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PHLISOPHICAL ISSUES: free will, political coercion

CHARATERS: Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell, narrator, leader of gang), Dim (Warren Clarke, a droogie), Georgie (James Marcus, a droogie), Deltoid (Aubrey Morris, Alex’s case worker), Minister (Anthony Sharp, Minister of Interior), Dr. Bodsky (Carl Dueing, scientist in charge of Alex’s treatment), Prison Chaplain (Godfrey Quigley)

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR STANLEY KUBRICK: Spartacus (1960), Lolita (1962), Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987)

SYNOPSIS: The movie is based on the novel by Anthony Burgess and takes place in a future where crime has run rampant and there is very little to be done about it. Alex is the leader of a gang of droogies and is particularly vicious. After accidentally killing someone he is imprisoned and volunteers to under go a new form of treatment in which his body associates violence of any kind with extreme feelings of nausea and sickness that are strong enough to paralyze him. Afterwards he attempts suicide and the government is forced to “fix” him again, restoring him to his former self and covering up the whole experiment.


1. While Alex is in prison he talks to the Chaplain about the treatment and about wanting to be good. The Chaplain says “The question is weather or not this technique really makes a man good. Goodness comes from within. Goodness is chosen.” Is the Chaplain right?
2. Later in that scene the chaplain says, “When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.” If everything about our daily routine was planned for us down to the smallest detail and we had no choice but to follow it, would we still qualify as humans? Machines? Rocks?
3. Aristotle says that to be truly virtuous one must act from a virtuous disposition and not spur of the moment reactions or with a conscious effort. Would the treatment make Alex virtuous the way that Aristotle describes it?
4. After his treatment and during his presentation to show he is cured, Alex is attacked and cannot defend himself due to the treatment. Would taking away the ability to act violently from known criminals be acceptable since it would leave them defenseless?
5. The Minister says of Alex’s new condition, “Ladies and Gentlemen our subject is impelled towards good by paradoxically being impelled toward 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.” Are there situations in life when, as a result of actively choosing to do evil, we inadvertently do good?
6. After the Presentation the chaplain remarks, “Choice! The boy has no real choice, has he? Self interest, fear of physical pain drove him to that grotesque act of self abasement. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.” Even though Alex will suffer, couldn’t he still choose to stand up and fight back? For example, couldn’t he continue to keep having evil thoughts as long as they were subtle?
7. Hume said we have a kind of weak liberty in which we can choose to act or not act according to how our will motivates us. Do you think post-treatment Alex has this kind of weak liberty?
The next day as Alex is released from prison he claims that he is a free man but after the treatment is Alex really free?
8. After Running into everyone he had assaulted prior to being cured, Alex stumbles into the writer’s house whose wife he raped in the beginning of the movie. The writer sees it as some kind of fate for Alex to have shown up there. Does this reinforce the idea of Alex having no control over his life?
9. The writer says of Alex, “I tell you, sir, they have turned this young man into something other than a human being. He has no power of choice any more. He's committed to socially acceptable acts, a little machine capable only of good.” What’s so bad about that?
11. At the end of the movie Alex is fixed up and begins terrorizing people again. This differs from the ending in the book in which Alex outgrows his psychopathic behavior and becomes a productive citizen. By diverging from the book, what the film maker's point?
12. If you had the chance to reprogram violent criminals against their wills would you?
13. Does society’s interest in maintaining social peace outweigh a criminal’s right to retain his character traits even if they are violent?

Author: Brandon Chewning


1. In the first portion of the film while the droogies were on their violent rampage, the scenery, costumes and language were all very stylized. The stylization disappears once Alex is arrested. Later in the film, during the demonstration of Alex’s cure, stylized costumes reappear with the outfit of the actor who attacks Alex and the hair of the unclothed actress who tries to seduce him. What was the point behind the stylization?

2. When in prison, Alex works with the prison chaplain and is drawn to the sex and violence in the Old Testament, with no interest in the more gentle portions of the New Testament. Is the movie making a point about the intrinsic merit of the Bible?

