Notes on Review of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE(dir. Stanley Kubrick based on Anthony Burgess Novel) in Counter-Currents

although A Clockwork Orange is often hailed as a classic, I thought it was dumb, distasteful, and highly overrated

Dumb, no. Distasteful, yes, but how could it be otherwise given the content. Highly rated by some but denounced by just as many, and the film continues to have detractors who, while acknowledging Kubrick’s mastery, take exception to this treatment. It was as underrated as overrated.

They… use a confidence trick (“There’s been a terrible accident. Can I come in and use your phone?”) to invade a couple’s home, whereupon they beat the man, rape his wife, and trash the place. The whole sequence is deeply distasteful. Violent sociopaths like Alex and his friends should simply be killed.

But how could it be tasteful, especially when most of the film is from Alex’s subjectivity? Alex is a crazy guy, and the whole film is seen through his predatory eyes. He isn’t a man of taste(by conventional standards) though he does think rather highly of himself as an aesthete who reveres the genius of Beethoven. As he sees it, he’s cut above the rest, a natural leader. He is anti-christ, and his droogs are merely anti-disciples. Also, he sees himself as an artist of mayhem. There is flamboyance to his aggression, a vision to the madness. It’s as if his crime spree is a performance art, an ultra-violent version of the pantomime troubadour in Michelangelo Antonioni’s BLOW-UP. Alex feels as a natural aristocrat, a pop-Nietzschean star of the streets who makes up his own rules. No wonder Kubrick thought of casting Mick Jagger in the role. Sympathy for the Devil.

That Alex should be locked up or executed reads like a non-sequitur. It’s social commentary unrelated to the film and its purpose. I don’t know of Kubrick’s stance on justice and capital punishment, but the film is not about what kind of punishment should be meted out to people like Alex. I highly doubt Kubrick was cheering on the violence or thought the Alexes of the world should be treated leniently; after all, he led a life not unlike that of the writer whose home is invaded. Rather, he features an horrific act from both objective and subjective modes, which makes the scene all the more disorienting. On the one hand, Kubrick just watches and takes note in ‘cinema verite’ style; it’s like reportage of rape done by the Maysles Brothers. Yet, it’s also like the pig-hunt in LORD OF THE FLIES. William Golding made the reader share in the ecstasy(with sexual overtones) of the pursuit and kill. It’s something more than search for food. It’s the thrill of violence and unfettered freedom.

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, in presenting the violence raw, oscillating between cold-eyed detachment and wild-eyed exuberance, was being daring(with unprecedented depiction of violence) and also daring us to find our own equilibrium. Traditionally, violence by bad people was presented with strong moral overtones, like when Liberty Valance robs and assaults people. It’s as if even the bad guys knew of the moral equation. In being fiendishly mean and nasty, they were proving a point, paving the way for good guys to put things to right. That element made violence in older movies less disturbing and more comforting. Plenty of villains act nastily in Cecil B. DeMille movies, but we know it’s bad-guys-acting-bad and furthermore our sympathy is directed toward the victims(who are often featured as noble or saintly). Or in Ida Lupino’s THE HITCHHIKER, we know the villain is a real scumbag, and we never stop worrying for the hostages. Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO comes close to making us identify with Norman Bates, but the moral conundrum is resolved by featuring him as a hopelessly sick person(in the clinical sense).
In contrast, ACO is the-world-according-to-a-sociopath and hardly wavers from that position. Also, unlike BONNIE AND CLYDE and THE WILD BUNCH that halfway try to ennoble or humanize the characters — Robin Hoods in hard times or outlaws who fight for honor — , there is nothing redemptive about Alex who exults in nihilism in the final scene. One could argue Kubrick chose not to do the moral or emotional homework for us. Another director might have padded or slanted the film to make it clearer that Alex is a bad guy, a brutalizer, even a killer of innocents. (A good example is the TV movie HITLER: THE RISE OF EVIL that leaves no stone unturned that Hitler was a bad, bad, very, very bad-bad guy lest anyone get the wrong idea. Though Hitler is almost always on screen, he is made repellent at every turn. It’s well-known Hitler was an animal-lover, but the TV movies denies him even that; a dog senses his demon soul, barks at him, and is killed by him. DENIAL, the movie about David Irving, is also slanted to leave no doubt that he’s Mr. Miserable, evil incarnate. In contrast, Kubrick chose to give the devil his due in ACO and leave it up to us to judge or not. Alex plays it like he’s the son of satan but too wily even for his other-father who’d do better with Damien in the OMEN movies.) Some might argue that Kubrick went too far and overly indulged Alex, i.e. he isn’t merely presented as a sociopath but like a rock star, a rebel with cause-celebre. But then, the film is essentially seen through Alex’s eyes and narrated by him. It is not an objective presentation, like with Hitler and cohorts in DOWNFALL. It makes for an interesting contrast with the next film BARRY LYNDON with its third-person narrator. While it remains with Barry from beginning to end, it’s never quite his story. He is the observed than the observer. In contrast, Anthony Burgess wrote the book as a tall-tale of a demented youth, and it has the advantage of the ‘unreliable narrator’. As with Voltaire’s CANDIDE, we can never tell if the story is true in its entirety. In contrast, it’s more difficult to suggest unreliability in movies that show everything in detail.

