Describe how Kubrick's use of music shapes the viewer's experience of A Clockwork Orange.
The viewer is often very aware of the score of A Clockwork Orange - as the music plays loudly over a scene as opposed to in the background. Examples include - the fight between Alex and his droogs and Billy boy's gang, which appears almost choreographed to Rossini's The Thieving Magpie. When Alex and his droogs maim and rape Mr. and Mrs. Alexander, Alex sings 'Singin' in the Rain' with a theatrical dance routine. When Alex has an orgy with two girls from the record store, there is no natural sound at all, only the William Tell Overture. Although Kubrick claimed that these stylistic choices were simply the way Alex sees things - the artificiality of the music actually serves to distance the viewer from the onscreen brutality. Detractors thought that this was a manipulative way to get the audience to relate to Alex's hooliganism.
As a character, does Alex change internally over the course of the film? Why or why not?
Alex does experience a change in his nature, but not by choice - which relates directly to the moral core of the film. He is violent by nature, which lands him in prison. While he is in prison, he pretends to reform and become religious in order to hasten his release (for example, he has visions of sex and violence while reading the Bible). He is chosen for the government's mind-controlling experiment designed to "cure" criminals of their criminality - the Ludovico method, which actually uses aversion therapy to physically incapacitate criminals when they think about or try to engage in illegal activities. Alex is attacked by his former victims, tortured and unable to defend himself - leading him to try and commit suicide. After his suicide attempt, he is free from the government's mind control - restoring him to his former state. He comes full circle over the course of the film, ending much the same as he started - except now his behavior is endorsed by the State. The thesis of the film therefore advocates the right of free will, regardless of what a human being chooses to do with that right.
Compare and contrast the points of view of the Prison Chaplain and the Minister of the Interior. At the end of the film, who do you believe was right?
The Prison Chaplain finds the demonstration of the Ludovico Technique to be an exercise of humiliation. Alex is forced to lick a man's shoe, because his treatment renders him too ill to retaliate; the treatment doesn't excise the desire to commit vile acts, only the power to execute them. The Chaplain argues that no matter what the result (i.e., the reduction of crime) - human beings should be allowed to exercise free will. Meanwhile, the Minister of the Interior doesn't care what effect the treatment has on the individual, he only cares that he is able to reduce crime and therefore, prioritizes the health of the State rather than its citizens. In the end, the Prison Chaplain turns out to be right because Alex finds himself defenseless against a world filled with revenge and - unable to protect himself - tries to commit suicide. Cured and free as he might be - Alex would rather die than suffer from the effects of the government's mind control experiment.
Do you believe that Alex is indeed 'cured' at the end of the film? Why or why not?
Alex is cured from the Ludovico technique at the end of the film. His last line is a cheeky nod to the Minister of the Interior's attempts to "cure" him from criminal activity through aversion therapy - therefore depriving him of his free will. After the demonstration that shows that Alex becomes very sick when he tries to act violently, the Minister claims that his cure works. However, Alex's suicide attempt leads the media to dub the Ludovico treatment inhumane and corrupt - and it also changes the power dynamic between Alex and the Minister. At first, Alex has to rely on the Minister for his freedom, but at the end of the film, the Minister has to rely on Alex to keep his government in power. Therefore, Alex is cured from the government's control and the marginalization he faced as a prisoner and criminal. He is certainly not cured of his violent instincts.
What do you think Kubrick/Burgess feel about modern psychiatry? Support your answer with evidence from the film.
Both Kubrick and Burgess were vocal about their concerns about the potential dangers of science and technology. In fact, Kubrick's films 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr. Strangelove also deal with this issue. Kubrick once said, "Modern science seems to be very dangerous because it has given us the power to destroy ourselves before we know how to handle it" (Ciment 149). The psychologists and scientists in A Clockwork Orange are similarly ill-prepared to deal with the fallout of depriving human beings from exercising free will. The Minister of the Interior says to Alex when he visits him in the hospital that he, and the government he represents, are very sorry for what Alex has suffered and says that they "followed recommendations that were made... that turned out to be wrong. An inquiry will place the responsibility where it belongs". Meaning, the government plans to blame the scientists. In this case, the psychologists created the weapon, and the government simply did not understand the impact of deploying it. It seems then that Burgess and Kubrick have fashioned a story that serves as a warning against the over-reaching power of scientific advancement.
How do you think Alex's Parents and the other authority figures around him have had a part in making him who he is?
