Filmsite Movie Review
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

In a memorable, sado-masochistic sequence, there is a successful demonstration of Alex's learned lessons - of how his behavior has been reformed and conformed - "actions speak louder." In a two-part play, Alex is first insulted, humiliated and attacked by Lardface (John Clive) - an abusive, curly-haired, homosexual Irish man who calls the passive Alex a smelly "heap of dirt." After slapping Alex across the face, stamping on his toes, twisting his nose, pulling his ears, and pushing him over, Alex is forced to lick his shoe in subservience. As an obedient zombie, he suffers tremendous sickness and revulsion against violence:

Alex (voice-over): And, O my brothers, would you believe your faithful friend and long suffering narrator pushed out his red yahzik a mile-and-a-half to lick the grahzny, vonny boots...The horrible killing sickness had whooshed up, and turned the like joy of battle into a feeling I was going to snuff it. (The audience applauds as the stage actor bows to them.)

In a second demonstration to the tune of "Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary," he is tempted before a stage actress (Virginia Wetherell), a half-nude platinum blonde woman wearing only bikini panties. Eyes glazed and on his knees, Alex lustfully reaches out for her breasts (filmed both from a low angle and an overhead shot to emphasize their firm ripeness). As he cups his hands tantalizingly close to her pink-nippled, fleshy protuberances, his urge for sex instantly turns to an urge to vomit and he falls to the floor belching to his former passion:

Alex (voice-over): She came towards me with the light like it was the like light of heavenly grace, and the first thing that flashed into my gulliver was that I'd like to have her right down there on the floor with the old in-out, real savage. But as quick as a shot came the sickness, like a detective that had been watching around the corner and now followed to make his arrest. (She curtsies to audience applause before exiting from the demonstration.)

The Minister summarizes Alex's cure to the audience: "Our subject is impelled towards the good by paradoxically being impelled towards evil. The intention to act violently is accompanied by strong feelings of physical distress. To counter these, the subject has to switch to a diametrically opposed attitude. Any questions?"

Although pronounced cured, the prison chaplain objects that in actuality, Alex has been deprived of his free will with the shock therapy that has nauseated him. He is not a free man but "a clockwork orange" - a mechanically-responsive non-human:

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 wrong-doer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.
Minister: Padre, these are subtleties! We are 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!
Alex (voice-over): And the very next day, your Friend and Humble Narrator was a free man.

To the jaunty song, "I Want to Marry A Lighthouse Keeper," Alex returns home. He finds his parents reading newspapers with headlines: "Cat-Woman Killer Alex Freed," "'Crime Cure' Will Strengthen Law and Order Policy," and "Murderer freed: 'Science has cure'." His parents are bewildered and surprised by his unexpected return. Alex proudly pronounces himself "cured": "They did a great job on me. I'm completely reformed." He discovers that he has been displaced from his own house - his parents have rented his room to the "strange fella sitting in the sofa munchy wunching lomticks of toast" - Joe (Clive Francis), the new teenaged lodger, who has quickly become like a son to them. Instead of being civil, Joe immediately criticizes Alex: "I've heard about you. I know what you've done. Breaking the hearts of your poor grieving parents. So you're back, eh? You're back to make life a misery for your lovely parents once more, is that it?"

When Alex cocks his arm back to punch Joe, it causes him to belch and retch violently, and he stumbles into a chair:

Pee: Are you all right, lad?
Em:'s the treatment.
Joe: Well, it's disgusting. I mean, it's enough to put you off your food.
Em: Oh leave him be, Joe, it's the treatment.

Frail and crushed by despotic training and brainwashing, Alex becomes a victim of violence himself, totally unprepared and helpless to cope with the real world when he is returned to society. Alex also learns that all of his personal things were taken away by the police due to "new regulations...about compensation for the victims." Basil his snake, has passed away, and Pee stammers that Joe cannot be asked to leave because he has already paid next month's rent. Truly suffering, Alex weeps after hearing Joe disdainfully chastise him and take his place:

You've been like a father and mother to me. Well, it wouldn't be fair now or right, I mean, for me to go off and leave you two to the tender mercies of this young monster, who's been like no real son at all. Look, he's weeping now. But that's all his craft and artfulness. Let him go and find a room somewhere else. Let him learn the errors of his way, and that a bad boy like he's been doesn't deserve such a good mum and dad as he's had...You've made others suffer. It's only right that you should suffer proper.