In some ways, the rape scene in ACO is even harder to take than the one in Sam Peckinpah’s STRAW DOGS. While both are disturbing, the violation in the latter is presented gravely, one where senses and emotions are pushed to the limit. Also, the rapist in STRAW DOGS has strong feelings for the woman, and even as she resists, a part of her surrenders to the alpha of the pack. It’s a serious transgression done with serious emotions.
In contrast, the rape in ACO is like an extension of the joy-ride with the stolen car. The rape meshes tragedy with comedy(even with a musical). The gaiety of the moment(for Alex and his droogs) is utterly indifferent to the gravity of the act. At the very least, both the perpetrator and the victim in STRAW DOGS were agreed on the seriousness of the situation. The rape in ACO has an element of elation, even ecstasy, but it’s also childlike, and perhaps there is a relation between sociopathy and child psychology. As deviant and nasty as Alex is(he is also intelligent), there is something ‘innocent’ about his deeds and emotions. Children have limited empathy, which develops later. At least in part, sociopaths may be dangerous precisely because something within them fails to grow out of childhood. So, even as they develop adult ambition and sexuality, a part of their psychology remains childlike and fails to appreciate the full consequences of their actions on others. Just like children are fixated mostly on ‘my fun’, sociopaths see other people as their ‘toys’. The rape scene in ACO is like child-play with adult-victims as ‘toys’. That creates emotional dissonance in the viewer. The scene is like an episode of Romper Room with Rape. So ‘innocent’ in its perversion.
It throws us off-balance. How are we to react to the scene? One possibility is to laugh along in the manner of Animal House, but then, we would have to be pretty demented. But even if one settles on moral outrage, the scene lurches between indifference and exaltation, denying us a safe-seat of judgement. And when Alex breaks into “Singin’ in the Rain”, it’s all the more bewildering. (HENRY THE PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER takes it even further in mayhem, but the sheer grimness has a consistency and may be less exasperating than ACO is to some. As for MAN BITES DOG, that’s just pointless.)

The rape scene is disorienting(precisely because it was done with skill & intelligence and can’t be chalked up to mere exploitation or dementedness) and either acts as a challenge or a monkey wrench, especially in relation to our feelings about Alex through the rest of the film. If Alex were a grim and humorless figure like the character of HENRY THE PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER(which I detest as much as Nani Moretti does), it wouldn’t matter so much. At the very least, it’s impossible to see Henry as anything but a man-monster from beginning to end. But there are moments in ACO when Alex is funny, charming, and inspired(and even a bit endearing, but then, who says bad people can’t have winning qualities?) He isn’t merely funny like Joe Pesci’s characters in GOODFELLAS and CASINO. There, even when you laugh at his antics, you know he’s just a lowlife killer, a goomba. But Alex isn’t just a sociopath but a rare breed(whose fiendish grin sweeps sins under the rug), and there’s the risk of our overlooking his true nature(or even being seduced by it). There is something of the Marquis De Sade about him. Especially in the Rock Era when so many music stars’ bad behavior were overlooked or even hyped for their cool factor, not to mention the effect of 007 movies and Spaghetti Westerns, it’s easy to see why ACO became part of the Zeitgeist.

In a way, ACO is like a cold-eyed distillation of the driving forces behind the 60s. Boomer youths fancied themselves as idealistic and ‘committed’, but events like May 68 owed more to youth narcissism/nihilism than to any real understanding of the world or justice; unlike earlier forms of leftism, they were products of too-much-prosperity than too-much-poverty, more about demand for meaning than struggle for material needs, and one thing for sure, Alex’s dementia can’t be blamed on ‘poverty’, which was the pat formula for ideologues, especially in relation to bad black behavior. And yet, the search for meaning soon turned into pursuit of thrills in an era when youths were enticed with dreams of sex, music, drugs, and unfettered expressions in arts/entertainment. It’s like the ending of the German film MEIN BAADER-MEINHOF KOMPLEX where the original radicals soon discover that the movement is most attractive to those with a penchant for destruction for destruction’s sake; for them, ideology is really a veneer, a moral convenience, as with the would-be murderers in ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD who rationalize their murder plot with ‘social justice’ theories of getting even with the rich ‘piggies’ in Hollywood.
In a way, ACO does to youth culture what DR. STRANGELOVE did to the Military-Industrial Complex. Just like the generals and wargamers of the Cold War satire are driven as much by sex and territoriality as by principles and patriotism, ACO implies that the driving spirit of youth is less idealism than ultra-narcissism. Indeed, a world where Rock Stars and the like hog the limelight of ‘morality’ really makes us wonder.

Alex is high-handed and cruel to his buddies as well, using treachery and violence to assert dominance over them. This merely breeds resentment.

But we can understand why. Alex is clearly superior to them in will and wit. He’s got bigger brains and even bigger balls. He is the natural leader among them. In any rock band, some have more star power than others, more innate authority. Mick Jagger was the front-man for the Stones. John Lennon was the dominant force in the Beatles, even if Paul McCartney did more of the heavy-lifting. Alex is too good for his droogs, and they know it. They resent him but also envy him. They stick by him because he inspires them to do things they wouldn’t on their own. But he pushes too far, and they betray him, but this happens in rock bands as well. Some have speculated that Alexander the Great was a victim of a conspiracy by his own men. Alex just can’t help himself. He’s a diva, he hogs the attention, and he must be boss.

All of Kubrick’s films are ruminations on the game of power. ACO is about Alex who plays like knight on a chessboard but is reduced to a pawn.

The tough(and loud)talking chief guard(who could give Sgt. Hartman of FULL METAL JACKET a run for the money) can be a real son of a bitch, but he takes his job seriously and does it well. He’s totally dedicated to the system and his role in it, and such stuff interested Kubrick more than the novel’s theme about free will. ACO gave Kubrick an opportunity to delve into the workings of power. In order for the well-spoken elites to treat Alex with pseudo-civility, men like the chief guard must play the roles of enforcers, bull mastiffs. It says so much about the structure of the once-great British Empire. A world of genteel men guarded by ham-fisted men with big sticks. Those with the most power outwardly display it least because those with less power, the enforcers, strut with threat of blunt force.

The happy ending is that Alex returns to being a violent sociopath, but this time he will enjoy the patronage and protection of the state. Thus the tale veers from pat moralism to pure cynicism in the end.