3. The prison chaplain says the following to Alex: “The question is whether or not this technique really makes a man good. Goodness comes from within. Goodness is chosen. When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.” Alex responds, “I don’t understand about the whys and wherefores, father. I only know that I want to be good.” Is the chaplain correct?

4. What items were in Alex’s prison cell, and what significance do they have?

5. The prison warden says that he subscribes to the old view of punishment: “Eye for an eye, I say. If someone hits you, you hit back, do you not? Why then should not the state, very severely hit by you hooligans, hit back also. The new view is to say no. The new view is that we turn the bad into good, all of which seems to be grossly unjust, eh?” The dispute here is between punishment as a means of retribution and punishment as a means of reform. Is the warden right that the reform approach is grossly unjust?

6. The technique of reforming used on Alex drew on the psychological theory called “classic conditioning”: associate some stimulus with a pleasant or unpleasant feeling, and the subject will eventually have a positive or negative response to that stimulus. Could this technique actually work in reforming someone like Alex?

7. Alex didn’t internalize the results of the reforming technique until he realized that he would thereafter have negative associations with the music of Beethoven, which was playing in the background. Is anything bad about this?

8. When presenting the cured Alex to the public, the Minister of the Interior stated the following about prison: “prison taught him a false smile, the rubbing hands of hypocrisy, the fawning, greased, obsequious leer. Other vices prison taught him as well as confirming in him those he had long practiced before.” Is this a relevant criticism of the ultimate effect of the prison system?

9. Consider this dialogue between the chaplain and the minister of interior. Prison 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 [i.e., Alex jumping out the window]. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.” Minister of the interior: “Padre, these are subtleties. We’re 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.” Is the Minister right that we should focus on results, rather than the hidden motives of criminals?

10. After Alex’s attempted suicide, newspaper stories came out criticizing the government’s experiments at reforming criminals; one headline stated “Doctors blame government scientists for changing Alex’s nature.” Don’t all efforts at criminal reform aim at changing the criminal’s nature?


Clockwork Orange was a very intriguing movie, which made you think about the role the government plays in our judicial systems. The main character Alex DeLarge is a very violent and narcissistic young man. He and his gang of friends run violent through the streets of their city and commit all kinds of atrocities; such has gang raping the wife of a political dissident. Considering the environment Alex was raised in it is not surprising that he has ended up a violent ego-manic who cares only about himself and his needs (particularly his sexual needs). This leads to the eventual murder of a single woman by a phallus-shaped statue, and incarceration of our wayward juvenile. It is in prison that the main theme is given. A new experimental behavior process was introduced by the government to associate evil actions with terrible internal feelings. Alex goes through this process and is cured, but at what cost? He is essentially handicapped to the point of helplessness. He could not even defend himself from a gang of homeless people. The question is raised is this process worth it? Are we willing to give up certain freedoms for the greater good of the community? I like to think our internal functions are our own and not the property of a government and re-programming criminals could be the next step in a programmed society. Clockwork Orange makes the viewer think about the balance of the state and the individual. Rather or not you agree with the behavior modification process, the movie gives us a possible (theoretical) solution to crime Alex presence us with in Clockwork Orange, and challenges us a humans and citizens to discuss and dig deeper in our search for peace and stability in our communities. — A.V.

A Clockwork Orange is one movie that I was looking forward to seeing again. I have seen it probably fifteen times and it has yet to lose its appeal. The first time I saw it I might have been sixteen and I was completely shocked by the amount of violence and sexuality in the film. The worst movies I had seen up to that point were Stallone and Schwarzenegger movies so the movie was like a kick in the face. As I got over the initial shock and watched the film again it began to raise questions in my head about the things Alex did and the things that were done to him. I find myself wondering what kind of thing could cause such a seemingly ordinary young middle class man to want to hurt other people so badly. Then as the movie progresses and his deeds get worse, I start to hope they lock him away and throw away the key. But, after he receives the treatment and is unable to defend himself and you see that his life as he knew it is gone, you begin to feel sympathy for him. This film really invokes a lot of mixed emotions. It also brings up some good topics for discussion like prison reform and bioethics. It made me think about our own prison and reform system and whether I would be appreciative of someone setting a murderer free regardless of how he earned the reprieve. All in all this is an excellent movie. I would recommend it to anyone. — J.R.

