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A Clockwork Orange (1971) Review: Unhinged Chaos!

A minimalist poster for the film A Clockwork Orange.

A Clockwork Orange portrays the story of a criminal who was reformed by the state. The film satirizes the atmosphere of a dystopian future and explores the concepts of “violence, crime, and punishment”. Through its examination of these issues, the film is an ironic commentary on modern society.

The movie’s narrator is Alex, an extraordinary, aggressive, and destructive character who is cruel, cynical, and dismissive of social values. The events of the film are presented through his perspective from beginning to end.

Our antihero Alex DeLarge and his friends, with the gang they formed, almost spread terror in the city with an overflowing violent tendency. In Korova Milkbar, they drink a mixture of milk and drugs that reinforce their violent tendencies, attack the elderly, break into the house of a writer named Alexander, mutilate him, and rape the writer’s wife. The escalating leadership conflicts within the gang end when Alex is trapped by his friends and goes to jail, and events develop.

Avoiding violence while in prison, Alex is docile and interested in religion. He wins the sympathy of the priest in prison. (But here, as he reads the Bible, he identifies himself not with Jesus but with the Roman soldiers who tortured him.)

Alex is giving a scary or intimidating look.

Alex is selected as a guinea pig for the “Reintegrating Criminals into Society” program, which the country’s leading political party uses to win the election. If the program is successful, Alex will be released. The Minister takes political advantage from this by using Alex to show how he keeps the streets crime-free.

Throughout the program, they make Alex watch images of war and Nazi genocide, with his hands and arms tied and eyes open, accompanied by Beethoven’s 9th symphony. Beethoven is the only being that reflects the only beautiful thing in Alex, the only being that he respects and values. As a matter of fact, the Beethoven bust and drawings found in Alex’s prison room did not escape the attention of the minister, and he used Beethoven’s music in the Ludovico session. At the end of all this, Alex is unable to think, let alone practice violence and sexuality. Alex’s violent acts are tried to be prevented with a violent act, Ludovico. When the program is successful, Alex is released.

When Alex returns home, he finds that his parents have rented his room. His family does not want him, he is left on the street. The drunk beggar, whom he had beaten with his gang mates before, gathers the other beggars and lynches himself. The cops who come to Alex’s call for help are his gangmates. Alex gets beaten by them too because his friends are producing violence as police this time. Having managed to get rid of his friends, Alex’s misfortunes continue and he finds himself in the house of the writer whose wife he raped. The writer, who does not know Alex at first, welcomes him well. But the writer, who later realizes who Alex is, takes his wife’s revenge by listening to Beethoven, whom he has been conditioned to react to Alex. Unable to bear the pain he suffered, Alex commits suicide by throwing himself out of the window.

At this point, we need a psychoanalytic term to better analyze Alex and the society he lives in. The concept that can be brought against crime and punishment in psychoanalysis is ressentiment. Here, in order for ressentiment to come into existence, a state of impotence must occur as Alex experienced. Alex, who does not obey the order, rules, oppressive social control, and does not obey the human being as a machine, resorts to destructiveness in order to reveal himself. In other words, the problem of existence lies at the root of Alex’s violence. Perceiving Alex’s acts of violence as an element of entertainment and pleasure would be an incorrect and incomplete perspective in such an environment where the modern state reduces man to nothing. Even the fact that Alex and his gang mates speak in the Russian-origin Nadsat language is an expression of their efforts to get rid of the current language and their anti-establishment tendencies.

In modern societies, taking resentment and revenge under control is possible with the method of punishment. The point that draws attention here is the legitimacy of the state’s use of violence. In modern states, the use of force has been left to the monopoly of the state. Thus, it is possible to say that the government uses the already existing destructiveness to protect its continuity.

The state power realizes the illusion of ideal society through mechanisms such as uniform citizenship. By controlling people’s thoughts and actions, they dominate their lives and assimilate those who contradict their ideology, the different, or in other words, the other, in line with their own goals and desires. As a matter of fact, in the movie, the system took Alex’s right to choose and turned him into a machine. Alex’s violence was rehabilitated and as a result Alex was forced to conform to the behavior accepted by society. Torture of Alex tames him, but does not make him better or more moral.

In A Clockwork Orange, Alex and his gang march on to unleash a new horror.

The concept of violence/counterviolence in the film also manifests itself in an ironic dimension and it is possible to see it almost throughout the film. This is particularly evident in the scene where the writer Alexander, from the beginning as a victim, becomes the criminal in their second encounter with Alex.

On the other hand, the reference to the four horsemen of the apocalypse (Alex and his gang), which we constantly encounter throughout the film, are symbols of chaoticism and destruction and strengthen the state’s bond with violence. The motif of the four assailants and victims first appears in the scene where Alex and his gang mates attack an old beggar. Then, while he is beaten by four policemen in prison, Alex is in the position of a victim. And finally, after he got out of prison, at the writer’s house, the writer and four people with him added drugs to Alex’s food, and Alex is again in the position of a victim.

In connection with violence, references to Nazis are made frequently in the film. For example, at the beginning of the movie, in the scene where Alex and his gang fight with other gang members, the other gang members are wearing Nazi uniforms. During Ludovico’s treatment, Alex is shown images of Nazi demonstrations. In addition, the prison administrator’s uniform and physical appearance bring Hitler to mind. As it is known, the Nazis left their mark on recent history as the most obvious example of the state violence mechanism. It is possible to explain the Nazi reference in the film in this way.

At the end of the movie, Alex, whom we see in the hospital bed, makes a bargain with the minister who comes to him. He commits suicide to die, but is reborn. This second Alex has a difference from the Alex we know; Alex is like a minister now, he is a hypocrite. He has become socialized and a puppet of the order. The government, which gains political advantage on the grounds that it purifies the society from criminals by using Alex at the beginning, uses Alex to flood the streets with crime again at the end of the film. Because the survival of the system depends on it; violence and crime must not be completely eliminated and its control must be in the hands of the system. Otherwise, society will direct this violence towards the system itself.

READ MORE: Unbelievable 6 Differences Between “A Clockwork Orange” Book and Movie!

As a result, A Clockwork Orange reveals the lord–bondsman dialectic based on the mutual processing of crime and punishment in the modern society. The film discusses to what extent the punishment method applied by the authority in the name of reforming Alex liberated him and whether the freedom of the individual is possible by enslaving other members of the society.

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Last modified: October 19, 2023