But the film never dabbled in pat moralism. If anything, Kubrick upset a lot of people precisely because of the near-total lack of any kind of moralism. Indeed, Alex’s troubles out-of-prison are not treated as ‘lessons’ as Trevor Lynch would indicate: “Let that be a lesson to you.”
It’s less a lesson and more a joke on him. Alex develops a strange relationship with the audience. Because of his zany devil-may-care charisma, the audience is partially with him for the ride, a vicarious participation in thug-life. But because some of his acts are unspeakable, the audience also feel sickened as voyeuristic ‘accomplices’. It’s almost as if Kubrick was pulling a Ludovico Technique on us but in reverse. If Alex-the-sociopath is made to feel sick about mayhem, the audience(presumably made up of mostly normal people) is made to feel almost giddy about the violence. (Over the years, the real problem has been desensitization, especially as even young ones now grow up watching slasher movies and playing violent gory video-games. Today, a normal person is probably inundated with loads and loads of violent images, the kind that used to haunt only psychopathic minds in the past. What is the long-term psycho-social consequence of this? A nation of normal people with heads filled with manifestations of abnormal psychology?) There’s a kind of love/hate feeling for Alex on part of the (normal) audience.
In a way, Kubrick’s lack of judgement is not without moral value, at least in that he allows the viewer the free will to find and choose his/her own responses. In contrast, what is so offensive about PULP FICTION is Tarantino opens the sewers of demented ugliness for laughs but then pretends at the end to wrap it up with hipster-sermonizing, which is totally unconvincing.

Kubrick was fascinated with the fallibility of the perfect plan or system(most notably with the Hal 9000 computer). The ruling regime and Alex arrive at an understanding of the Perfect Solution that would satisfy both parties(and the third party, the public, as well). Due to the Ludovico treatment, Alex would be set free, which is good for him. He would no longer commit crime, which would be good for the public, and it would mean good press for the government, a boost for the ruling elites. But, as so often happens in Kubrick films, the perfect system(or the perfect game) goes awry. Alex is free but becomes the hunted, public support falters, and the regime must backtrack.
At the highest levels, it’s really a matter of power, a game of who rules what, than a matter of justice. The opposition that uses Alex, even driving him to attempted suicide, is capable of anything to embarrass the ruling regime so that its members can take power. And the regime changes its tune on Alex and restores him to his original self not out of any real concern for him(or the public) or ethical principles but merely to minimize the damage to their power. To take or hold onto power, both sides will do anything. Indeed, something is a bit suspect about the Ludovico Technique. If its purpose is to prevent criminality, why show images of Hitler and the Third Reich? What does that have to do with street crime or home invasions? Hitler was a killer but not a criminal in the conventional sense. It could be the Jewish Element among those who procured the treatment, and the conditioning seems to be as ideological as medical. But then, we see this with the Covid-hysteria. It was politicized and weaponized. It was promoted as a medical issue but was really driven by politics of power among the contending elites. Granted, the US is less a two-party system than a two-puppet system with both puppet-parties having their strings pulled by the Jews. Still, even among puppets, there is the wish to be the top puppet. It’s like school. No matter who is class president, he or she has to take orders from adults, but there’s still prestige in the label.

Had ACO’s ending been truly cynical, it would have been less disturbing. After all, DR. STRANGELOVE ends on a cynical note, and it was universally praised. The problem is the triumphalism, a kind of thug-version of the Star Child at the end of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Alex, the creature of hell, has entered the heaven of ecstasy with the backing of the powers-that-be. How did Kubrick really feel about this?

One problem is Malcolm McDowell’s the only one with star power whereas everyone else plays a caricature. They do it really well, but they are relatively cartoonish in comparison to the Alex who is at least three dimensional. Star power may not make a person sympathetic, and it’s hard to imagine anyone sympathizing with Alex’s vile exploits. But star power provokes a more dangerous response in us, an adulation of the ‘cool’ nihilist who has the audacity to make up his own rules. There is the Id in each of us, but we keep it caged for good reason. But even as we fear it, we are excited by it, which is why law-abiding people root for bank robbers in movies. Or for Tony Montana with ‘balls’ in SCARFACE. Alex may not be sympathetic but is certainly made pop-mythic.

If ACO has a moral problem, Alex’s balls are too big and aglow with star power whereas his victims have been flattened into two dimensional cartoon figures who look ridiculous and don’t elicit our sympathy. It didn’t matter in DR. STRANGELOVE because EVERYONE there is a caricature and there’s consistency of vision: Mad satire from beginning to end, with everyone deserving ridicule.
In contrast, ACO is like 1/3 spectacle(not unlike SPARTACUS and 2002), 1/3 drama, and 1/3 comedy. Alex is given some dramatic gravitas, which is denied to everyone else, even his hapless victims. If Alex is humanized(and even idolized), why is everyone else only good for mockery, ridicule, or unconcern?

Apparently, the book’s final chapter was “redemptive,” but this was omitted as being contrived—as if that weren’t true of the whole story.

It was excised from the American book edition, long before the making of the film. Kubrick went with the American version. I’m of two minds about the ending of the original novel. It seems plausible given that people do change with age. But it also comes across as an afterthought and even seems irrelevant as the novel is really a satire, more about society than about any fully-realized character. Alex is an embodiment of a trend, a cultural ‘icon’, than a realistic individual.
Still, it works better in the novel because Alex is younger. In the film, Alex is all grown-up, a young adult than someone on the verge of adulthood. And Alex of the film is far nastier than his counterpart in the novel. In contrast, we can believe in Barry Lyndon’s transformation when he loses his son and everything else. He was created as a genuine character than constructed as a social symbol.

The Ludovico technique is based on the observation that normal people have a distaste for violence and cruelty directed at the innocent. Then it simply ignores the fact that normal people don’t necessarily have a distaste for violence, even cruelty, directed at bad people. It also reverses cause and effect, reasoning that since normal people feel distaste at violence, if they can create a mechanical association between violence and sickness, that will somehow make Alex a morally normal person, curing him of his violent sociopathy.

This isn’t true. The people behind the Ludovico Treatment don’t overlook the fact that normal people have a taste for violence, even cruelty, directed at the likes of Alex. At the presentation, a male performer humiliates and beats up Alex to the delight of ‘normal’ people. The audience loves the fact that Alex is getting his comeuppance. They look forward to the prospect that people like Alex, when righteously humiliated by ‘good normal’ people, won’t be able to fight back. Try as he might, Alex is defenseless at the abuse directed at him. He wants to strike back but can’t. And the crowd applauds. If anything, this becomes the undoing of the Ludovico Treatment. ‘Good normal’ people take advantage of Alex’s defenselessness and drive him to the edge, indeed to the point where he becomes the victim.