A Clockwork Orange was a great movie and also it was really creepy to watch. I enjoyed it overall and it brought up some interesting points. Like is brainwashing immoral, is it ok for the betterment of society, and what would happen if we did that in the world today. Alex before going through the program was menace to society and committed many crimes without a second thought or remorse. That would seem to be the poster boy for a program that reprograms people to be good and moral, but is that not immoral in itself. Is making someone act completely different by basically brainwashing them and then sending them back into the same society that they came from with people that will take advantage of the. Would they be able to survive in the real world? Maybe they had become so immoral to deal with the problems of their life. If we did this in our prisons would it be accepted by society that people would be made into law abiding citizens? Would it be worth taking the ability of choice from a person because he or she did a wrong? I believe it would not work for long because they would be like lambs to the slaughter. People would take advantage of them and use the brainwashing to make them do things they would otherwise not do. This movie has shown that though people may make bad decisions, but it is better to have the free will to make the wrong decisions than to not have that ability and be unable to make a judgment call for your own sake. Other than make a choice because it is how you were programmed and that you follow specific rules that might even cause you to be killed. — D.H.

Had I not been required to view A Clockwork Orange for class, I would have turned off the movie after the first twenty minutes. I do not completely dislike this movie but there are parts that anger and offend me. Kubrick does a good job of illustrating the debauchery Alex and his cronies partake in. Alex has an unquenchable appetite for violence, sex, and violent sex. There is a limit, however, on what to show and what to merely imply, and Kubrick did not follow that. Part of Alex’s character is a complete lack of romantic feeling and an animal-like urge to sexually violate women. I could have gathered this information without watching three rape scenes (one scene is not a rape but a sexual assault, a “pre-rape” if you will. It still bothered me). It almost seems as if Kubrick thinks the audience is so stupid they cannot understand Alex’s character without watching him cut a woman’s clothes off and rape her in front of her husband. That being said, I found other parts of this film fascinating and well-done. Alex’s decision to get the “new treatment” was insistent despite warnings against it. This made me wonder what I would do if I were in this position­would I give up my moral ability to “choose” for a life outside of prison walls? The treatments were difficult to watch­knowing Alex felt physically sick impacted me so much that at times I felt nauseous. I felt pity as he was “tested” on a stage in front of an audience. It seems that the doctors were committed to humiliating him just to make a point. His return to the “real world” was also hard to watch. He was dealt physical blows from former friends and emotional blows by his own mother and father. The lecherous ending to the film was actually a victory; however disgusting and corrupt Alex was, there was still a part of him that was intact, that the doctors couldn’t reach. I especially enjoyed the costumes­the mysterious white oufit and false eyelash that Alex wears with his “gang”, the silly outfit he wears to the record store. After his brainwashing, he wears a navy suit for the rest of the film; this muted appearance amplifies his loss of (criminal) identity. — C.R.

The first time I watched A Clockwork Orange, it was almost too much to process at once. After watching it a second time, however, I was able to grasp on to several themes in the movie. The main theme I noticed dealt with how much choice people really have over their lives. The prison chaplain stated that when a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man. But how true is this statement? It seems that Alex never had a choice to grow up in a stable, violence-free environment. Therefore, his deviant behavior cannot be blamed solely on his choice to be violent. So, according to the chaplain, Alex wasn’t a man before he came to prison. But after the state was finished conditioning him, he still wasn’t a man. He was controlled by the conditioned negative reactions to any kind of violence or sexuality. This raises the question: Can anyone ever be free of control? Can we freely choose to act or are we programmed either overtly, as with the prison conditioning, or subtly, as with Alex’s environment? This movie answers these questions during the final scene. Once Alex successfully overcomes his conditioning, control of his life is transferred to the state. This suggests that the average man is never really in control of his life, his decisions, or his beliefs. Rather, there is always someone in power to tell him what to do, whether it is the government, advertising agencies, or public institutions. — D.O.

