“THE POWER DRUG”
An in-depth analysis of
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
Text copyright © by Rob Ager 2010
THE FACES OF ALEX
In the credits of ACO the main protagonist is called “Alex”, but when asked for his name by Chief Officer Barnes he refers to himself as “Alexander De Large”. In the book Alex refers to himself as “Alexander the Large” while attacking two girls. These names are undoubtedly related, though their use differs. Burgess used the term as a sort of self-nickname for the character, but Kubrick makes the name literal.
To make these matters more confusing, two newspaper reports toward the end of the film name the main character as “Alex Burgess”, Burgess being the name of source novel’s author.
We could pass this off as homage to the author, but it doesn’t seem Kubrick’s style, especially considering the other name alterations regarding the main character, as well as the “F. Alexander” name of the fictional writer in the book being dropped in the film. A shift in identity is certainly implied, possibly with Kubrick including Alex as a representation of the book’s author.
In the novel Anthony Burgess certainly did appear to be including himself in the narrative. As legend has it, Burgess had wrote A Clockwork Orange partially based upon a personal experience. In the mid-1940’s his wife was apparently attacked by four G.I. deserters and suffered a miscarriage as a result. His book of ACO came almost two decades later. In a deliberate parallel the fictional writer in Burgess’ ACO is writing a political book called A Clockwork Orange (a book within a book) and is made to watch a physical attack on his wife. The four G.I. deserters parallel Alex and his three droogs. Burgess and his wife lost a child and the writer in the novel suffers the death of his wife.
Kubrick would have taken a keen interest in these parallels before writing his screenplay and, as we’ve already explored, he had no hesitation in altering the elements of the story with which he morally or intellectually disagreed. One possibility is that Kubrick may have viewed Burgess as being emotionally compromised by his own “victim” experience. This could partly explain why the writer in the film appears insane with anger in his second encounter with Alex, enjoying driving him to suicide. This level of emotional involvement wasn’t in the book's ending.
There is an ironic parallel in political motives from Burgess and his fictional writer character. The fictional writer wishes to use Alex as a political pawn to bring embarrassment to the government. Burgess, having lived a fairly political life through the armed forces and through teaching, most likely wrote his ACO novel with a political intention as well.
Kubrick’s inclusion of Alex as having the last name Burgess suggests that he has taken the fractal narrative to a higher level. Through the novel Burgess depicts himself as victim. Through the media Alex depicts himself as victim. If this parallel was Kubrick’s intention then it amounts to a core ideological opposition to Burgess and his novel. Hence so many of the themes in Burgess’ ACO are reversed or intentionally contradicted in Kubrick’s adaptation.
In the book Alex attacks the writer and reads aloud from his Clockwork Orange manuscript, tearing pages out and ridiculing the content. In the film this is replaced by a visual clue. In a profile view of the writer at his desk (first writer scene) pages of typed text hang from a bookshelf. Behind them a large spherical orange object is visible. It’s difficult to tell if the object is an ornament or something else, but what it symbolizes is more obvious. It’s a clockwork orange – a clue as to the content of the manuscript pages.
The attack we witness by Alex and friends takes on a new meaning here. It is symbolic of an intellectual attack on Burgess’ book by Kubrick himself. By singing and conducting his violence Alex (Kubrick) conditions the viewers of the film to perceive a famous piece of music in an unusual way. Alex (Kubrick) then trashes the writer’s desk, typewriter and manuscript first by tipping them over and then by slamming a large book shelf on top of them.
On that same book shelf, revealed in the second writer scene, is the book The Psychology of Learning. This old text book argues against the principle assumptions of the Ludovico treatment (see chapter 10 for more details).
An additional point is that the book shelf was destroyed in the first writer scene, but one of the exact same design appears in the second scene; yet another indicator that the second scene is a dream repetition.
This isn’t an expression of polite disagreement with Burgess. Kubrick is launching an intellectual and symbolically violent attack on the source novel. This relationship of opposition against source novel writers is typical of Kubrick. When scripting The Shining he refused to even read the screenplay that was on offer by Stephen King and the resulting film bares only simplistic plot device similarities to the novel. With Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick kept source novel author Gustav Hasford out of the loop, much to the author’s frustration. And with 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick developed a rough treatment with writer Arthur C. Clarke only to then create a visually complex and cryptic film, while Clarke was gradually shut out of the production loop and left to flesh out a novel that went in very different thematic directions. And so we find a similar relationship with Anthony Burgess.
