Mook Review: A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange  Written by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess Book Cover

via Wikipedia.org

A Clockwork Orange is a modern English classic and a novel that has been on my to-read list for quite some time.  Burgess’ evil future England is considered the quintessential example of dystopian literature, especially with his diverse use of language which includes mostly slang and jargon.  The journey of our narrator Alex, a young teenage boy with a preference for disgusting acts of ultra-violence, is no simple walk in the park.  Burgess’ novel takes time to understand, filled with complicated argot for the reader to figure out on their own (vech, horrorshow, malchick, devotcha, ptista,  gulliver, rot, viddy, etc.)  Perhaps this aspect of the tale  is what makes it so valuable to literary history and Burgess a cherished and talented author.

I found myself surprised at how heavy handed A Clockwork Orange was in terms of violence.  At the start of the novel, before the reader truly catches on to Alex and his friends’ slang, we see cruel and unusual actions performed on innocent people. As the story continues, and the reader understands more and more, the violence and cruelty really just becomes worse and more realistic.  Also, the fact that you do not truly find out how old Alex is until halfway through the novel (fourteen years old, FYI) is astonishing.  By the middle of Part Two, A Clockwork Orange had me bewildered by the corruption of the future-England youth.  The way Burgess brings the narrator to life, he almost had me feeling sorry for Alex’s imprisonment and government experimentation on how to cure him of violence.

One thing I found particularly interesting in Burgess’ story is the idea of goodness and where it comes from.  In prison, Alex is chosen to undergo an experimental treatment named the ‘Ludovico Technique’; basically, the technique tricks the criminals’ mind into pairing violence with feeling ill in order to restrict them from continuing criminal activity.  However, this defeats the concept of goodness.  Ridding Alex the ability to feel anything but sick towards violence doesn’t cure him by choice, but by force, therefore sacrificing the idea that Alex is truly “changed.”  This resolution and change by will is something we do see at the end of the story – IF you read the restored addition of the novel.  The original publisher in the U.S. left out the last chapter where Alex realizes for himself he wants to truly grow up and become an adult with a wife and a family.  Instead, the story ends with Alex being cured of his “reclamation” and resorting back to cruelty and violence.  There is no resolution or transformation of the character in this case.

In the 1960s, it is easy to see why A Clockwork Orange would be seen as highly controversial.  Burgess brings not just incredibly crude and unusual acts of violence to the table but the idea of government control and deeply rooted internal moral code.  To have finally read this novel is an accomplishment, but I would only recommend the story to ambitious readers with time and patience to understand Burgess’ terminology and language.

“A Clockwork Orange” – Directed by Stanley Kubrick

A Clockwork Orange Stanley Kubrick Malcolm McDowell

via IMDB.com

This is an example of a mook that can stand alone as both a book and a movie while still being successful.  Obviously, there are aspects of the story where the written version succeeds the film and vice versa, but in general this was a pretty awesome mook experience and definitely moved its way to the top of my list.  Malcolm McDowell, who plays Alex, portrays this villain in the post perfect sociopathic way and [this movie] pioneered McDowell’s series of villainous roles.

Kubrick’s film, released in 1971, was criticized for its exemplary violence and sadism, however these were the parts which I felt were done incredibly well.  “A Clockwork Orange” is directed so Alex’s world seem almost comical in a sick and twisted way, which is imperative to the success of the story.  Alex and his droogs (buddies) do not have an idea of what is right or wrong, good or evil.  This is the core question of both the novel and the movie, making it important to come across on screen.

The use of music in this film was perfect.  Since classical music is so important to Alex, mostly Beethoven who he refers to as Ludwig van, this is something that I felt could make or break the movie.  Kubrick used music in the exact way it should have been used – to intrigue the viewer and emphasize the obscenity of major plot points.  When Alex is being treated with the Ludovico Technique, he becomes inconsolable and distraught at the use of Ludwig van’s music to instill fear within him.  It is clear that something he loves dearly is being used against him, making “A Clockwork Orange” even more screwed up than it already is.