A Clockwork Orange: Stanley Kubrick film discusses the philosophical arguments of free will, just punishment and political coercion, while also providing an effective example of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Alex DeLarge is a young high school student by day, gang leader and serial killer by night, and narrator of this incredibly strange and dark story. Alex’s night-time adventures with his gang of droogies is an example of the character exercising his free will uninhibitedly. However, this in turn raises a question of morality and just punishment in relation to his actions. For example, even though it is immoral to murder other human beings, is it moral to take away one’s free will? When Alex is arrested, he is chosen for a behavioral experiment in which scientists psychologically condition Alex to physically react in a negative way whenever he experiences any feelings of rage, sexual pleasure, or desire to enter physical altercations. However, because his physical reactions to these stimuli are involuntary, he has been stripped of his free will and also his ability to defend himself in certain situations. As the Chaplain comments on the treatment: Choice! The boy has no real choice, has he? Self interest, fear of physical pain drove him to that grotesque act of self abasement. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice. Eventually Alex attempts to commit suicide because of the severe negative affects of his treatment. With all the media coverage his attempted suicide attracted, the government endeavors to save face by fixing Alex and disassociating the feelings of nausea he immediately felt after being stimulated by certain events. In the end, Alex returns to his deviously criminal ways. The theatrical ending is different than the ending in the novel, which is a choice made by Kubrick because he did not feel as though Alex’s becoming a contributing member of society in the final chapter of the book was consistent with the rest of the story and message. — J.D.

A Clockwork Orange is one of Stanley Kubrick’s early triumphs. Alex lives in a dystopian future of epic crime levels and a government which has been repeatedly thwarted and humiliated in its attempts to impose order. He and his friends wreak havoc in urban London, but when the gang kills an affluent woman in her home, Alex’s friends leave him to take the fall. Eventually he is selected to take part in a brain washing program in exchange for early release, becomes ill when exposed to violence, sex, or Beethoven, and ends up running into a survivor of one of his attacks, who tries to kill him by torturing him with Beethoven, at which point the government apologizes and fixes him. One is, in many ways, led to sympathize with Alex, and to wonder if it’s right to legislate or punish an inclination over an explicit act. After being stripped of his own ability to commit violence, and therefore defend himself, he is released back into the violent social factors that lead to his own imprisonment. It doesn’t take long before his old friends find and taunt him. One has to wonder about the necessity or reasoning behind his programmed aversion towards sex. Rape would be covered by the programming against violence, and so the only social purpose it serves is to psychologically castrate ( as opposed to chemically or physically, that is to say, he has been made incapable of reproduction, rather than having his psychology castrated ) Alex and prevent him from spreading his gene’s and potentially his sanctioned behaviors to the next generation. — J.E.

A Clockwork Orange: Kubrick’s interpretation of the Burgess’ book of the same name, is not only an excellent film but a foray into the ethics of prison, reform and the very nature of free will. The stylized execution of the first act is superb on every front: cinematography, dialogue, acting and music come together to create a menagerie of sharp angles, cockney influenced super slang, ‘a bit of the old ultra violence’ and Ludwig van (Beethoven that is). The plot follows Burgess’s book fairly well, and tells the story of Alex, a youth in future Britain with a taste for deviance: his exploits, his capture by police, his incarceration. Alex is then selected to take part in a new treatment for criminals, which basically amounts to classical conditioning (in this case, pairing nausea with the stimulus of ‘ultra violence’). After release, Alex has trouble finding joy in life … and even getting through life at all. Eventually he is ‘reprogrammed’ to enjoy the same things he once did as part of the political fallout of the supposed failure of the program. The real issue at heart in A Clockwork Orange is the nature of free will and whether or not government bodies have a right to alter it. For me, it was less of an issue of free will as it was moving the prison walls from outside Alex to within his mind. Regardless of one’s philosophical view or interpretation of Alex’s treatment, A Clockwork Orange delivers a thoroughly enjoyable, if not disturbing, experience. — J.B.