Alex might be evil to the core, but he is more charismatic and intelligent than any of the authority figures he encounters. His parents, post-correction officer, and the police are completely ineffective in guiding him or corralling his hedonistic nature - mostly because they are totally clueless. Alex is able to dupe all of them - he has the position of power in all these relationships. His parents are content to stay locked out of his room as long as he doesn't do anything that bothers them, people are naive enough to let him into their homes, and his post-correction officer is more concerned with fondling him than helping him. He has no boundaries and no good examples - the world around Alex is just as depraved as he is, albeit in less physically violent ways - so it makes sense that someone so vile has come out of this environment.
Describe how Kubrick's use of the wide angle lens draws the viewer's sympathy towards Alex. Use examples from the film.
With a wide-angle lens, Stanley Kubrick is able to create distortion around the edges of the frame, but by keeping Alex in the center - Alex's image remains intact. In the very first shot of the film, in the Korova Milkbar, the wide-angle lens creates the effect that everyone around Alex is stoned and weird, while Alex himself is clear and focused, with his eye looking directly into the camera. We are drawn to him - whether we like it or not. Similarly, in the record store, Alex marches in, motivating the camera to move backwards to keep him in frame. The wide-angle lens distorts the strange and tacky decor around him, but Alex commands the frame, striding confidently. Finally, when Alex attacks Cat Lady and the wide angle lens distorts her face, making her look like a monster, the camera puts us squarely in Alex's mind (and on his side) as he kills her.
How do you think women are shown in the film? Do you think it is exploitative - why or why not?
There are no sympathetic characters in the film - male or female. However, the female characters are literally objectified - from the nude statues that serve as furniture in the Korova Milkbar to the paintings of women pleasuring themselves that adorn Alex's wall. One of Pauline Kael's (many) criticisms of the film was the scene where Billy boy and his droogs are trying to rape a young devotckha. Unlike the rest of the film, this scene starts before Alex enters - so we actually see Billy boy strip the woman and throw her down for several seconds before cutting to Alex and his droogs at the back of the casino, watching. This does not fit in with Kubrick's claim that the film is entirely subjective to Alex's point of view, leading Kael to label this scene as "pure exploitation". However, Alex himself objectifies women to the point that he cannot even enjoy sex in a pure or loving way - so perhaps the film is successful in portraying his mindset - despite Kubrick's controversial choices. Alex is a controversial narrator, so it is natural that there is ongoing critical debate about the meaning of the film and the depictions of its characters.
How does the Ludovico Technique (and the film in general) force the audience to examine our own relationship to film-watching?
While strapped into a chair during his treatment, Alex says (in voice-over) "It's funny how the colors of the world only seem really real when you viddy them on screen". In this line, Kubrick forces us to face the disgust we feel while watching Alex and his droogs perform their horrific crimes. The world we live in may not be as bad as Alex's, but we can certainly see strands of reality in it - and it is scary. Stanley Kubrick once said, "I know that there are well-intentioned people who sincerely believe that films and TV contribute to violence... I think the media tend to exploit this issue because it allows them to display and discuss the so-called harmful things from a lofty position of moral superiority" (Ciment 163). The doctors who perform the Ludovico method label Alex as "sick" for committing the terrible crimes, but they distance themselves from these actions, both figuratively and literally, not recognizing the atrocities they are committing to Alex himself. It is important to note, however, that Kubrick himself pulled A Clockwork Orange from distribution because of the negative media attention surrounding copycat criminals and because his family was receiving death threats.
How do you feel the film presents High Art (paintings, Beethoven, etc)? Support your answer with evidence from the film.
Kubrick satirizes the snobbish separation of high and low art throughout A Clockwork Orange. Alex is a man who loves to rape women but also loves Beethoven - two traits that would seem to diametrically oppose one another. The psychologists conducting the Ludovico technique are surprised to learn that Alex has not only heard Beethoven before, but he adores the composer's work. The professional, higher class doctors presume that a rough youth like Alex could not appreciate the finer things in life. However, Kubrick says that this "suggests the failure of culture to have any morally refining effect on society" (Ciment 163). Cat Lady is a good example of the film's witty presentation of high art. She shouts at Alex for touching her giant phallus sculpture, which she claims is "a very important work of art". We see this scene from his perspective and recognize the absurdity - this penis only becomes a piece of art because Cat Lady imbues it with that meaning. However, when in Alex's hands, it becomes a joke, and ultimately, a weapon. Krim Gabbard and Shailja Sharma write, "When [Alex] rams the penis sculpture into the Cat Lady, the viewer watches it from Alex's perspective, forced to assent in Alex's anger against the snobbery and privilege of an eccentric lady who sees the giant penis as art" (McDougal 91).