3. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is a shocking, stylish look at thrill-seeking criminals and how they are a reflection of dystopian societal values. In fact, after the character of Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is found guilty of murder for his overzealous “ultra-violence”, the two cops who later beat him up are his former criminal pals, Dim (Warren Clarke) and Georgie (James Marcus).
Now, honestly, what might that say about police and law and order? What message was Kubrick trying to convey? It reminds me a bit of the National Guard and Kent State, among other things.
You see, bubbling below the surface of this film’s universe is society as a quasi-fascist organization. To some degree, it perhaps recruits and operates underground, turning to low-mentality, thuggish miscreants to protect upper echelon society from those perceived as “underclass.” They are willfully hiring people with brutish mentalities, taming them with monetary rewards, and the ability to beat others (like themselves) up without being held accountable for it. Going back to Alex, what can we say about him? Alex is never a good guy but is still himself a bit of a victim by the film’s end.
Alex never has a redemptive arc. However, at the very least, he realizes that he is more interested in causing trouble than preventing crime, unlike his criminal-turned-cop pals. While he was still acting as a gang leader, Alex probably never would have dreamed of protecting the establishment with his violence. So, how dystopian is the society depicted in A Clockwork Orange? It’s not full-on George Orwell, but there are glimpses of regular Law-and-Order being the torturer of captured criminals, too, and those same criminals might be regarded as misguided potential insurgents who were never given a proper direction.
Being gang members, or “droogs,” seems to be a form of escape for Alex and his deviant pals, who might think of themselves as aimless renegades. The film also plays with the idea that, if we just give youths the proper discipline (joining the Army, the Church, or Police), they’ll surely straighten right up. Of course, it just as often becomes an even greater excuse to unleash and justify even greater violence upon the world. Being also a very dark comedy, A Clockwork Orange suggests that respectable, “adult” society actually wants its youngsters to fail, perhaps to feel better about their morally upstanding selves. Alex’s probation officer (Aubrey Morris) seems almost ecstatic to send Alex away when Alex is found guilty of murder and comes across as rather much of a pervert himself.
It also seems that, if Alex had played his cards right, he could have himself been recruited as either an officer, and informant, or maybe a work-for-hire spy that seeks to gather evidence on gangs or select political opponents. Everyone and everything is desiring to punish, and there’s little distinction between society’s traitors and the virtuous. The point is that when criminals run our institutions and hire other criminals, then yes, a criminal element obviously infiltrates the very society they are originally supposed to protect. Alex’s ordeal has a surprising, multi-layered effect if you examine it thoroughly enough.