A Clockwork Orange a young ultra-violent hooligan is caught and convicted of murder and rape. While in prison he learns of an experiment that can deter violent behavior and rehabilitate criminals to be absolutely harmless. The classical conditioning he received made him very sick and discomforted by stomach pains if he thinks about the act of violence or hears Beethoven’s ninth symphony. However, Alex finds that he cannot return home and live under his parent’s roof, he was not expected to return from prison for a long time and now someone else sleeps in his room for rent. Unfortunately, for Alex, the pains in his stomach happen in the fight or flight response leaving helplessly lying on the ground unable to walk away from confrontation. Alex tries to leap out of a two-story window after being forced to listen to Beethoven’s ninth symphony. He finds out, in the hospital, that he is going to be cured of the treatment because they feel obligated to keep him from any further harm. This movie flowed well, and the violent imagery disturbed and intrigued me. This story showcases that criminals do not easily reform because they behave in accordance with their pleasure. — D.M.

A Clockwork Orange: This storyline starts off with a few friends who go out for a night on the town. They come across a homeless man and beat him up. After seeing a group from a theater enact a rape scene, they go about on their own way. They recklessly drive on the road and decide to come to a house for a surprise visit. They enter into the house under false pretenses by saying that one of the men has been in a terrible accident. Once they gain entry, they beat the husband and rape the wife while singing “Singin’ in the Rain.” The group goes back to the club/bar they were previously at and decide to relax for a little while before going home. The main character, Alex, doesn’t get home until early morning. When he arrives home, he imagines violent scenes while listening to Beethoven’s 9th symphony. The next morning his mother tries to wake him up for school, but he convinces her that he is sick and stays home. When he wakes up, he finds his probation officer and his probation officer threatens him. Alex then proceeds to go out and pick up two random girls only to bring them home and have sex with them while William Tell Overture is playing in the background. After his activities, he comes downstairs to find his “droogs” who have all been discussing how to make more money. Alex accidentally hurts his friends and he blames it on the Beethoven’s 9th symphony being played. The gang goes to one lady’s house who doesn’t let them in. She ends up calling the police because of her suspicions. Alex goes in the mess with her and ends up beating her over the head with a sculpture. Alex then has his droogs betray him and Alex gets caught by the police. He ends up becoming friends with the chaplain and studies the Word of God. A member of the government comes to visit the prison and he selects Alex for an experiment testing. He is given a shot by one of the doctors. Alex is strapped up to a machine that holds his eyes open while the doctors give him eye drops repeatedly. He is forced to watch violent scenes while Beethoven’s 9th symphony so as to feel pain whenever he thinks of being violent. After a series of tests to make sure that he can’t commit a violent crime again, Alex returns home. His parents reject him when he returns home to find a stranger in their home who starts to belittle Alex about his crimes and how he hurt his parents. Alex finds that he feels pain when he tries to become violent and leaves. Alex proceeds to take a walk and starts to get beat up by a group of homeless men until the police show up. Alex realizes that the police that found him were his old friends and they take him to a place to drown. He stumbles to a house to seek shelter and finds the old man that he and his friends once beat almost to death. The man invites Alex in and agrees to help Alex until he hears Alex in the bathtub singing “Singin’ in the Rain” and recognizes his voice. The old man sits Alex down to make him eat dinner and proceeds to tell Alex about how his wife died from a broken spirit of being raped. Two more people show up and question him about the treatment and its affects. He passes out in his dinner plate. They end up locking Alex in a room and playing Beethoven’s until the point when he decides to jump out a window and commit suicide. The government comes by to give their apologizes and also bargain with Alex so long as he cooperates. Alex from then on decides to cooperate. — D.H.

Clockwork Orange: This film is really in your face from jump-street. It invites you on an evening of “ultra violence” and a few of the old and forced “in & outs.” At first you think these are just troublemakers or youth in revolt but you come to realize these kids are truly sociopaths. What is interesting is about my experience with the film is that I never heard of it until I was reading an article about 2008’s The Dark Knight and the late Heath Ledger said that he drew most of his characteristics and mannerisms from Malcolm McDowell’s character from Clockwork Orange and from watch how he played Joker in that film gave me cause to worry about this film’s portrayal of the well corriograpghed players in this film. It is disturbing to watch but really enjoyable at the same time. The film doesn’t dumb down at all either. It deals with the main character in stunning fashion by breaking him, taming him, sending him back into his old world (with a few changes), beating him down, and using him in a plot to destroy the very thing that turned him from a tormentor to the tormented. — B.C.
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