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Too weak to stand on his own, Alex arrives at the screening
room in a wheelchair. The room is unlike any theater he has ever
seen. On one wall hangs a huge screen. Against another wall is an
array of meters. A pane of frosted glass is set in the back wall,
and through the window, Alex thinks he can see figures moving. In
the middle of the room sits a dentist’s chair, which has a series
of wires running through it. Attendants fasten Alex, who is fast
becoming limp and very sick, into the dentist’s chair. They strap
his head and hands down, and fasten clips to his forehead which
pull and keep his eyelids open. Then Dr. Brodsky enters, a short,
fat, curly-haired man with thick glasses and a sharp suit. With
everything prepared, Alex begins his treatment.
The first film Alex is forced to watch depicts an old
man being attacked and stripped naked by two fashionably dressed
boys. As he watches the brutal beating, Alex begins to feel sick
to his stomach. He tries to forget about it, but the nausea becomes
worse during the second movie, which portrays a gang rape involving
a young girl and several teenage boys. The violence appears so real
that Alex wonders how these movies could have been made with the
Alex watches three more films, during which Brodsky measures Alex’s
reactions through wires attached to his head and stomach. The first
film shows a single face being beaten and cut with a razor. The
face screams in anguish as the razor cuts out one of its eyes and its
teeth get yanked out with pliers. The second film shows an old woman
being robbed and burned alive in her store, shrieking in a way Alex
has never heard before. These images set Alex to retching, and he
pleads for a receptacle in which to vomit, but Brodsky calmly assures
him that it’s only his imagination. The last film takes place during
World War II, and shows Japanese soldiers laughing as they torture
their enemies in elaborate ways. The horror of this spectacle causes
Alex to scream and beg them to stop, but Brodsky and the others
simply laugh at him.
Though Alex only describes these five films, he sees several
more that afternoon that are so horrific that he decides his captors
are more deranged than any of the criminals in prison. When the
screenings are over, Alex feels horribly sick. Brodsky seems pleased
by the day’s proceedings and sends Alex back to his room. There,
Alex begins to recuperate and receives a visit by a smiling and
sympathetic Branom. Branom seems to know already that Alex is beginning
to feel better. He tells Alex that his body is in the process of learning
that violence is bad. A healthy human organism, he says, should
react to evil and destruction as Alex has just done. Alex doesn’t
believe him, though. He accuses Branom and the others of making
him feel ill, but when Branom asks how he feels at this moment,
Alex finds himself quite well, even hungry. This puzzles Alex, but
Branom’s reasoning is simple: “you felt ill this afternoon . . .
because you’re getting better.”
All this seems strange to Alex. He remains skeptical,
figuring that his illness has something to do with the wires. As
he considers resisting treatment the next day, a man calling himself
the Discharge Officer enters the room and asks Alex about his plans
once the two weeks are up. Reminded of his imminent release, Alex
concludes that it would be best to reserve his rebellious impulses
for the outside. The two casually discuss Alex’s future plans, and
Alex remains vague and noncommittal but secretly plans for future
mischief. Before the Discharge Officer leaves, he asks Alex if Alex
would like to punch him in the face, “just to see how [Alex is]
getting on.” The officer then moves his grinning face within striking
range but pulls back when Alex swings and walks away. Alex is bewildered
at first, then becomes violently ill for a few minutes, as if he
were back in the screening room.
That night, Alex dreams he’s leading a gang rape, but
just as the situation reaches its climax, Alex becomes paralyzed
with sickness and all the other rapists laugh at him. Alex then
wakes up feeling so sick that he climbs out of bed to vomit in the
bathroom. He finds his door locked and his window barred, preventing
escape. The nausea eventually subsides by itself, leaving Alex trembling
and afraid to go back to sleep.
Though Alex could never have been prepared for what he
undergoes in the screening room, we may find his naiveté surprising.
Alex takes it to heart when Branom tells him that the treatment
consists merely of watching “special films,” thinking Branom a goodhearted
fool for believing that something as innocuous as a movie could
change such a fundamental part of him. Even after Alex’s first session
of aversive therapy, he continues to trust the smiling and benevolent-seeming
Branom. Alex may not believe Branom when he assures Alex that his
new, physical response to violence represents the reactions of a
normal human being, but he repeatedly fails to make the connection
between the supposed vitamin needles and his profound sickness.
In the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, Alex
remains steadfastly convinced that he’s managed to resist the treatment. Alex
can maintain that naiveté because he and Branom have fundamentally
different perceptions of what human beings are. Alex regards himself
as a unique being, with his bodily functions (such as the ability
to feel nausea) being part of the totality of who he is. Branom,
however, sees only a nonspecific set of sensors that respond to stimuli.
In other words, Branom sees Alex as a mechanical entity, as predictable
as clockwork and incapable of real choice. As long as Branom can
control the stimulus, he can control Alex’s response. Alex can’t
fathom this concept, which is why he becomes so confused when Branom
seems to know when he’s feeling better, and when Branom anticipates
his momentary relapse, which occurs when Alex takes a swing at the
Though we may not think of Alex as a particularly good
Christian, his perspective on the human self fits squarely within
a Christian moral framework, which holds that human beings are free
and individualized beings, capable of responding in myriad ways
to various stimuli and situations. To Branom, however, his own robotic theory
of human behavior represents an equally religious dogma. Alex notes
that Branom takes a “very holy” tone with him, explaining life in
terms of “miracles.” Alex attempts to capitalize on Branom’s righteousness
later, when he tries to deceive the doctors by praising God and
raising his eyes “in a like holy way,” but Alex makes an unconvincing
convert to the religion of science.
In the words of one smirking technician, Ludovico’s Treatment represents
“a real show of horrors.” The phrase recalls the nadsat term horrorshow,
a garbled translation of the Russian term kharasho,
or “good.” In these chapters, the term turns frighteningly literal,
as all the things that Alex once found horrorshow become horrifying
and nauseating to him. The films, many of which closely resemble
Alex’s own crimes, are so real that their existence seems to belie
the scientists’ moral authority. Alex writes that “you couldn’t imagine
lewdies actually agreeing to having all this done to them in a film,
and if these films were made by the Good or the State you couldn’t
imagine them being allowed to take these films without like interfering
with what was going on.” That the State, the alleged defender and
arbiter of righteousness, might sponsor such brutal violence is
not only morally condemnable, but morally inconsistent, as well.
The depiction of Ludovico’s treatment in Chapters 4 and 5 emphasizes
the State’s hypocrisy. The State lacks a genuine humanitarian concern
for its test subjects, an idea reinforced by the sadistic glee the
technicians take in Alex’s pain and discomfort.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Clockwork Orange!