“VIOLENCE SPEAKS VIOLENCE,” and in A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971) its voice belongs to Alex DeLarge— an articulate, manipulative, passionate, charismatic, uber-sexual, violent, sociopath— in other words, the spawn of a broken society perpetuated by a corrupt political system. Or should I say, a violent society perpetuated by a violent political system. Again, “violence speaks violence.” An eye for an eye. This circular logic lies at the heart of A Clockwork Orange, and it is most encapsulated by the notable character arc of Alex DeLarge (portrayed brilliantly by Malcolm McDowell).
And as far as violence goes, so goes the first section of the film, in which Alex DeLarge is… well… at large. He, along with his three buddies (“droogs,” as they call themselves)— routinely and joyfully inflict horror upon the town. The crimes inevitably grow more serious, until ultimately, Alex kills a woman with a giant penis sculpture (ouch). This appalling murder, along with the betrayal of his so-called friends, ends the provocative first half of A Clockwork Orange, a first half that can be characterized simply as: the opposite of the Golden Rule. That is, “do unto others that in which you would NEVER EVER do unto yourself.” Like, kill a woman with a giant penis sculpture.
Speaking of killing women with giant penises, there are a noticeable amount of objectified representations of women in this film. These incendiary images appear throughout, including the inert naked-woman-tables at the milk bar, as well as the tantalizing portraits of women that decorate the walls of the murder victim. I’m not sure if these images are supposed to comment on the objectification of women or the sexual freedom of women or the oppression of women, or all at the same time. Which raises an interesting question: What is the difference between sexism and sexuality? In the dystopian world Kubrick creates, I’m not so sure.
Before I move on, I wanted to quickly point out an important line of dialogue, spoken by a Priest in the second act. He says: “When a man cannot choose, he seizes to be a man.” In the context, he’s speaking to the morality of whether a choice is good even if you have no power to make that choice. However— and I’m probably reading too much into this— but by that same rationale, wouldn’t it also be true that if a “woman cannot choose, she seizes to be a woman?” I could be wrong, but perhaps this is a subtle Pro-Choice stance taken by Kubrick.
On the other hand, another recurring visual motif is that of the penis. Especially throughout the first act (penis graffiti, penis sculpture, compositions where the pelvic region is in the dominant position of the frame)— but not so much in the second act, which brings us to the movement in the film which could be titled: “Alex’s Castration.” The power of the penis is replaced by the power of the state… so to speak. This is all captured in the iconic brainwashing scene (the scene we’ve all seen even if we haven’t seen the movie) in which Alex’s eyes are literally clamped open as the experiment unfolds. It’s horrible and it is supposed to be horrible (“violence speaks violence”).
However, to me, there is a far more interesting scene buried in the second act. It’s a scene that I think speaks to Alex’s character most. In this scene, he reads about Jesus’ crucifixion, and while he’s currently incarcerated and is being oppressed (even tortured), he somehow sides with the Romans in the story. He doesn’t empathize with the tortured Jesus, instead, he fancies himself as the guy beating Jesus himself. This scene is both hilarious and frightening at the same time, which means it’s perfect satire. And like all satire, it speaks to something truthful. Perhaps the truth is that Alex’s point of view actually represents the majority of people, Christians in particular. By this, I don’t mean that Christians (or anyone) consciously think of themselves as the Romans. But the way people obsess over the violence in the bible, and the hating of the gays and the women— while glossing over the pacified teachings of Jesus— one might assume that they are more akin to the violent Roman than the peaceful Jesus. I might be out of my mind, but I think a lot of Christians would adhere to an eye for an eye philosophy, rather than the turn the other cheek philosophy. On a random side-note, I just realized that I dislike the term “turn the other cheek.” Can we replace this with: “a hug for a hug?”
At any rate, Alex undergoes the groundbreaking experiment and is released back into society. He’s cured! Of course, he has fewer choices, and a lot less freedom. Yes, he gets kicked out of his parents’ house, and is then harassed by a crowd of homeless people. Sure, he’s tortured by the police, who happen to be his ex-buddies. But he deserves it. Right? An eye for an eye? Bad karma? And as far as bad karma goes, the now vulnerable Alex ironically finds himself at the doorstep of one of his original victims. The victim, characterized as a Liberal, reflexively invites Alex into his home. At this point, he does not realize that Alex is the perpetrator who raped his wife and crippled him in the first act. So, he proceeds to care for Alex— feed him, draw a bath for him, etc. Until the man discovers that Alex is the bastard who ruined his life, and his reaction is the same as everyone else’s. Revenge. An eye for an eye. So, despite the Liberal man’s pacifist ideology, he too tortures Alex, almost to the point of self-influenced death.
Which brings us to the final scene, where we learn that whatever the government had done to brainwash Alex, has been erased and he is back to his original sick self. This pessimistic ending, which completes Alex’s circular character arc, implies many things. On a political level, it states that Alex (who represents us) is a pawn for the differing political ideologies to use him in an attempt to make a point, regardless of its dehumanizing effects. With its negative depiction of both Liberals and Conservatives (as well as all other people), A Clockwork Orange almost comes off as a Libertarian howl for freedom. More importantly, though, this is a film showing the anti-Golden Rule. That is, “violence speaks violence.” Negativity begets negativity. Hurt people hurt people. It sounds simplistic and overly idealistic, but Kubrick is speaking to this self-sustaining, infinite cycle of violence. I gather that if we are to avoid a dystopian future (or present), perhaps we should disturb this cycle of violence. That is, to say, “LOVE SPEAKS LOVE.” Not an eye for any eye, rather— a hug for a hug.