Unable to defend himself, Alex leaves the flat and announces he will make his own way in life:

Right, I'm leaving now. You won't ever viddy me no more. I'll make me own way. Thank you very much. Let it lie heavy on your consciences.

During the remainder of the film, Alex is helplessly assaulted or rejected by the people from his past who had been his abused victims, but he cannot retaliate in each case. The revenge-seeking former victims include: the drunken old bum, former gang members, and widower of the rape victim - leftist writer Mr. Alexander.

Along the banks of the Thames, accompanied by a slow movement within the "William Tell Overture," Alex sadly walks and contemplates committing suicide in its waters. The Tramp which he assaulted with his droogs earlier in the film recognizes him, and drags him to a dark underpass where other toothless, stubbly-faced bums are encouraged to join in the bashing during the vengeful attack: "This is the poisonous young swine that near done me in. Him and his friends, they beat me and kicked me and punched me. Stop him, stop him. They laughed at my blood and my moans. This murderous young pig."

Alex (voice-over): Then there was like a sea of dirty smelly old men, trying to get at your Humble Narrator, with their feeble rookers and horny old claws. (Close-ups of rage-filled, grubby faces of the bums fill the screen) It was old age having a go at youth, and I daren't do a single, solitary thing, O my brothers, it being better to be hit at like that than want to sick and feel that horrible pain.

Two young policemen rescue Alex - they turn out to be Georgie and Dim, two of his former Droogs, who have since joined the increasingly-violent, fascist state to impose law and order. Alex is shocked when he recognizes them and Georgie explains that they are now on the side of the law:

Nothing up our sleeves. No magic, little Alex. A job for two who are now of job age.

Now belching and choking, Alex is roughly dragged to their patrol car and driven into the country. As he is led out of the vehicle with handcuffs, Alex feebly jokes:

The old days are dead and gone. For what I did in the past, I've been punished...I've been cured.

As they lead him down a forested, muddy lane, in a long tracking shot filmed with a hand-held camera from behind, accompanied by a Moog synthesizer playing "Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary," Dim wants to make sure that he remains cured: "This is to make sure you stay cured." When they reach a water trough, Georgie viciously hits Alex in the stomach with his blackjack club, doubling him over. For retribution, Dim pushes him headfirst under the water and holds him there, while Georgie methodically beats him with his nightstick.

After the vicious beating, lightning strikes as Alex stumbles down a torrential rainy night road. Coincidentally, he comes upon a panel sign welcoming him: "HOME," in another scene filmed with a hand-held camera:

Alex (voice-over): Where was I to go, who had no home and no money? I cried for myself. Home, home, home. It was home I was wanting and it was Home I came to, brothers, not realizing in the state I was in, where I was and had been before.

In the Alexander home, the old widower is typing at his IBM typewriter, now impotent, crippled, and confined to a wheelchair. He has a newspaper lying on his desk with headlines: "SCIENTISTS HAVE CURE FOR CRIME." Alex is admitted to the Alexander home by a young, giant weightlifter/male manservant named Julian (David Prowse, the future Darth Vader in the Star Wars trilogy). The bloody-faced victim gasps at the door that he was beaten up. He isn't immediately recognized because of the disguise-mask he wore during his first visit to the home:

Alex (voice-over): And would you believe it. O my brothers and only friends there was your Faithful Narrator being held helpless, like a babe in arms, and suddenly realizing where he was and why 'Home' on the gate had looked so familiar. But I knew I was safe. I knew he would not remember me. For in those carefree days, I and my so-called droogs wore our maskies, which were like real horrorshow disguises.

For a shocking second, Alex thinks he has been recognized when the writer exclaims:

I know you! (Long pause) Isn't it your picture in the newspapers? Didn't I see you on the video this morning? Are you not the poor victim of this horrible new technique?