Also, the Ludovico Treatment was never aimed at turning Alex into a morally normal person. It’s made clear that the powers-that-be don’t care what Alex thinks or feels AS LONG AS he is physically incapable of committing crime. The idea is to make him physically free but emotionally caged. So, Alex can be as evil as he wants to be on the inside. What the treatment promises is that he won’t be capable of acting out his evil; he will be as harmless as a child on the outside. That’s it. It’s not a moral treatment but a behavioral one. In other words, it’s not meant as a moral or ‘spiritual’ cure, which is precisely the theological argument presented in the film. The powers-that-be argue that, regardless of what Alex feels inside, he is harmless AS LONG AS he doesn’t commit crime, which is the reverse of Christian teachings that say the SIN is essentially a matter of the heart.

Also, this has to be seen in context. There was a time when B.F. Skinner(author of WALDEN II) was a major influence in the West. He disregarded psychology & free will and focused on behavior and conditioning. Skinner’s disciples rejected the notion of ‘personality’ & ‘individuality’ and believed that people are just the sum of their conditioning.

Of course, this whole theory completely ignores the element of empathy. Normal people feel disgust with violence and cruelty because they can empathize with the victims. Sociopaths lack empathy, and the Ludovico technique does not change that.

Actually, a more disturbing point would be that seemingly normal people often empathize with violent victors over the victims. Consider the Southerners who sympathized with Jesse James and the Younger Gang. Outlaws were often romanticized in American lore. 80% of blacks cheered for O.J. Simpson and celebrated his win in court. And most Americans cheer for powerful Zionists and feel zero sympathy for Palestinians. (Also, moral outrage turns off moral considerations for whom we come to hate. Jews are so morally outraged over ‘antisemitism’ that they are blind to the suffering of goyim, especially those suspected of anti-Jew hatred. But then, Germans under Hitler were so angry with Jews, who acted atrociously during the Weimar Period, that many of them didn’t care what was done to Jews by the Nazis. And given what Jews have done to the white race in the past fifty years, I doubt if many Alt-Right types would much care if there was another Holocaust. Moral outrage makes us immoral or at least amoral toward those who outrage us.) And even normal people enjoy watching romanticized portraits of criminals. Gangster movies were sensations from the beginnings. Lots of people loved BONNIE & CLYDE. The film I watched the most times is THE WILD BUNCH. I loathe crooks and criminals, but I love that film and feel for the characters. Oliver Stone is an anti-imperialist radical but swoons over Alexander the Great and his imperialist exploits; apparently, the man who was saddened by all those dead Vietnamese rationalizes the wanton destructiveness of Alexander whose empire-building turned entire worlds upside down.
ACO as a movie phenom demonstrates the problem of ‘normal morality’. Why did so many Normal People praise this film? Why did they find themselves laughing along and cheering for Alex the killer? It’s almost as if charisma or the Cool Factor has a logic of its own. Alex has devilish charm. Despite his vileness, he has a winning quality. Morality takes backseat to mythology, and Alex possesses the stuff of myth-making. Consider Muhammad Ali. Boxing had many tough mean bastards, and Ali could be as nasty and brutal as the rest of them. But most boxers lacked his showmanship, his knack for performance. So, he got away with stuff that most boxers would never have. In the strictest sense, Alex is a lowlife street punk, but he has a kind of power, the means to charm and disarm, like the friend in A SEPARATE PEACE, who can talk and smile himself out of any situation.

Of course utter stupidity is no objection to most progressive social uplift schemes, so it doesn’t exactly make such a “cure” for crime implausible.

While the treatment could be deemed ‘leftist’, it could just as easily appeal to anti-crime rightists. If something like Ludovico Treatment could be administered to crazy Negroes, many rightists would probably be onboard. Who cares about Negro souls or free will? Wouldn’t it be better if black thugs were psychologically stripped of their Jafric-Jiver tendencies? Imagine a vile Negro who wants to rob an old white lady but underwent the Ludovico treatment. Even the thought of transgressing would make him feel agony and go, “Sheeeeeiiit, dis pain be a mothafuc*a!” And imagine if, by ‘accident’, the treatment also made him associate fried chicken and watermelon with pain. That’d be amusing as hell. “Sheeeeiiit, I can’t eat chicken no mo’!”

Burgess’s “deep” objection to the Ludovico technique is equally crude and dumb, but in a different way. The prison chaplain argues that the Ludovico technique is evil because it takes away Alex’s freedom, which takes away his humanity…
But if this is a dehumanizing assault on freedom, what are we to make of our own disgust with Alex’s behavior? Is that also a dehumanizing form of unfreedom? Presumably so. Does this mean that when Alex becomes a violent sociopath again his humanity has been restored? Presumably so.

But that’s gumbic logic. Actually, Burgess’s objection is philosophically and morally sound.
First, free will isn’t the same as freedom. Burgess and the prison chaplain are not arguing for granting freedom to Alex. They believe a man like that should be locked up, maybe forever. Because scumbags used their free will to commit heinous acts, they must pay for their crimes and, if possible, seek redemption. Free will means that each of us is an individual who is responsible for one’s decisions and their consequences.
Without the Ludovico Treatment, Alex would remain in prison and would have to pay for what he’d done. Still, he would have his soul, and of course, soul can be evil. He would have his free will, and that would make him human. Now, ‘human’ isn’t the same as ‘humane’. Being human means having the freedom to choose between good and evil. According to most religions, being human is a curse, a state of fallenness, a sinfulness. Man is of flesh, and in this man is like an ape or animal that also lives by flesh and instinct. He has animal drives despite culture and civilization. Still, unlike animals that are trapped in their world of instinct, mankind has consciousness, the means to gain higher understanding, though it may take more time for some. This is possible even for sociopaths. That is the basis for human dignity. Sure, killers will be killers, and sociopaths will be sociopaths. But they still have a uniquely human quality. Dogs and cats can be full of love and affection, but they cannot understand right and wrong. But moral understanding is possible even for a sociopath. It’s like what the priest says to Frank(Robert DeNiro) in THE IRISHMAN. One can BE sorry even if one doesn’t FEEL sorry. Unlikely but within the realm of possibility. One can understand even without feeling it.

