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The Antagonists of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE: An Analysis

Every film fanatic knows the genius of Stanley Kubrick, with his 1971 adaptation of Anthony Burgess's 1962 novel of the same name, A Clockwork Orange, being my personal favorite. I first saw the film sometime in high school. I was captivated by the unsettling and aggressive visuals employed to explore topics such as psychiatry, juvenile delinquency, youth gangs, and other socio-political and economic issues.


In this article, I thought it’d be interesting to analyze the antagonists of A Clockwork Orange, mainly since it’s such an unconventional story in how it relates to heroes and villains. Everyone seemingly has a different interpretation of the film, with no apparent reason behind every narrative.

Still from 'A Clockwork Orange'. Photo credit: IMDb


Alex


What makes the extra film special is its ability to employ the anti-hero character in Alex—a character who lacks conventional heroic attributes—but dials it to 11. Alex is a challenging character to follow along with seemingly no redeeming qualities while being a peculiar and cerebral young man.


A great contrast comes to Alex’s affinity for classical music, a preference that sets him apart from his peers. With what we might assume with classical music listeners—taste and class—Alex is the opposite, elevating his sadistic and sociopathic tendencies to the level of art.


In the wake of reduced policing effectiveness, he leads a small gang of his 'droogs' in a series of criminal activities, including theft, assault, and murder. As Alex's leadership turns increasingly dictatorial, his droogs rebel against him. To maintain control, Alex engages in physical altercations with Georgie and Dim, using tactical thinking to gain the upper hand in his fight against Dim.


Following a mutiny by his own 'droogs' who resent his leadership, Alex is turned over to the police. He is subsequently arrested and convicted of murdering a woman, receiving a sentence of 14 years in prison.


Nevertheless, Alex served only two years before being chosen to participate in an aversion therapy program called the Ludovico Technique. As a result of the treatment, Alex is repulsed by the idea of committing violent acts and is compelled to act in a "good" manner.


The State (Order vs. Freedom?)


In this case, as awful as Alex is from a morality perspective, the film commentates on free will and how Alex has had his free will taken away. The state behind the Ludovico technique claims it’ll reduce crime rates and alleviate prison overcrowding, but at what cost?


I’ve seen many argue that the concept of individual freedom of choice poses a dilemma when these choices undermine the safety and stability of society. In this case, the state intervenes by taking away individual freedom of choice and enforcing prescribed good behavior.


However, in Alex's world, both unchecked individual and state power prove to be hazardous. Previously, Alex engaged in theft, assault, and murder purely for the pleasure it brought him. Yet, when his violent tendencies are eliminated through aversion therapy, the result is equally dangerous because the fundamental aspect of humanity—freedom of choice—has been stripped away, causing Alex to endure the awful acts he once committed.


Morality and Aging


Kubrick has gone on record claiming A Clockwork Orange is “A social satire dealing with the question of whether behavioral psychology and psychological conditioning are dangerous new weapons for a totalitarian government to use to impose vast controls on its citizens and turn them into little more than robots.”


At its core, the film is a running lecture on free will and, in a broader sense, morality. Some interpret the film separately from this, particularly as a commentary on aging. It's a claim along the lines of what was once a world you understood is now an unfamiliar place.


You can apply that interpretation to anything related to aging and getting out of touch as a result. Examples include spoken language and references, alertness, memory, knowledge, athletic ability, etc. We all age and A Clockwork Orange seems to think of it as the reason behind pessimism.


Rehabilitation Against Will


Although A Clockwork Orange takes an extreme of a character who commits violent acts, much is done as a commentary on rehabilitation against will. With Alex, the Ludovico Technique makes him unable to commit any act of violence or engage in sexual activity.


Additionally, he develops an aversion to Beethoven's 9th Symphony, previously his favorite piece of music, which had served as the accompaniment to the violent imagery he witnessed during the therapy.


It’s also fascinating that Kubrick left out the novel's ending and instead left it open-ended if Alex is “cured” or not. In the book, Alex’s condition is reversed, and he returns to being violent with no ill effects.


At a coffeehouse, he reunites with his former droog, Pete, who has since married and settled into a conventional life. This encounter reinforces a growing sense within Alex that he desires to abandon his criminal ways, establish a family, and assimilate into society.


I imagine this ending enforced the aging motif, and Kubrick preferred to keep it open-ended. Hence, there’s more of an interpretation (including the concept of an antagonist in the film).

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