Several times in this analysis we’ve encountered instances of altered identity in the lead character played by Malcolm Macdowell. In the first writer attack Alex, at least partially, represents Kubrick smashing the concept of the Ludovico technique. At some point he becomes Alexander De Large – the name he gives during his prison entry. In the second writer scene, which is a dream sequence, Alex and the writer are mirror images of each other playing out a psychological conflict. An Alex Burgess is then featured in the newspaper stories following his suicide attempt. Just how many Alex’s are there?
Clues regarding Alex’s multiple identity seem to have been left by Kubrick in several marketing posters, some of which hadn’t been made publicly accessible until after Kubrick’s death. They now reside at the Stanley Kubrick archives in London. To aid us in decrypting the film, several of those posters are published in the Stanley Kubrick Archives book.
This one features at least four Alex’s, three of whom are in conflict with the fourth. One is seen in the triangular mirror stabbing into the orange. The largest one has his eyes lidlocked open and looks out of the burst orange in terror. A smaller Alex is kicking open the peel of the synthetic orange, revealing its clockwork Alex innards. And a tiny Alex is driving the Durango 95 out of the orange. Note that the naked women seen inside the orange appear to be real women, posing like the mannequins of the Korova bar – a reversal of their dehumanized identity.
The relationships between the four Alex’s in the above poster fit very well with our overall analysis in this article. Alex (Kubrick) and his droogs, in the Durango 95 car, are on their way to intellectually smash the brainwashing premise of the source novel and expose the clockwork writer. Alex (again as Kubrick) is kicking open the orange peel with the same purpose. His kicking position is drawn from a frame in which he kicked the writer in the face after entering the house.
A user on my forum kindly pointed out that a man is faintly seen inside the orange and is being kicked by Alex. The man appears to be in a suit and so could represent the Minister or any of the other suited characters later in the film.
Other posters extend these themes of multiple Alex’s in conflict with each other.
So it would certainly seem that Malcolm Macdowell is playing different Alex’s in different scenes of ACO. A number of apparent day / night continuity errors early in the film may have been left as indicators of such narrative / identity shifts. Under a dawn sky the droogs approach what we assume to be the writer’s house.
Once inside, the writer’s windows to the outside world are pitch black – this lighting mismatch was also used thematically in the second writer screen (twilight light is seen outside, but not through the windows).
After attacking the writer and his wife, Alex and friends travel back to the Korova milkbar and have a drink. By this time it would have to be morning, but when Alex is seen walking home we again see a dawn sky.
He enters the apartment block and, like with the writer’s house, the large windows are blacked out, though they should be showing at least a twilight lit exterior. We’ve already explored other examples of deliberate continuity errors used by Kubrick to encode his hidden narrative. These twilight sky errors are no different. In fact it actually takes a lot of preparation and planning to shoot a dawn or dusk scene due to the limited time available to get the shots. It would have been so much easier for Kubrick to shoot all of the aforementioned scenes as night shots, yet he shoots several scenes in twilight. In addition to the examples given, the invasion of the cat lady’s house begins and ends with twilight exteriors.
Regarding Stanley's inclusion of himself as being represented by Alex in certain scenes, a giant puppet face prop in the gang fight scene is remarkably Kubrick-like.
This production photo shows Malcolm Macdowell and Kubrick on set. Note they're wearing the same boots, sitting in identical mirrored chairs and Stanley is mirroring Malcolm's crossed leg.
And here is the front and reverse sleeve of the screenplay, as published in the year 2000.
Stanley's face and Alex's face are the same size, their heads are tilted identically, both are smiling gently and Stanley's face (photographed by his wife Christiane) is lightly bathed by an orange light source. The title on the front cover is ironic ... Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. By all appearances he certainly was.
We’re now approaching the end of this analysis. We’ve unearthed a hidden narrative in ACO that very consistently matches the details of the film in terms of dialogue, editing, set and costume design, soundtrack and book to film comparisons. The various hidden themes also match up with Kubrick’s overall body of film work, his secretive work methods and information found in his interviews, biographies and the Stanley Kubrick Archives. Some of you may have found that the complexity of this article (and the ACO film) requires a level of concentration and open-mindedness that is somewhat out of the ordinary. Now it's time to put the detailed dissection aside and summarise the hidden narrative.
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