So, Burgess wasn’t arguing for freedom for people like Alex. Rather, even they shouldn’t be denied free will, the individual choice between good and evil. As the prison chaplain says, the New Alex can’t really be good or reformed because true redemption requires a change of heart. But as the authorities see it, such are archaic sentiments or obsolete ideas. Science can alter behavior, and what does it matter if Alex is rotten inside as long as he doesn’t cause harm on the outside?
Of course, the victims may argue it is still unfair that someone like Alex should be allowed to walk free(even if they won’t cause harm) because they haven’t paid their debt to society. After all, if I commit murder but is given a chance to walk free if I undergo a treatment where I can’t murder again, I might take the offer; and the family of the victim would be upset that I didn’t serve my full sentence and is a free person. Still, a free person without free will. Free on the outside, but imprisoned on the inside. I suppose one could argue that Alex, even following the Ludovico Treatment, has free will. He can still choose to be evil than good or choose to be genuinely good on the inside. He just can’t ACT OUT bad deeds. Ludovico effect kicks in only when he tries to ACT on his vile or evil impulses. It doesn’t rob him of the freedom to have bad thoughts. So, one could argue it robs him of free action than free will. His inner soul still can choose between the good and evil.

As to the restoration of Alex’s ‘humanity’ at the end, we need to be careful with words. It’s not a matter of humanity but of human-ness. ‘Humanity’ connotes humane-ness, where human-ness encompasses the totality of what makes us human, from good to evil. So, Alex-as-sociopath is still an inhumane monster, but he’s human in the sense that he can choose good or evil out of his own free will in conflict with his twisted nature. Think of the sociopathic character played by James Woods in THE ONION FIELD. In terms of film-making prowess, it is maybe 1/10th or 1/100th that of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, but it’s a penetrating study of a sociopathic mind. In some ways, the killer in that film will never change. At the fundamental level, he is not like us. Still, in certain respects, he does grow as a person. Age and experience do affect him. He mellows and grows more reflective, though not sufficiently for social norms.

Since Alex the sociopath can contemplate violence without any feelings of disgust, whereas normal people cannot, does this mean that Alex is both more free and more human than normally constituted people? If so, this is a pretty good example of a reductio ad absurdum.

Again, you’re confusing ‘human’ with ‘humane’. Human-ness encompasses everything from dark evil to shining nobility, the full spectrum of thoughts, passions, and actions in the tragedies and comedies of Shakespeare. Also, the moral theme of the novel is about free will, which mustn’t be confused with freedom. Free Will simply means one’s conscious moral-personal-existential choice between good and evil. Burgess wasn’t arguing for granting freedom to sociopaths. He was merely acknowledging the autonomy of free will. If people choose to do evil, make them pay the price. Lock them up and throw away the key. And if there’s any chance of them reforming, it must come from within their hearts in concert with their minds. True goodness must be a conscious choice, the product of reflection and realization. (Is empathy really necessary for decency? Dogs probably can’t empathize with what it means to be human, but they love us and treat us well. In contrast, many intelligent people can empathize with other people but use the knowledge only for control, often deviously and/or ruthlessly. Also, given that the world is so full of tawdry people, wouldn’t empathy make us sense the tawdriness of others more acutely, making us think even less of them?)

Of course, Kubrick used Burgess’s novel to explore his own ideas. ACO is like a debased pop-version of the Napoleon story. Unlike Napoleon who had revolution, nationalism, war & glory, and justice & liberation as the canvas for his megalomania, Alex has only a future world of soulless modernity defined by pop-consumer culture. He lives in a ‘world of shit’, a post-enlightenment world that Andy Warhol might have designed. As horrible as things were in Napoleon’s times, there was faith in the future, that somehow things will get better. It was proto-modern, whereas the world of ACO is post-modern, very much the world we find ourselves today.
Yet, as trashy as Alex is, he has one thing in common with men like Napoleon. His sense of freedom is limitless. He is unbound as a free spirit who follows his bliss, however depraved it may be. Nothing stands in his way. Even in prison, as rotten as he is, there’s perverse integrity in remaining true to his viciousness, as if he is the master, the king, the lord of all things.

Alex wastes his energies on pointless destruction, but he has something in common with great leaders and great artists. Alex doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Artists and leaders also score high on sociopathy. Richard Wagner, for example, used and abused everyone and felt zero remorse because, so convinced of his own greatness, he felt others existed merely to serve his genius. And great leaders believe it’s worth expending countless lives for greater vision, national glory, and/or higher cause. But buried beneath all those flowery concepts, how much does it have to do with egomania, narcissism, vainglory, and sense of destiny?
What sets Alex apart from artists and leaders with sociopathic tendencies is he lacks any higher vision or cause… though, unlike most hooligans, he has the greatest appreciation for Beethoven. His mayhem is like an anarcho-orchestration of Beethoven’s music. In a way, it’s a perverse act of sacrilege, but in some sick twisted way, he has a point. While Beethoven’s music is lofty and inspired, it is the sublimated product of raw passions. It is ape-hood willed into angel-ness.

In some ways, Alex is worse due to a total lack of any concern beyond his ego, and yet, it’s refreshing because his primal energies aren’t speciously wrapped in high-minded concepts. He has no pretenses of saving the world, the oft-used excuse of closet-sociopath crusaders who are really driven by megalomania and power-lust.
In a way, it would be more honest if all those creeps in the Deep State exposed their Alex-side than pretended to care for stuff like ‘human rights’ and ‘muh democracy’. They are really gangsters and thugs. People in the war department love war for war’s-sake. The world is one big football game, and they want action. They invoke all sorts of principles to drop more bombs and kill more people, and all without remorse. Against such sham morality, there is an honest quality about Alex’s honest immorality. It’s like Charlie(Harvey Keitel) in MEAN STREETS secretly admires and envies Johnny Boy who, though utterly demented, is true to himself and without pretension. Also, when Alex destroys or kills, it’s totally his thing. He decided and he did it. In contrast, deep state goons and soldiers depend on higher authority to do all their killings. Agents lack agency.

