A Clockwork Orange (Film)

A Clockwork Orange (Film) Themes


The depiction of violence in A Clockwork Orange has been the fulcrum of most of the controversy that has surrounded the film for the past several decades. However, by staging the violence in a dramatic, theatrical way, Kubrick lessens the impact of the heinous acts while also creating a feeling of detachment, allowing the viewer to examine his or her own desensitization. When Alex and his friends beat up the tramp, we see them only in long, contrasted shadows. When they attack Billy boy and his droogs, the melee resembles a choreographed dance, windows breaking and chairs crashing along to the loud Rossini track. When Alex and his droogs attack Mr. Alexander and his wife, Alex sings and dances, as if in a musical number, to 'Singin' in the Rain'. Finally, when Alex has an orgy with two girls from the record store, the scene plays out in fast motion with only music and no natural sound. Kubrick filmed these scenes so the audience could experience them as Alex does, but many critics accused Kubrick of celebrating and therefore condoning Alex's horrific behavior.

Dystopian Future

Anthony Burgess set A Clockwork Orange in an undefined time in the future, and invented the "Nadsat" language so that his work would not ever seem dated. This terrifying future that Burgess created, though, was not so different from the world in which he was writing (1960s England). The decade embodied a socialist version of English society, tipping into totalitarianism. While Kubrick's cinematic depiction takes a lot visually from 1970s pop culture, it is, like Burgess's vision, a world in which adults were afraid of the youth and the government is just as criminal as criminals themselves. Hoodlums rule the street and nobody wants to - or cares to - control them unless they go too far. Meanwhile, the government tries to use science as a weapon to rob human beings of their free will - instead of trying to examine the societal constructs that make people commit crimes. This is, according to the film, the greatest crime of all.

Youth Culture

The 1960s, both in the United States and England, represented a time when young citizens were determined to make themselves heard, and the divide between the younger generation and the older one is very prevalent in A Clockwork Orange. In the United States, the hippie movement was taking shape as a powerful political force - and Richard Nixon tried to stroke public outrage with his calls for 'law and order'. Nixon "identified hippies, sex, drugs, rock-and-roll and political dissent with complex civil disobedience and a threat to the status quo" (McDougal 23). In England, the media trumpeted the danger of a youthful uprising because of the conflicts between the Mods and Rockers. The dystopian vision of A Clockwork Orange has a lot in common with these real-life events: Alex and his friends are terrors, but nobody (not even the viewer) understands why. Instead of trying to create a shift in the society that created these "droogs", the government and authority figures either ignore them, take advantage of them, or try to suppress them - the focus is more on the welfare of the state than the welfare of the individual.

Moral Choice

The Prison Chaplain, the mouthpiece for the moral of the film, speaks out against the government's attempt to overpower a human being's right to choose. From his first moment on screen, the Prison Chaplain is preaching (fire-and-brimstone style) to a group of prisoners on how they alone will atone for their sins, and that they must take charge of their own destinies. Later, when Alex is the subject of aversion therapy that makes him violently ill at the thought of sex or violence, it is only the Prison Chaplain who stands up for him, claiming that the practice that has taken away Alex's ability to choose is itself criminal. At the end, Alex is cured from the aversion therapy, and he celebrates his freedom with a fantasy about rape - leaving the viewer with the takeaway that Alex should be free to choose his path - even if it is one of pure evil.


Music is the only thing that young Alex is truly passionate about - and this is a very important part of the audience's sympathizing with him. As Peter J. Rabinowitz writes, "Kubrick...relied...on music as a means of countering our antipathy to Alex's violence" (McDougal 113). Music provides the most intimate window into Alex's "black" soul - we experience his violent fantasies while he masturbates to Beethoven's 9th Symphony - but cannot help but be impressed by his poetic description of the sound, calling it a "bird of like rarest spun heavenmetal". Alex's relationship with music represents not only his extremely sophisticated taste (in comparison to other youngsters - like the women in the record store), but also his keen intelligence - both of which are key in the audience being engaged in his story. Just as music drives the plot in the film (i.e., Alex's decision to attack Dim and Georgie, Alex's suicide attempt) Kubrick also took some of his directorial cues from the score. He chose to use many existing pieces of music instead of having a composer make an entirely original soundtrack: "Doing [the score] this way gives you an opportunity to experiment with the music early in the editing phase, and in some instances to cut the scene to music" (Ciment 153).


In the bleak world of A Clockwork Orange, there is a lot of sex, or as Alex calls it, "the old in-out-in-out", but none of it is associated with pleasure. It seems that to Alex, the act of sex is akin to violence - an act of domination and not love. Even when he is pleasuring himself while listening to Beethoven's 9th, Alex imagines violent images of a woman hanging, volcanoes, and explosions. In Margaret De Rosia's essay An Erotics of Violence, she goes so far as to say that the film has an "unexamined but explicit link between free will or narrative agency and a highly virile and violent masculinity" (McDougal 63). In his pre-Ludovico state, Alex fantasizes about lounging with nude handmaidens while reading the Bible. After the treatment, a bare-breasted woman stands before him and it is supposedly a tragedy that he cannot grab her. The final shot of the film, in which Alex dreams of sex with a woman while a group of conservatively dressed onlookers applaud politely, also makes the connection between his mental freedom and his sexual depravity, but also emphasizes Alex's disconnection from the act of sex and his inability to feel intimacy at any level.


The Ludovico technique in the film is a satirical parody of aversion therapy (where a patient is exposed to a specific stimulus while simultaneously experiencing discomfort). A Clockwork Orange is certainly critical of psychology, depicting it as a weapon used by the increasingly totalitarian government to suppress the free will of its citizens. During an interview about the film, Stanley Kubrick claimed "recent experiments in conditioning and mind control on volunteer prisoners in America have taken this question out of the realm of science fiction" (Ciment 149). In the view of the film, the psychological weapons are much more dangerous and powerful than the knives and fists that Alex and his droogs use on their victims.