Wishing to capitalize on the horrible experiences of the treatment, Mr. Alexander excitedly welcomes Alex into his home as a victim of the Ludovico Treatment. Alex is offered a warm bath and as he soaks in the tub and hears water dripping in the echoing bathroom, he starts quietly and involuntarily humming "Singin' in the Rain." In the other room, Mr. Alexander crouches down and phones some of his Leftist associates, to explain how they can plot to use Alex as "the most potent weapon imaginable" to discredit the government's new approach to dealing with crime to "the people - the common people":

Recruiting brutal young roughs into the police, proposing debilitating and will-sapping techniques of conditioning. Oh, we've seen it all before in other countries. The thin end of the wedge. Before we know where we are, we shall have the full apparatus of totalitarianism. This young boy is a living witness to these diabolical proposals. The people - the common people - must know, must see. There are great traditions of liberty to defend. The tradition of liberty is all. The common people will let it go. Oh yes. They will sell liberty for a quieter life - that is why they must be led, sir, driven, pushed!!

As Mr. Alexander becomes more aware of the echoing sounds of "Singin' in the Rain" emanating from the bathroom, he wheels his wheelchair over to the door - and then his twisted, distorted, apoplectic face, shot from below, expresses his horror. He knows that Alex was one of the hoodlums who earlier had invaded his house and left him a crippled widower.

Alex sits by himself in a dressing gown over a dinner of spaghetti and a bottle of wine. After the muscle-bound weightlifter carries Mr. Alexander into the room seated upon his wheelchair, Alex senses something fatefully foreboding will happen to him. Glasses of wine (drugged) are offered to him. Mr. Alexander's voice trembles, his eyes bulge and his body shakes, and he grits and bares his teeth - anticipating the retribution that Alex deserves. Unwisely, Alex asks about Mr. Alexander's wife - "a victim of the modern age":

Alex: Your wife, sir, is she away?
Mr. Alexander: NO, SHE'S DEAD!
Alex: I'm sorry to hear about that, sir.
Mr. Alexander: (intensely) She was very badly raped, you see. We were assaulted by a gang of vicious young hoodlums in this house, in this very room you are sitting in now. I was left a helpless cripple, but for her, the agony was too great. The doctors said it was pneumonia because it happened some months later during a flu epidemic. The doctors told me it was pneumonia but I knew what it was. A victim of the modern age - poor, poor girl. (He wheels his chair closer to Alex) And now, you, another victim of the modern age, but you can be helped.

[There is a curious homosexual subtext to this scene - Mr. Alexander appears to have forsaken a woman as a life companion, after the brutal rape of his wife - although she allegedly died of pneumonia!] Two of Mr. Alexander's fellow conspirators/associates who were phoned arrive - they are both interested in Alex's case: a fat, bald intellectual man named Dolin (John Savident) and a blonde female named Rubinstein (Margaret Tyzack). They have learned that Alex has been conditioned against music too: " addition to your being conditioned against acts of sex and violence, you've inadvertently been conditioned against music." The government's inhumane, inadequate technique to cure crime is causing Alex to have the same reaction to the playing of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as he has to sex and violence. Alex explains the sensation of hearing the Ninth: "I can't listen to the Ninth anymore at all. When I hear the Ninth, I get like this funny feeling and then, all I can think about is like trying to snuff it...death, I mean...I just want to die peacefully, like, with no pain." Suddenly a few moments later, the drug in the wine takes effect and Alex collapses face-first into his plate of spaghetti.

When Alex awakens, he finds himself belching and locked in a lavender wall-papered attic bedroom of Dolin's Country Manor, with the sound of Beethoven's Ninth pouring up from below:

Alex (voice-over): I woke up. The pain and sickness all over me like an animal. Then I realized what it was. The music coming up from the floor was our old friend, Ludwig van, and the dreaded Ninth Symphony.

Alex staggers around, crying out: "Turn it off!! Stop it!!" Downstairs, the conspirators fiendishly turns up the volume, with Mr. Alexander especially delighted with his revenge and torture. In despair, Alex suicidally throws himself out of the upstairs window. In a spectacular subjective shot, he plunges to the pavement below [the camera was literally thrown out of the window], but survives the fall:

Alex (voice-over): Suddenly, I viddied what I had to do, and what I had wanted to do, and that was to do myself in; to snuff it, to blast off for ever out of this wicked, cruel world. One moment of pain perhaps and, then, sleep for ever, and ever and ever. (After the suicidal jump, the screen turns black)

Taken to a hospital following the suicide attempt, in a long panning shot from right to left up his immobile, convalescing body, Alex wakes up in a hospital ward, both his legs in traction and his head wrapped in gauze and a cast. He has literally "fallen" from his mechanistic behaviorism to his old self:

Alex (voice-over): I jumped, O my brothers, and I fell hard, but I did not snuff it. If I had snuffed it, I would not be here to tell what I have told. I came back to life, after a long black, black gap of what might have been a million years.

