Deltoid: “We study the problem. We’ve been studying it for damn well near a century, yes, but we get no further with our studies. 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?”
Deltoid, Alex’s probation officer, speaks these lines to Alex in an early scene in the film when he visits Alex at home. Deltoid is referring to the problem of youth violence and rebellion. When he says, “We’ve been studying,” he means that science and the social sciences have long tried to understand and control humanity’s destructive impulses through rationality. Adults have tried to understand and control youthful rebellion and impulsiveness. Social reformers often suggest that an unstable home produces violence, but Deltoid can’t find the culprit here. Ultimately, the film suggests that these violent impulses are irrational and innate and cannot be eradicated by science and rationality. The dark and destructive, the disorderly and the rebellious, are part of who we are. The state cannot get rid of that part of us except by making us inhuman. Alex may be simply an animal, a creature of instinct—but he may also be human, capable of moral choice. The film leaves ambiguous the question of whether or not we as individuals have control over ourselves.
Prison chaplain: “Choice. The boy has no real choice, has he? Self-interest, the fear of physical pain drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.”
The prison chaplain speaks these lines after he watches state officials test Alex in order to prove that he has truly been cured of his violent impulses. Alex stands on a stage in front of a room filled with doctors and political figures. To test Alex, a man comes out from behind the curtains and insults him, slaps him, and makes him lick the bottom of his shoe. Alex complies because after the conditioning he has undergone, fighting back would make him too horribly ill. This is the “grotesque act of self-abasement” that the prison chaplain refers to. Then a near-naked woman comes out and tries to seduce Alex, but he turns away in illness at the thought of sex.
While these displays impress most of the audience members, the prison chaplain voices dissent using traditional religious rhetoric. He holds up religious values of good and evil and the importance of moral choice in opposition to the value of ultimate state control. His statement echoes the traditional belief that what makes people different from animals is their ability to make moral choices. Evolutionary science maintains that self-interest and the fear of physical pain drive animals to act, and that this instinct allows them to survive. Religion, however, maintains that people exist on a higher plane than animals and are not driven by their instincts alone, but rather have a divine element in their natures that enables them make moral choices.
Minister of the interior:“Padre, these are subtleties. We’re not concerned with motives, with the higher ethics. We are concerned only with cutting down crime and with relieving the ghastly congestion in our prisons. He will be your true Christian, ready to turn the other cheek, ready to be crucified rather than crucify, sick to the very heart at the thought even of killing a fly! Reclamation! Joy before the angels of God! The point is that it works.”
The minister of the interior speaks these lines in response to the prison chaplain in the scene in which Alex is tested. He voices the ideological position that what matters most in society is law and order and doing what works. He expresses his disrespect for organized religion when he refers to the chaplain as “Padre” instead of “Father.” Then he twists the language of religion to express his belief that Alex has been transformed. He says Alex will be ready to “turn the other cheek,” as Jesus instructed his disciples to do if they were attacked. He even implies that the government has made Alex a modern-day Jesus, “ready to be crucified rather than crucify.” Of course, Alex has been transformed only physically, not morally, but this distinction is not important for the minister of the interior. What concerns the minister of the interior most is the proper functioning of society, and he cares more about Alex’s behavior than his motivation. The minister of the interior’s words are ironic, since a “true Christian,” as he says Alex will be, embraces both responsible external behavior as well as moral motives for that behavior. These words also foreshadow the second half of the film, in which Alex does become the victim of society’s violence when his conditioning forces him to turn the other cheek.
Mr. Alexander: “The common people will let it go. Oh yes, they’ll sell liberty for a quieter life. That is why they must be led, sir, driven, pushed!”
Mr. Alexander speaks these lines on the phone to one of his political accomplices in a scene late in the film. During the conversation, he plots a way to use Alex to topple the government. Mr. Alexander’s words suggest that not only is the government willing to sacrifice individual liberty for law and order but that average people, in order to have “a quieter life,” will make the sacrifice as well. After all, the government in A Clockwork Orange is a democratically elected government, and the people have chosen their own leaders. Throughout the film, Kubrick knocks down precious social beliefs, such as the belief that music can make men moral and that violence grows out of a troubled home. Here, too, the film challenges another idealistic hope of democratic societies: that morality can be found in the common people. Mr. Alexander’s words suggest this is not the case. At the same time, the lines show Mr. Alexander’s own hypocrisy. He claims to value individual liberty, but he looks on the collective body of individuals as just sheep to be “led, driven, pushed.” The verbs he uses to describe the way common people should be treated are indeed verbs someone might use to describe herding sheep.
Alex: “It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.”
Alex speaks this line while watching a scene in a bloody film the doctors show him as part of Ludovico’s Technique. Viddy is a slang word that comes from the Russian word meaning “to see.” In this quotation, Alex says that art seems more real than life. Throughout the film, Alex seems not to experience the reality of his own violence. His responses to it are at once sinister and childlike, and he sees violence as just a game. When he watches a film, however, images and colors of the real world actually reach him. The color he refers to here is red, the color of blood, which he sees flowing on-screen. “It’s funny,” he says, and, indeed, irony lies in the fact that life must be turned into art before Alex can truly experience it. This statement expresses Kubrick’s own complex attitude toward the arts. In A Clockwork Orange, the arts are a way for characters to more clearly understand their world, but they are also a way for them to distance and detach from life.
I was wondering if anyone could tell me where I could find the original interview with Burgess talking about George Steiner when he says, ‘so foolish as to wonder why Nazis, why a concentration camp officer could listen to Schubert and at the same time send Jews to the gas’.
The Catcher in the Rye
A Clockwork Orange