The elites fear people like Alex, an equal-opportunity attacker owned by no one. He attacks poor and rich alike. In contrast, Red Guards and Antifa are controlled goons, so useful to those in power. Antifa doesn’t attack the Deep State but does its bidding. Red guards were Mao’s minions. They acted on his whims(though they did get carried away).

But to the Ludovico technique, virtue is indistinguishable from Pavlovian conditioning, and moral sentiments are indistinguishable from a sour stomach.

No, the Ludovico treatment doesn’t take virtue into account at all. It is based on science or scientism. It believes concepts such as ‘virtue’ and ‘free will’ to be outdated, much like most scholars today don’t take ideas like ‘natural law’ seriously. It seeks to bypass ‘sentimental’ notions such as ‘virtue’ and ‘morality’ and get right down to the business of behavior and conditioning.
Genuine virtue requires individuality and free will, but the scientists in ACO don’t believe in either, or they believe such notions run counter to social policy. They would have to trust the people to make the right decision out of their own free will; they would have to only deal with the bad ones who end up in prison. They can be reactive but not proactive. But why clean up after the storm if you can prevent the storm itself?

In a way, it’s the problem of modernity. More freedom for individuals means more possibility for bad behavior. Even if not outright criminal, modern freedoms have led to people making all sorts of stupid decisions with over-eating, drugs, sex, and other vices & indulgences, all of which have had degrading consequences for society. Can we rely on virtue to inspire people to clean up their acts? Moralists say yes, but most social thinkers say no. In a way, the latter is right. People were less self-indulgent in the past not so much out of virtue but as the result of repression and communal repercussion. People then only seemed to act more virtuous out of fear of the whip or the shunning(especially at a time when people couldn’t escape into their own TV-worlds). People whose morality or virtue is based on fear or approval aren’t truly virtuous.
A truly virtuous person chooses the righteous and good even when he has all the freedom and opportunity to indulge in the bad. For most of history, most people never had such an opportunity. They lived in a harsh world where social punishment could be swift and social rejection agonizing. But then came the modern world of tolerance and plenty with more than enough to go around. More people than ever finally had something like real freedom and real choice. But when faced with choice, they often went with vice over virtue. Virtue requires self-restraint, which stands in the way of ‘liberation’. Also, capitalism depends on people choosing vice that leads to more greed, vanity, and materialism that fuel the economy. And, so-called ‘liberals’ disdain the notion of virtue as repressive and ‘anal’. Furthermore, many believe that ‘virtue’ is often invoked by the powerful as a means of social control when, in fact, the men of power themselves lack virtue and maintain position & privilege by hook or by crook.
So, if virtue-as-foundation-of-social-order has been an illusion, what way is there to maintain social control in a liberated world? More rules and regulations and more reliance on technology in an ever-increasing surveillance state. As miserable as this way is, a plea for virtue won’t work, and indeed, it never worked. In the past, people didn’t so much choose virtue as it was chosen for them, like many marriages were arranged. But because people didn’t want to admit they were coerced, they chose to believe that the decision was their own in favor of virtue. Minus the return of those old harsh social controls, the ideal of virtue alone won’t work because too many people will choose vice over virtue if given the freedom.

From the chaplain’s point of view, the freedom of the mind is so separate from the body, habit, and feeling that a sociopath’s lack of virtue or moral sentiment actually make him freer and thus more human than morally healthy people.

??? You’re just putting words into his mouth. He meant no such thing. He is saying true goodness requires a change of heart based on free will, something God bestowed unto each man. Also, his spiritual view does take the body into account. According to Christianity, man must wrestle with the drives of his flesh and fend off temptation if he’s to reach higher states of being. Alex is very much a sensual, sexual, and physical creature. He lives for fleshly desires and thrill of the moment. The chaplain would never say the body doesn’t matter. Body is always there, tempting man to act the animal than angel. At any rate, in order for man to rise above bodily desires, he must rely on free will to choose the good and pursue the way of God. For the chaplain, freedom alone isn’t good enough. He knows well enough that freedom can mean freedom to be evil or good. Still, it is free will that offers man a choice between true good and true evil. There is NOTHING in what he said that would indicate that he thinks sociopaths are more ‘human’ than morally healthy people.

Also, the fact that the chaplain works in a prison indicates that he does believe in the power of habit. After all, prisons exist to deny bad people freedom-of-movement. Prisons exist to force bad men into daily routines and non-aggressive behavior. It is about control of bodies and conditioning them into new habits of routine and respect. And a good deal of Christianity is about how to shape and discipline the body and one’s habits toward moral and spiritual goals.

Kubrick’s treatment of sex and violence veers between the pornographic and cartoonish. The entire movie is crude and cynical parody, with an ugly cast, grotesque costumes, hideous sets, and dreadful over-acting.

My main issue with the film is its visceral power overrides its literary meanings. Burgess’s book is a novel of ideas, but Kubrick’s film is a spectacle of nihilism, especially because Kubrick prioritized cinematic expression over thematic exploration. The themes are there, but Malcolm McDowell’s star power and Kubrick’s visual prowess take center stage. The result is something like The Triumph of the Villains.

