A Clockwork Orange

March 6, 2007 at 4:09 pm (philosophy of the arts)

“It may not be nice to be good, 6655321. It may be horrible to be good. I know I shall have many sleepless nights about this. What does God want? Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him? You are passing now to a region where you will be beyond the power of prayer. A terrible, terrible thing to consider. And yet, in a sense, in choosing to be deprived of the ability to make an ethical choice, you have in a sense really chosen the good. So I shall like to think. So, God help us all, 6655321, I shall like to think”.

Famous as being a cult classic from Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange is set in a dystopian future, with teenagers causing all sorts of problems, violence and rape being common activities. The movie is based upon a novel, of the same name, which, of course, explains the ideas behind the story much better, and I happily recommend it (and the movie).

A Clockwork Orange raises some philosophical issues, the main issue, in my opinion being the confrontation between Free Will and Predestination, and this literature obviously supports free will. The main character of the story, Alex, an ultraviolent young boy is caught by the (fascist?) police and to get out of custody sooner, volunteers himself for the Ludavico Technique.

The Ludavico Technique, also mentioned in the poll, was a process whereby, through conditioning, whenever someone thought about violence, rape or other actions generally considered harmful to society, they would begin to feel extremely ill, stopping them from going through with such things. In effect, they could not be violent nor abusive, instead, to avoid the extreme illness, they were forced to do ‘good’ things. This technique, if applied to criminals could result in a society free of crime, but also a society not free to choose. I guess the poll is really asking if you prefer freedom or security.



  1. rjb said,

    nice article, i like ur expression. even i m confuse abt GOD, where he is and wht he want

  2. Lukesky520 said,

    oooooo, Free will and predestination, I wonder if I’d be interested

  3. nmai_1 said,

    it’s interesting to think of societal controls as predestination, i usually associate the term with a god. anyway, i think a lot of people would say one, and believe the other. personally, i’m all for free will, but i’m very against being killed.

    i have to say, though, that this technique sounds better than the lifetime in prison, or death, that a murderer might recieve in today’s society. were i criminal, i would opt to have the ludavico technique applied rather than have my life, or all of my freedoms, revoked.

  4. xxuxx said,

    A similar case would be Huxley’s soma. Controlling society with drugs! I think many of the powers that be throughout the world have crafted a beuracracy which covertly accomodates opiating drugs like heroin and cocaine to keep lower socioeconomic stratas out of their hair politically. Indeed, they can gain leverage by being seen as the good guys.

    I too was delighted to see the predestination case being explored within a societal context. Asking how a human’s rights should be handled by a society is not a simple matter of pure pragmatism. One has to anticipate future possibilities the way one does in a chess game. Giving up, gaining or altering certain freedoms could have disasterous effects for society as a whole down the track. I think maybe this was the preconception of the book. The very reason the author chose to bring the topic up. Of course, a Clockwork Orange is set in a time when social order was already crumbling. Perhaps the author was making a poetic point. Even after little Alex was converted by the treatment society was just as ugly, if not uglier. Not only did his old enemies get revenge on him, but his old Drooges as well. Indeed, they had become police officers, which I think is a far from insignificant point of poetry. Society often absorbs the evils it seeks to cure. Although, it’s more than that.

    Was not Alex a product of the society in the truest sense? In our stable and relatively even-handed society the old ‘it’s society’s fault’ is pretty weak for obvious reasons. But in the dystopia of A Clockwork Orange I think the moral force of society having created Alex and his Drooges is far more significant and has a sense of it’s own real weight. That’s the real crux of societal predestination. At which point does an individual and society become separate entities?

    I think another book and movie in the same vein is One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest.

  5. myth said,

    I love this film for those reasons. I have been meaning to watch One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, I have heard some good things about it.

    I have a question that goes out to anyone that has read the 21st chapter of the book, which was apparently not in the US release. The following paragraph contains SPOILERS, so if you don’t want the final chapter, and as such, possibly the entire story ruined, don’t read ahead.

    The book ends with Alex, finally being rid of the psychological device that controlled his behaviour, once again starting up another gang of droogs. However, he is tired of the old ultraviolence, and meets up with Pete, and his wife! Pete has given up those past-times and has grown up, found himself a nice girl. Alex, now all on his oddy-knocky, but only eighteen, begins thinking of getting married and having a son, whom he believes will go through the same things as he did. Alex thinks that this is just part of growing up in the ‘terrible grahzny vonny world’. The book ends with free-will definately winning, he ultimately makes the ‘choice’ to be good. Is this ending a sellout? Is the ending of the movie, for instance, more effective, for while Alex is finally freed, he is also unleashed? What did you think?

  6. xxuxx said,

    Only idiots go ranting about selling out. Britney Spears is a sell out. I still watch her video-clips though. Shit, I won’t say no to watching a good looking chick dance around half-naked. People accuse Tori Amos of selling out everytime she releases a mainstream album. She only does it to make a bit of money so that she can sustain herself so she can make more alternative, personal music which I prefer. I think the fact that Tori can make both good cutting edge music for herself, and occasionally make good mainstream music that sells, I think it adds to her appeal as a person. So many people forget to understand the person, as opposed to the image. Those people are really limited in my view. As for selling out in the 21st chapter…that depends, I haven’t read the book, let alone the 21st chapter. I think, just like you said, it was totally relevant to the free will theme of the book, as well as the social theme. If it was not done with too much of a moral vector in it’s style, then I say interpret it in the context of the book as a whole. I mean, Alex was quite intelligent.

