A Clockwork Orange

Alex

Alex perpetrates gruesome acts of violence for no better reason, it seems, than that he likes to. As Deltoid, his probation officer, says to him, “You’ve got a good home here, good loving parents. You’ve got not too bad of a brain! Is it some devil that crawls inside of you?” Alex himself doesn’t have a better explanation for his actions. He simply takes pleasure in being evil the way other people take pleasure in being good, he explains. He enjoys seeing blood flow and calls it “beautiful” or “lovely.” He enjoys the power he has over people, even his fellow hoodlums. Though at times he feels sad and low, he doesn’t appear to feel any empathy with his victims. The violent life is just a feel-good game to him. Somehow Alex’s flippant disregard for others gives him an appealing vitality. His extravagant enjoyment of music is contagious, and even his enjoyment of violence makes him seem astoundingly alive. His actions are inherently evil, but his love of life, even an evil life, keeps him from being simply a monster.

Despite being a rapist and murderer, Alex has a strangely innocent, schoolboylike charm. The actor who plays Alex, Malcolm McDowell, also has youthful, even cherubic features, and he speaks in a gentle voice, saying “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” to the officials. This gentleness isn’t only hypocrisy. When he first arrives in prison and the prison guards instruct him, in military tones, to do this, do that, stand there, sign here, Alex does it all without much anger. He doesn’t like his lot and tries to change it, but when he can’t, he accepts it. He may pity himself, but he doesn’t wallow in it, which makes him more likable. When he imagines the crucifixion of Christ, he doesn’t dwell on Jesus’ suffering but rather pictures himself as a Roman soldier taking part in the torture. Compared to the holier-than-thou attitude of the prison chaplain, Alex’s sacrilegious response feels refreshingly, almost childishly honest.

Alex does not undergo any fundamental transformation in his personality. In most works of fiction, the main character’s struggles with questions of identity or moral choice propel the story forward. In A Clockwork Orange, however, Alex undergoes trials and adventures like other characters, but he is essentially the same at the end of the film. Ultimately, A Clockwork Orange doesn’t ask what Alex should do, but what we as a society should do with Alex. (The novel A Clockwork Orange actually includes an additional chapter in which Alex grows up and renounces violence, and so does change and develop, but the novel’s American publisher chose to cut that chapter. Kubrick based his film upon that version of the novel, much to the disapproval of its author, Anthony Burgess.)