One may argue that anyone who enjoys the film as a thrill-ride is missing the point, the theme of free-will, but art operates on several planes, and this is especially true of cinema that not only works as story but as spectacle, made all the more overwhelming with music. Form is content; the two is inseparable. The form of ACO doesn’t merely contain the message but is also the message, and it is “Wow, this is really exciting.”
It’s like APOCALYPSE NOW may have been intended as an anti-war film, and Colonel Kilgore is meant to be a crazy guy, but anyone who watches that film can’t help but experience war as a rock opera and swoon at Kilgore as the awesome god of war. So, those who ‘missed the point’ actually got the bigger point, i.e. that cinema works on several levels, and the visceral experience may well overpower its ‘moral intention’. Sam Peckinpah was never convincing when he said the point of the violence in THE WILD BUNCH was to make people sick in the stomach. No, it’s too exciting and powerful, even beautiful, for that. Of course, some people make out-and-out specious moral arguments, like Martin Bregman’s BS about Brian DePalma’s SCARFACE being an anti-drug movie. Sure, the movie shows the sordid side of the drug business, and Tony Montana comes to a bad end, but what a rollercoaster while it lasted. It made morons want to be gangsters. And WALL STREET made more people want to work for the likes of Gekko or, better yet, be a Gekko. Even as Oliver Stone disdained the notion of ‘greed is good’, he presented Gekko as a god.

‘Sociopath’ has moral, political, and medical/clinical meanings.

Alex is a clinical sociopath who acts crazy on his own.

Most political sociopaths aren’t clinically deranged, but their ambition drives them to areas of power that are intrinsically(necessarily) and systemically amoral. If you work for the CIA, you have to be morally sociopathic to remain an insider and on grounds of ‘us vs them’.

It’s like murderers and soldiers both slaughter people, even innocent civilians. But murderers do it on their own whereas soldiers do it on orders.

Granted, extreme situations can unleash the repressed Id of blood orgy even among those who aren’t clinically sociopathic. Thus, Nanking massacre and other craziness.

One could argue that Alex, even following the Ludovico Treatment, has free will. He can still choose to be evil or good on the inside. He just can’t ACT OUT bad deeds. Ludovico effect kicks in only when he tries to ACT out his vile or evil impulses. It doesn’t rob him of the freedom to have bad thoughts. So, one could argue it robs him of free action than free will. His inner soul still can choose between the good and evil. Even as he’s forced to be ‘good’ on the outside, he can choose to remain evil on the inside. Thus, he’s not wholly robbed of free will.

Is a sociopath lacking in empathy or sympathy? Empathy means putting oneself in others’ shoes and seeing things from their points of view. Some people are capable of this, but they nevertheless feel no sympathy for others. They understand the mentalities but don’t care or share in the emotions of fellow human beings.

Also, lack of empathy doesn’t necessarily mean lack of sympathy. Dogs can’t empathize with humans or cats, but they often care about humans and cats(if friends in the same household). Some simple-minded people are too dim for empathy but they are full of love for others.

Is there a term for someone who lacks not the concern for others but the sense of autonomous self? If sociopaths care about themselves but feel nothing for others, what about someone who is totally concerned about what OTHERS think/feel about him or her but seriously lack the pride of his or her own thoughts or feelings? It seems lots of East Asians or yellows are like this. Very weak sense of self but very real concern about how OTHERS think/feel about them. Jews are into Jewishness, blacks are into blackness. But yellows seem to be about how-others-feel-about-them. Blacks attack them, but yellows say nothing about it because the dominant power would disapprove of such complaints. Instead, yellows go with the approved narrative and blame ‘white supremacism’. If sociopathy is lack of concern for others in society, could a weak sense of self or lack of autonomy be called ‘autopathy’ or ‘indepathy’ or ‘selfpathy’?

What were Alex’s leadership skills like? Leadership qualities vary from context to context. You see this among animals. Certain species are more aggressive and predatory, like wolves and hyenas. To be a leader among those animals requires more forcefulness and brutality than to be a leader among sheep or prairie dogs.

If you’re a leader of a church with mostly nice people, you won’t have to be high-handed because most members are decent and trusting. Mere kindness can go a long way. But if you’re the leader of a gang, you need street cred. You must show you are tough and don’t take shit from anyone. Alex is a leader of wolves or hyenas. They are social predators, and he must always show he’s tougher than others; and if some are stronger than him, he must prove his superiority with wit and daring. If he’s seen as weak, another will try to take over as alpha. Of course, if he is too rough with the others, they could turn on him… which is what they do.
This was Leon Trotsky’s problem. In some ways, he had remarkable leadership skills, and many looked up to him. He was tough and ruthless, absolutely essential traits among radicals. But he was also supremely arrogant and insulting, and this made many choose Stalin over him. Stalin was also a mean son of a bitch who was often rude, but he could also be diplomatic and outwardly conciliatory(while plotting for future battles).

In ACO, it seems the droogs stuck by Alex for sometime. They didn’t immediately turn against him but reached a point where they decided to stick it to him.
In the world of thuggery, Alex has to walk a fine line between not appearing weak and not alienating others. It’s an unstable relationship as ‘honor among thieves’ usually is: Sociopaths or thugs trying to trust and support one another.
But such relations are common in all walks of life. Most politicians are untrustworthy as most of them will usually go with the strong horse and routinely stab anyone in the back to save their own skin or to further their own career. It’s the same in the business world. Friends today, enemies tomorrow, and vice versa. The seemingly loyal underling in Akira Kurosawa’s HIGH AND LOW turn on his boss and go with the rivals who gain the upper hand. Pachanga turns on his friend in CARLITO’S WAY. In those cases, the underlings thought the boss had gone soft and lost the edge.

In other cases, betrayal is about revenge, like when Carlo did a number on Sonny who beat him up in THE GODFATHER. And Fredo, long humiliated by Michael, conspired with Hyman Roth and Johnny Ola in THE GODFATHER PART 2. Carlo found Sonny overbearing, and Fredo resented the younger brother bossing him around. In contrast, Sal betrayed the family in part one because he thought the Corleones were on the decline and Barzini was the strong horse to bet on.

Donald Trump sure found out you can’t trust anyone in the world of politics teeming with the likes of Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and Mitt Romney. Not murderous sociopaths but careerist ones who will do anything to save their own skin or play the game. Granted, Trump himself isn’t trustworthy. (But then, even Peter denied Jesus three times.)

There was a successful coup against Benito Mussolini. There was a plot against Adolf Hitler that came close to killing him. There are rumors that Josef Stalin was finally done in by his own men, perhaps with poison. Whether it’s Alex playing war in the streets or big leaders playing war among nations, such extreme games of ambition and violence are never stable in terms of loyalty and trust.

