A Clockwork Orange is a dark 1971 sci-fi film centered around the charismatic Alexander DeLargie and his criminal friends, whose main interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven.
In an interview with The Saturday Review, director Stanley Kubrick described the film as “… a social satire on whether behaviorism and conditioned reflexism can become a weapon in the hands of the government and be used to control citizens, transforming them into robots with human form.”
Even now, more than 50 years after the release of the film, the answer to this question is no less interested than in the distant 1971. Below we will try to figure out what meaning Kubrick put into his film, what the ending of A Clockwork Orange means, and of course the same, to answer the main question: is it possible to manage society by studying the basics of its behavior and what it can lead to?
Explanation of the name “A Clockwork Orange”
- clockwork (mechanical, artificial, robotic) man (orange looks like an orangutan, a hairy ape-like creature);
- the slang of the working class of East London, called “Cockney”, who say about unusual or wild things that they are “strange as a clockwork orange”, thus indicating something strange on the inside, but seemingly natural, human and normal on the outside;
- the Malaysian word “orang” – “man”. Therefore, “Clockwork Orange” in the most loose translation would mean “Clockwork (or mechanical) man”. This translation can be explained by the fact that the author of the novel Anthony Burgess lived in Malaysia for a long time.
The meaning of the movie “A Clockwork Orange”
There are many interpretations of the meaning of A Clockwork Orange. Some believe that Alex’s violent behavior is due to the violent behavior of society. And it is true. Before the concept of “behaviorism” emerged, it was normal to assume that serial killers are born, not become. This is simply explained: the reluctance of society to admit the fact that criminals are a by-product of its own life.
It is assumed that the plot of the film unfolds in some kind of futuristic dystopia, but it is difficult to understand what kind of world Alex lives in. Sometimes it’s like an anarchic lawless society where he and his gang can do whatever they want. With the advent of the police, his world begins to look like a tough totalitarian system, which can be either left or right. Kubrick is deliberately vague. Political philosophy is subject to the horseshoe theory, which turns both extremes into something very similar.
On the other hand, “A Clockwork Orange” is a bright, completely extraordinary manifesto about the importance of human freedom and that the choice between the free will of a particular individual and public safety is a dilemma, the solution of which is almost always in favor of the public.
At the same time, Stanley Kubrick himself believes that any individual is preferable to the state. All authority figures in A Clockwork Orange are depicted negatively and stereotypically. The cops beat Alex, taunt him and spit in his face. Prison guards are cruel; one even has a Hitler mustache. The doctors are cold and inhuman.
Irony arises, because in its sadism the state is slightly better than Alex’s gang. It cannot impose morality – only obedience. Burgess and Kubrick believed that it is better to be a psychopath than a robot, since the psychopath at least has free will. The moral dilemma of the film is reflected in the monologue of the prison priest:
The boy has no real choice, does he? Self-interest. Fear of physical pain led him to this grotesque act of self-humiliation. His insincerity was clearly visible. He will cease to be a delinquent. He will also cease to be a creature capable of moral choice.
Take away free will from the worst members of society, and they will become “clockwork oranges” – artificial beings controlled by society, completely useless and meaningless. Alex’s cure for sociopathy is even worse than sociopathy itself.
A Clockwork Orange ending explained
At the end of the film, after all the grueling procedures, torture, jumping from the balcony and subsequent treatment, Alex declares that: “I really did heal …” which is certainly true. In the opinion of the hero himself, programmed first to obey and satisfy the system, and then, to get rid of this attitude, he was really cured.
But whether he has recovered from his craving for violence is a completely different question. Most likely no. This theory is supported by Gene Kelly’s song “Singing in the Rain”, played during the closing credits, a song that accompanied Alex’s atrocities throughout the film.
In the novel by Anthony Burgess, the outcome is different – Alex really got rid of the craving for violence. Sadism and atrocities ceased to give him pleasure, because instead of him a feeling of disgust appeared, hinting that a strong psychological influence really works. Realizing such a “happy end”, as well as the fact that it is not a “happy end” at all, subsequent American editions decided to “remove” the author’s happy ending.
But unlike the American version of the book, the British version of the book retained the ending with the actual cure of Alex, in which he ultimately renounced violence of his own free will.
What does the final scene from the film mean?
The final scene of the film, in which Alex fantasizes about having sex with a woman in front of a crowd from high society, hints that his worldview has undergone some changes: he has become monogamous and does it in harmony with the girl. In his opinion, this is exactly what society considers acceptable.
This fantasy arises immediately after a deal with the government, which promises him a reward, but on the condition that he controls his behavior. The guy agrees, he is still a villain, but this time, more secretive.
Accordingly, if he previously enjoyed being a criminal who acted outside of society, now he will adhere to a socially approved lifestyle, while retaining some of his wild nature.