Alex's moans are coupled in a duet with the moans of a night doctor and nurse making love from behind a screened-off bed. As they adjust their clothes, the nurse exclaims: "Oh, he's recovered consciousness, Doctor." A montage of newspaper headlines highlights the embarrassment of the government over its inhuman experiments that motivated Alex's attempted suicide. The Ludovico Technique calls "into question the whole policy of law and order which it had made a plank in its election programme." He has been turned over to the opponents of the government, who wish to reverse his conditioning, and hailed as a victim of inhuman criminal reform methods:

Government accused of inhuman means in crime reform - Boy attempts suicide
Minister is Accused of Inhuman Cure - 'Alex driven to suicide by scientists'
'Government is Murderer' - Doctors charge as Alex recovers
Storm Over 'Crime Cure' Boy - Doctors blame government scientists for 'changing Alex's nature' [Note the in-joke: The story inaccurately reads, "Doctors last night blamed secret laboratory experiments on criminals for causing Alex Burgess, the 'Cat-Woman Killer,' to attempt suicide."]
Alex's death bid blamed on brain men - Minister under attack

Alex's father and mother visit him in the hospital, and a point-of-view shot shows them leaning over his bed. They blame the government for the great wrongs done to him that led to his suicide attempt: "...the Government drove you to try and do yourself in." They accept some of the blame, apologizing and begging him to return home: "Your home's your home when all's said and done, son."

Alex's next visitor is psychiatrist Dr. Taylor (Pauline Taylor), and he tells her about concerns over "very nasty" dreams he has been experiencing:

Well, like all these doctors were playing around with my gulliver, you know, like the inside of my brain. I seemed to have this dream over and over again.

After cheerfully dismissing his complaint as "all part of the recovery process," she shows him slide-show cartoons which he is to caption with "the first thing that pops" into his mind. His responses reveal that there is the possibility that someone has been tinkering with the inside of his brain, deconditioning him and returning him to his old self. His responses to the slides reveal childish, violent cravings:

Slide Description

Caption and Alex's Response

Two men look at a peacock First man: Isn't the plumage beautiful?
Second man (Alex's response): Cabbages, Knickers, It's not got a beak.
A woman speaks to two other people Woman: The boy you always quarreled with is seriously ill.
Response (Alex's): ...And I'll smash your face for you, yarblockos.
A man enters a nude lady's bedroom. Lady: What do you want?
Man (Alex's response): No time for the old in and out, love. I've just come to read the meter.
A customer tries to return a useless watch to a store. Customer: You sold me a crummy watch. I want my money back.
Store Owner (Alex's response): Do you know what you can do with that watch? - Stick it up your arse.
A woman hands a bird's nest with eggs to a man. Woman: You can do whatever you like with these.
Man: Eggiwegs, I would like to smash 'em and pick 'em all up, and...

His answers reveal that the evil gleam of terror of his former "uncured," raping and maiming self is returning to his eyes - "well on the way to making a complete recovery." Alex is told "it won't be long now" until he gets out of the hospital.

The Minister of the Interior, Alex's next "very special visitor," embarrassed by Alex's death wish and "deeply sorry," explains how he has authorized the undoing of the effects of the Ludovico Technique and attempted to restore Alex to his previous condition (with the freedom of choice and therefore the right to take pleasure in violence). As the Minister feeds Alex spoonfuls of his dinner, Alex behaves like a newborn bird in a nest with its mouth open for every morsel of food - symbolically, the spoon-fed child of the corrupt totalitarian society.