Obviously, Hitler and Alex are different creatures. For one thing, Hitler came to power in his middle age. He was ‘wiser’ by then. Alex is still young and driven by crazy hormones. What they do have in common is a bohemian(artistic) streak and love for classical music. Hitler was obsessed with Wagner, Alex is crazy about Beethoven. The difference is Hitler came of age in a more sentimental and romantic era, whereas Alex is very much the creature of post-modern irony and vapid youth culture. Had Hitler been born in the 1960s, maybe he would have taken up punk music. It’s hard to say. The skinheads in AMERICAN HISTORY X are pretty demented and degenerate, not least due to the youth culture all around them.

Difference between Hitler and Alex is the latter loves violence for violence’s sake whereas violence was a means for Hitler(though he found plenty of excitement in playing war games with the lives of millions). A combo of Hitler and Alex would be the David android in ALIEN COVENANT. Like Hitler, he has grand vision and a mythic sense of destiny; but like Alex, he revels in violence for violence’s sake and feels nothing for all the dead.

Alex is almost totally without sentimentality(though his feelings are genuinely hurt when his parents reject him upon his release). Hitler could be very sentimental and feel strong fondness and attachment to things. Alex seems to mock everything(except Beethoven, his god whose music is to art what Napoleon was to history). Julius Streicher was also sentimental. He wept over his dead canaries. He was an animal lover, as was Hitler. And yet, their feelings were narrowly restricted to certain people, things, and themes. For certain others, they not only felt indifferent but contempt and hatred bordering on pathology.
This is not uncommon among white supremacist types. Their love for their own race is genuine and true. But their disdain, derision, and hatred for outside groups can be extreme, indeed as a compulsive need to dump on the Other.
Now, it’s natural for most people to favor their own over others. It’s like a person favoring one’s own family. Still, loving one’s own family doesn’t mean one should hate other families or not acknowledge their equal value as human beings. So, even though I probably won’t be emotionally moved by the death of some neighbor I know little about, I would still understand that it’s a tragedy and people who loved him would be filled with grief. I wouldn’t feel sad but nevertheless understand it’s a sad thing that someone died and it’s painful for those who loved him.

The problem with Hitler wasn’t his love for Germans or ‘Aryans’. Germans should love their own kind. It was his contempt for other peoples whom he deemed as lesser humans. Perhaps, he loved his own people too much. When you love your people too much, you may come to believe they deserve everything under the sun, indeed more than other peoples do. (An Italian mother who loves her son too much hides him from the Law even when he did something wrong and must face justice.) As other peoples stand in the way of your people’s rightful place-in-the-sun, they need to be wiped out or enslaved to serve your people. This was Hitler’s vision of Lebensraum. He came to power in Germany with his love for the German people, that much is true. But he later turned much of the world against him when his plan was Germany uber alles at their expense. Russians and Slavs had no meaningful place in Hitler’s grand plan. They would either be killed or enslaved.

So, what was Hitler? A Nationalsociopath? A person who is capable of great love for his own kind but lacking in even the modicum of human feelings for outsiders or those deemed expendable. In THE GODFATHER movies, it’s obvious Michael is capable of affection and love. He loved his father. He loved his brother. He loves Apollonia and he loves Kay. But he is also capable of having a prostitute murdered in cold blood to gain control over Senator Geary. For his empire, he will sacrifice a ‘lesser human being’.

Jews hate Hitler, but they are also big on nationalsociopathy. Just like Hitler loved Germans and ‘Aryan’s, Jews love Jews and ‘Semites’. But just like Hitler was willing to sacrifice millions of non-German lives to make room for his beloved Germans, Jews are willing to destroy countless goy lives in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Russia just to have Jews Uber Alles.
The fact that Jews did so much to get Jonathan Pollard sprung from jail is proof that Jews have strong affection and love for one another. But what about all the victims of Pollard? Pollard’s betrayal led to deaths of double-agents in the USSR. Jews don’t care. Jews feel, ‘He did it for the tribe, so he’s okay’.

So, Hitler and Jewish Supremacists have something in common. They feel real and genuine love for their own kind BUT feel zero feeling for outsiders. To Hitler, Jews and Slavs were expendable. Though he didn’t want to kill them for the hell of it, he was willing to sacrifice their lives for the greater glory of the Germans. Likewise, Jewish Supremacists probably don’t want to kill goy lives just for the hell of it; they are not murderous or sadistic in that way. But their main obsession is Jewish Hegemony based on tribal pride and arrogance; as such, they believe anything standing in the way of Jewish Destiny must be smashed.

In some ways, Hitler was worse than Jewish Supremacists. Whereas Jews all work together as equals for the good of the Tribe, there was something of higher value in Hitler’s mind than German glory and interests. He was a megalomaniac who saw himself as a Man of Destiny, one of those gods/heroes of Wagnerian operas. Thus, he was bigger than the Germans, and even as he loved them, they existed to serve him and his vaunted role in history as the epoch-making greatest conqueror and ruler of all time. In the end, Germans existed to serve him than vice versa. Germans gave him everything in the most devastating war in world history, but he felt no pity for them in the end because they failed him. In his eyes, Germans deserved to vanish as a race because they didn’t live up to his expectations.

In this, Jews have been wiser. Jewish Power is shared, and Jews are mindful of other Jews. Jewish Power is the culmination of many Jews with strong personalities and pride. In contrast, German National Socialism was about so many Germans submitting their individualities to Hitler’s megalomania.

If a Hitlerowicz rose among Jews, other Jews would speak up and bat him down. Jews would tell the Hitlerian Jew to knock it off. They would remind him and each other that Jewishness is about Jews working together for Jewish Eternity than about a single Jew hogging the limelight as the super-Jew. It’s telling that Jews have been waiting for a messiah forever but he never came(or the Jews never accepted anyone as messiah, not even Jesus). And so, Jews keep going on and on like the energizer bunny.

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