One of the many reasons I like watching old movies is that movies are a picture of the culture where they were made and old movies are from a place called the past. We may never visit there, but we can get a glimpse of what it was like.
A Clockwork Orange is an interesting trip to the year in which it was released, which was 1971 in that it is supposed to be a glimpse in to the future of Britain even though the future looks a lot like 1971. There are a few alternations that are meant to represent the future, such as cool looking cars, but mostly, the future seemed to be characterized by a pervasive porn aesthetic laid over the same garish color pallet that made up the real 1970s.
Occupying this future is ruthless amoral teen named Alex that lives with his parents but when not at home, he operates a small gang who refer to themselves as ‘droogs.’ They speak in a bent cockney accent as they prowl London committing horrible rapes and assaults. Like a lot of white trash losers, Alex has a pet snake and he has also seized upon one tiny piece of high culture to make his own; Beethoven.
Alex plays the adults in his life as fools and he uses gang force to conquer other adults in his society. He has no plans of note and lives in the moment which for him, is gleefully wicked but for others is a nightmare of depraved raping and brutal murder.
After committing a particularly gruesome and pointless murder Alex is caught and for the first time, comes in to contact with adults who will not tolerate his bullshit. His weird patios drops and he begins to speak in regular English. He is forced to behave and does.
But, being a predator and two-faced monster, he sees an opening with the prison chaplain. Claiming to be having a religious conversion suits him, and it is there that he hears about a new therapy that will cure him of his ‘badness’ through a new science that will make him good and get him out of prison. Certain politicians back this new science and Alex is selected as the recipient of the therapy which involves conditioning his responses with drugs so that he’ll be crippled if confronted with violence or sex. The chaplain warns that this science is incomplete because Alex is not choosing to be good or refrain from violence, but the politics of the therapy are good and so Alex is put through the conversation. They ‘follow the science’ and some crank chaplain isn’t going to stop them.
The results are as toxic as they are predictable. Alex’s duplicitous nature meets the political system with the result bring that Alex is publically converted from criminal to victim. The therapy fails to correct his basic nature but it does convert his public persona and make him an official ‘victim’ with the added benefit of further humiliating his actual victims in the past. The institutional failure is complete.
One need not be a social scientist to see the parallels to our present. Fifty years on from A Clockwork Orange, we have exalted the most venal criminality and supplanted individual will with a sort of societal responsibility for the decisions of a criminal class. They sense this foolish weakness and take advantage. The weak and vulnerable, mostly women and often children, are on the sharp and deadly end of the resultant crime and mayhem. The authorities who are responsible for public order are not prepared to stop it. We are there now.
So, who made this monster? Well the film has multiple scenes of Alex with his parents, and they are weak and sniveling and a good stand in for the society at large. His mother is older but dressing like a teenager herself but she reasons as a child. She enforces no rules and Alex takes maximum advantage of her and his weak newspaper rattling father. His Dad has some sense of what Alex is all about but he raises not a finger of objection. These parents are out of touch with reality and nothing in their lives seems likely to rouse them from their slumber.
However, Alex does respond to authority when it presents itself. He is not any sort of superman and when required, he submits in his own interest. His entry to prison is the only scene on this entire film in which Alex follows directions and does as he is told. It is only under a circumstance of maximum supervision that the shoddy work of his parents can be overcome. He drops the stupid fake language and controls his impulses.
But, by the time he’s been ‘treated’ and ‘cured’ by ‘the science’ and he has started to get an inkling of the new angle available to him, he begins to retreat back to his nature Here, a grinning and clueless hospital worker with oddly dyed hair gives him a test and even though the test reveals his nature clearly enough, her ridiculous smile never fades.
Finally there is the end when his triumph is complete. In an ancient society, barbarians like Alex would either be killed in battle or become a cruel tyrant who ruled over his captives until his hubris or a greater cruelty would see him killed. But in a decadent society of plenty, his kind of barbarian is converted from predator to victim, which is its own kind of decadence, and the real victims are memory holed so that the fantasy can be complete. These parasites become fed, in his case literally, by the political system and the whole rickety corruption moves forward without a ripple.
Fifty years on, we are there. The East End of London, once occupied by the white cockney lower classes of British society, is still a dangerous place but the cockneys of old, the ones from A Clockwork Orange and the Charles Dickens novels, they are long gone. They have been replaced by the sacred immigrants who are all victims of ‘society’ and many live on the generous welfare provisions or the formerly firm and stiff upper lipped British state. The demographics are complex so there are of course, pockets of the Cockney in London and decent individuals everywhere, but A Clockwork Orange captures the dynamic of what the rapacious will do in a weak and politicized society and it was able to do so without touching at all on race or immigration; everyone in the film is as pasty white as can be.
It is in the United States where this story reaches its full disastrous bloom. We are in the full throws of blaming society, otherwise known as ‘institutional racism’ for the failures of individuals who fire guns randomly in to crowds and often hit literal babies and kill them. It is the worst kind of racism to declare that black lives matter and then allow them to die in the most horrific way possible while declaring, for political gain, that a cure is at hand. There is no science or cure. Human malevolence is well documented in ancient literature. It’s always been there. What wasn’t always there was the civilization that would take or restrain it and that is what we are losing. The criminals need to be in jail, where they will behave and the rest of decent society can go on living.
Further, these monsters like Alex are the product of their weak parents, mostly the Dads, who in one way or other, fail to socialize their sons. Their mothers fail to raise their daughters to absolutely reject physically these adult babies and refuse to procreate with them. If we can’t gather these impulses, then the orange clockworks will toll midnight and the malevolent will rule the day as well as the night. Fifty year after A Clockwork Orange, it would appear we’ve taken the film to be a sort of instruction manual rather than a cautionary tale.