The film was hard to watch, just as the book was hard to read, but I loved it.  Malcolm McDowell was incredible as the lead role and I made me realize why many viewers would be easily disturbed by the production.  I don’t recommend this mook if you are truly appalled by violence and cruelty, but for anyone looking for a good story you should dive right in.

Mook Rating  ★★★★

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19 thoughts on “Mook Review: A Clockwork Orange

  1. For me, watching the movie was so much harder than reading the book. In the book, there is a degree of separation for the reader because of the strange language and slang that Burgess uses. Reading it, as you pointed out, you don’t quite get the violence of the story until you start to crack the code of all the slang used. In the movie however there really isn’t a degree of separation. You have a visual medium that allows you access to the true horrors of what Alex and his friends are doing. True, they still use slang, but because there is a visual element and you can see WHAT they are talking about, that separation that existed in the book between the audience and the characters is no longer there.

    • I have to agree that, yes, in the books we don’t quite understand whats happening until you “crack the code” where as in the film the reality of violence is very apparent. But I very much enjoyed to see A Clockwork Orange come to life visually. The general style is over-the-top both architecturally and stylistically, which goes hand-in-hand with Alex and his droogs’ take on violence. Also, keep in mind, the movie was given an X rating upon its first release so there is an extreme level of brutality that is recognized.

      • Right. I just remember us really discussing this disconnect when we read this book for a class (my professor basically decided our “Research Methods” class was going to be a “Books Stanley Kubrick has Made into Films” course instead). I remember being just…really stunned by the violence and the sexual imagery as well and it was something that I overlooked while reading because getting through the slang was just so hard at times. Still, it was certain a good film adaptation of the book because I think it covered a lot of the themes VERY well and Kubrick did a great job highlighting the bizarre world this dystopian society had become.

    • The book is very interesting in a much different way than the film… But it is definitely violent and disgusting, in some ways more so than the movie. Hope that helps!

  2. I had an amzing English Teacher who gave us a project where we compared the depiction of Free Will in both A Clockwork Orange and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and she banned us from watching the films until it was finished. Because of her, I found two of my favourite books of all time, even though I almost flat out refused to read Clockwork Orange when I quickly glanced at the language used on the first page. Both are a great example of how to adapt a book into a film, leaving out or changing the right parts. Great review too!

  3. The book was pretty good, and obviously deserves the title of a “Modern Classic” but it is my opinion that this is one of the few cases where the movie is far more superior than the book. I believe Kubrick did a wonderful job, and it was the decision of a genius to change the ending of the novel.

    • I’m interested in your take on this – you say the movie was superior but it was genius to change the ending of the novel. Do you mean Burgiss’ ending or the publishers ending? Because the true ending of the book was not featured in Kubrick’s film.

      • yes, that was what I’m referring to. The ending of the movie, which is different from the one in the book – the removal of Alex’s redemption and change of heart. I don’t know if there are many versions of the novel, but the one I read has Alex realize his evil and that violence is wrong and stuff like that. I felt that was sort of foreign to the rest of the story. I think it was a very good decision by Kubrick not to include it in the film.

      • Actually, the alternate ending of the book was part of a re-release of the novel which Kubrick hadn’t read so he had no knowledge of a different ending!

      • That is interesting- I guess you’re right; I did a little bit of research and it is as you say. Kubrick read the version where the ending was removed. That said, I still believe the ending of the movie is superior to that of the novel, whether it was by accident or not. And apparently Kubrick thought the same thing after finding out about this little “accident”. In the 1996 re-release is written: “Kubrick found the end of the original edition too blandly optimistic and unrealistic.”

        Don’t get me wrong, I do thing the book is great, but I believe the movie to be even better.

  4. For me, the book was more disturbing than the film. I watched the film first in high school, and was a little disturbed by it. I eventually read the book in college and felt more disturbed.

    For example, in the film Alex picks up two girls at a record shop and takes them home to have sex. But in the book he gets them drunk and rapes the two 10-year-old girls.

    Either way if one can stomach such scenes he or she will see this is a great book.

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