    At the end of the movie, Alex isn’t unleashed. He throws up everytime something violent happens, or whenever Betthoven’s 5th is played. The colour of the ending gels totally with retribution being paid out on a now ‘ harmless’ Alex who can’t defend himself. No, I don’t see him as being nuleashed.

  7. myht said,

    Sorry, but I wasn’t referring to the main-stream music selling out, but instead, betrayal. I was just asking whether we are betrayed with the ‘happy’ ending that dulls the impact of the book. In one way, I love the ending of the book, but in another, it disappoints me. Throughout the first 20 chapters, and throughout the movie, we are exposed to a definate dystopia, the only sympathetic being the Chaplain. But the last chapter puts an end to that, there is always hope one will make the right choice. Dulls the dystopia, in my opinion.

  8. myht said,

    I thought that the end of the movie suggested that Alex would no longer feel sick with the thought of violence, or to the sound of music. He is made into a pawn of the government, but the very final scene, where he envisions a couple having sex, he says, in voice over, “I was cured all right”, sounding much like he enjoys himself. I would think of it as sarcasm, but the lines previous to that moment didn’t warrant it. When they play the music to him in the hospital he smiles and poses for photos for a while, but his face changes. He is either beginning to feel sick, or he is realising it doesn’t hurt him at all. It might just be my assumption after reading the book, he has some more droogs by the start of chapter 21.

  9. xxuxx said,

    One of the things about Stanley Kubrick movies is they have a tendency to blur all the scenes into one general feeling of how the movie went. The only Stanley Kubrick movies I can remember specific scenes from are 2001 and The Shining, all the other, like Full Metal Jacket, wind up as a blur in my memory. Something in his style – very protracted and a little convoluted. Yeah, I’d agree now that he was unleashed. Moreover, this end to the movie doesn’t seem to gel at all with Chapter 21.

  10. distort said,

    It scares me to think of living in a society of robots. Because that’s what people essentially are if they don’t have free will.

    the Ludavico technique isn’t necessarily the absence of free will – its giving your free will to whoever determined what the choices would be – what the ‘good’ is and what the technique would apply to.

    What if good wasn’t good? Morality is subjective, and I’d contend that it has the ability to change through time – so removing the power from yourself to choose in a misguided attempt to help you make better choices could prove fatal as morals change. Lessening your options is just never a good thing. People need to be responsible – not secure.

    I’m happy to awaken this thread after a nice little slumber… it’s a good thread

  11. xxuxx said,

    As for free will, isn’t the definition of free will one that is taken in relation to self as an entity, or a point of experience?

    You’re own learned understanding of ‘good’ moral truth will, in conflict and cooperation with the outside world and it’s force, combine to constrain the “choices” you make about your own prerogative of ‘good’ moral understanding. They just employed conditioning to punish him psychologically, and instill this punishment as an automatic physical response, which was I think we’ll all agree a conflict within him imposed by the forces of the outside world, so strong that it could only be resolved by his cooperation. This is precisely the program that a parent uses to discipline their child. The punishment of a child is intended to stay with them psychologically in a similar way, and this, in a child’s development, is the first violation made against one’s free will. Though it is a very necessary one. Now, because the nature of the outside world is not simply polarised, and in punishing you your parents generally don’t starve, expell, or completely condemn you, but continue to care for you, this violation of free will cannot not be seen to stop at the rebellion of the child or at the point of development at which the child/ adult decides that essentially his/her parents were right.

    This all adds up to one thing, free will is a moot point, on a metaphysical level, or if you delve into the subjective ot intersubjective.

    Distortion, I started out arguing against you…

    Oh well, looks like free will isn’t all there is to being a human.

  12. distort said,

    This is precisely the program that a parent uses to discipline their child.

    No, it’s not. It suffer’s one very critical, very fundamental difference – in that the child has the option of knowingly doing the wrong thing and then accepting the punishment in the first place.
    his violation of free will cannot not be seen to stop at the rebellion of the child or at the point of development at which the child/ adult decides that essentially his/her parents were right

    Of course it can. All kids don’t essentially decide that their parents were right – some go off and become serial killers And with that they excercise their free will without violation by their parents.
    This all adds up to one thing, free will is a moot point, on a metaphysical level, or if you delve into the subjective ot intersubjective.

    Well, in terms of how our lives play out, maybe not superficially – but in the sense that your Dad (or maybe mom) chose their partner with free will out of a group of people resulting in you, has somewhat of an ‘affect’ on your life

  13. zoom said,

    I watched it through once and I have no desire to see it again. But it is a great flick. I love Malcolm McDowell.
    I can not handle the eye scene at all.

    Did anyone see “O Lucky Man”?

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