The Minister apologizes patronizingly, feeling "deeply sorry about this." He explains how the menacing Frank Alexander ("a writer of subversive literature") was made a political prisoner and put away ("for his own protection"). He also assures Alex that he will leave the hospital with a guaranteed job and good salary if he can be "instrumental in changing the public's verdict" by presenting a respectable front and promoting the Government's party ("We always help our friends, don't we?"). The Minister effectively seduces Alex over to the government's side:

Minister: We tried to help you. We followed recommendations which were made to us that turned out to be wrong. An inquiry will place the responsibility where it belongs. We want you to regard us as friends. We put you right. You are getting the best of treatment. We never wished you harm, but there are some who did, and do, and I think you know who those are. There are certain people who wanted to use you for political ends. They would have been glad to have you dead, for they thought they could then blame it all on the Government. There is also a certain man, a writer of subversive literature, who has been howling for your blood. He has been mad with desire to stick a knife into you but you are safe from him now. We put him away. He found out that you had done wrong to him. At least he believed you had done wrong. He formed this idea in his head that you had been responsible for the death of someone near and dear to him. He was a menace. We put him away for his own protection, and also for yours...We are interested in you and when you leave here you will have no worries. We shall see to everything - a good job on a good salary.
Alex: What job and how much?
Minister: You must have an interesting job with a salary which you would regard as adequate, not only for the job that you're going to do, and in compensation for what you believe you have suffered, but also because you are helping us.
Alex: Helping you, sir?
Minister: We always help our friends, don't we? [Alex dramatically opens his mouth to be spoon fed, and the Minister complies.] It is no secret that this Government has lost a lot of popularity because of you, my boy. There are some who think that at the next election, we shall be out. The press has chosen to take a very unfavorable view of what we tried to do. But public opinion has a way of changing, and can be instrumental in changing the public's verdict.

Their perverse bargain and alliance are agreed upon and the deal is cemented - Alex is bought off by the Government and the Minister as a figure of the conservative Right:

Minister: Do you understand, Alex? Do I make myself clear?
Alex: As an unmuddied lake, Fred. As clear as an azure sky of deepest summer. You can rely on me, Fred. [Note: Earlier in the film, Alex assured his probation officer Mr. Deltoid and used the exact same words]

As a surprise, attendants bring arrangements of flowers and fruit to the new celebrity figure. A hi-fi stereo system with stereo amplifiers is wheeled in to play the triumphal "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Ninth, and dozens of reporters and photographers rush into the room to take pictures. The smiling, beguiling Minister poses for a picture beside Alex to take credit for their alliance: a symbol of our new understanding - an understanding between two friends.

Alex offers a thumbs-up gesture and mugs for the cameras. And then suddenly, his eyes glaze and roll back (in a semi-Kubrick stare) and an enigmatic dream-like image comes on the screen - Alex, now "cured," has truly returned to his former self - with his free will intact and with his old proclivities for sex and violence.

The final scene emphasizes the enormity of the state's hypocrisy for manipulatively flip-flopping its stance in order to gain votes. In his Ascot fantasy, a nude Alex finds peace and fantasizes copulating (making love to/raping?) with a beautiful blonde woman (Katya Wyeth) who wears only black silk stockings. They are frolicking in slow-motion on piles of white snow, while two rows of genteel-looking, Victorian Londoners (ladies and gentlemen), the men dressed in top hats and the women carrying parasols, look on and sedately applaud toward them. Alex has reverted to his old, pre-conditioned behavior:

Alex (voice-over): (triumphantly and sardonically) I was cured all right.

His words are followed by a hard cut to a bright orange title card pronouncing: 'Produced and Directed by Stanley Kubrick.'

The film implies that Alex is not cured -- rather, he is still "a clockwork orange" lacking free will, only programmed by the government in the completely opposite direction.

[In Anthony Burgess' original novel, however, there was a considerably different, more optimistic conclusion in an additional chapter -- Alex was actually healthy, 'cured', and normal after treatment. Published American editions of the novel deleted Burgess' original conclusion.]

During the closing credits, Gene Kelly's original rendition of Singin' in the Rain, Alex's theme song that accompanies brutal atrocities, is reprised on the soundtrack.

[This wasn't the first time that Kubrick ended a film with a familiar song. Dr. Strangelove, Or:... (1968) ended with Vera Lynn singing "We'll Meet Again Some Sunny Day", and Full Metal Jacket (1987) would end with the Marines singing "The Mickey Mouse Club Theme."]

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