue that music cannot urge violent reaction in the same manner it seduces calm. But that a person can be moved to senseless violence by harmonic beauty is a touch out of the ordinary. But then, that only highlights that the main character is a psychopath, and his emotional and rational Self is truly beyond behavioral understanding.
Following the line of thought regarding the main character as a psychopath, his inherent absurdness does indeed reflect a truly unique being. While this being is without any redeeming social or individual value, he is still philosophically valuable for his singular existence because we can use him as an example in several questions. Do all humans have the right to life? What punishments are ethical? Are deontological ethics valid? Are there basic human responses to external stimuli? Does environment override genetics? Does evil exist, if so what is it? If there is evil does it exist equally in every human, and how powerful is it? Is every human capable of every evil thought and every evil action? Can healthy-minded humans intentionally, willfully, pleasurably, gratefully and remorselessly harm others? What are the limits of entertainment? What is obscenity?
The value of violence in this film, if there is any, is in awakening the oblivious masses to the violence all around us (though the 1962 book is more pertinent to this point than the 1971 film). The post-WWII dream of a peaceful world of law and order is dead. We have to face up to the very human horror that we have engineered a society that degrades the individual. Society is deranged, the individual is deranged, the healers are deranged, the leaders are deranged. That is the only possible moral of this film, and if it is the moral, the film itself must be disturbing in order for its deranged audience to accept the message of their complicit guilt. But the message comes too late or in ineffectual form because the audience never got it. In fact, if there is any message in this film it is that evil ultimately triumphs.
I have to comment on the inclusion of Slavoj Zizek among the philosophical papers made available to us as relevant to this film. Zizek may be as insane as the main character in "Clockwork." Certainly he is of no more value, and considering his position as a widely traveled philosopher-teacher, he may be even more dangerous -- bullshitting, befuddling, and befouling people with his message of hate, violence and self-gratification. He is the perfect philosopher for a "Clockwork" world. He is a Stalinist philosopher, ergo I consider him degenerate, unremorseful and criminally insane.
“Mr. Alcott sat behind his table, and the children were placed in chairs, in a large arc around him; the chairs so far apart, that they could not easily touch each other. He then asked each one separately, what idea he or she had of the purpose of coming to school? To learn; was the first answer. To learn what? By pursuing this question, all the common exercises of school were brought up by the children themselves; and various subjects of art, science, and philosophy. Still Mr. Alcott intimated that this was not all; and at last some one said “to behave well,” and in pursuing this expression into its meanings, they at last decided that they came to learn to feel rightly, to think rightly, and to act rightly.” Elizabeth Palmer Peabody