Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What’s Kubrick going to change then, eh?

Strictly focusing on both first and final chapters of Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel, A Clockwork Orange, and the opening and closing scenes of Stanley Kubrick’s subsequent film adaptation a decade later, it becomes apparent to the reader/viewer that the latter had envisioned the former’s futuristic oeuvre differently… at least, with the ending. It’s obvious that Burgess’s novel about teenage toughs with ultra-crime on their minds and too much time on their hands was meant to be the bastard child of biblio-bricoleur parents; in this case, the picaresque novel and bildungsroman. Although both film and novel start out at the Korova Milk Bar, the two take an utterly different approach with their finales.   
Anthony Burgess uses Korova as a point of departure/destination in A Clockwork Orange; thereby, affixing symbolism to location. This symbolism represents the coming-of-age tale as told through the wild-eyed lens of its ne’er-do-well narrator, Alex Delarge - a psychotic Holden Caulfield-esque scruff of sorts. However, the signifying parallels that lead Alex from adolescence into maturity don’t end there. Burgess even has Alex repeat himself in the first and final chapters with the words “What’s it going to be then, eh?”; thus, bringing the story full-circle. Furthermore, other than the names and character descriptions, most of the first few lines in both the 1st and 21st chapters are the same word-for-word. In each case, Alex finds himself surrounded by three fellow droogs; though, their names and faces do change. Even Alex’s disillusionment is still intact by novel’s end; albeit, for very different reasons.
In the 1st chapter, Alex appears restless and/or disenchanted over plans for yet another evening of ultra-violence, making the reader gather that ultra-violence to him and his droogs is a nightly occurrence. Whereas, in the 21st chapter, his disenchantment stems not from the boredom of repetitive ultra-violence, but from the ultra-violent act itself. In other words, our knavish anti-hero appears to have grown up a little. In the final chapter, we find Alex having more of a desire to raise a family rather than raising hell. In some of the final paragraphs of Chapter 21, Alex thinks, “first of all, brothers, there was this veshch [thing] of finding some devotchka [woman] or other who would be a mother to this [his] son. I would have to start on that tomorrow, I kept thinking. That was something like new to do. That was something I would have to get started on, a new like chapter beginning”.
Furthermore, in some of his final thoughts, Alex realizes that he’s “not young, not no longer, oh no” and that he’s “like groweth up, oh yes”. Thus, Burgess brings Alex back to Korova by novel’s end, but with a noticeable change in his thought process and a lack of desire to repeat the past. In keeping with the bildungsroman tradition, the reader has witnessed, through the written word, Alex’s transformation from juvie-d menace into a man menaced by the impending responsibilities that only maturity can bring - even if it is just a passing fancy. Burgess leaves that up to the reader to decide.
 Unlike Alex’s illuminations into adulthood at the end of 21st chapter, it becomes quite apparent to the viewer that Stanley Kubrick had another ending in mind for his adaptation of Burgess’s novel. By removing its final chapter, Kubrick has also removed the clichés associated with happily-ever-afters that are apparent in the novel’s final chapter. In doing so, Kubrick transforms A Clockwork Orange into something subversive and sinister within the context of Hollywood’s blithe penchant for stereotypical happy endings. This stark contrast is visible towards the end of the film.
 In some of the final scenes, the viewer finds Alex describing his bout with police brutality (the officers being his former droogies, Georgie and Dim) and his being conditioned against Beethoven’s “9th symphony”. Here, Alex is questioned by a nameless interviewer who asks if he is still feeling suicidal; his response, “I can’t see much in the future and I feel that any second, something terrible is going to happen to me”. Alex then proceeds to pass out, diving face first into his plate heaped with pasta.
In the next scene, Alex wakes up, locked up in a posh attic room of Mr. Alexander’s Tudor-style mansion. A sense of nausea appears on Alex’s face as he is forced to listen to good old Ludwig von’s 9th, which Mr. Alexander & co. have provided for Alex’s listening “pleasure” directly underneath his confined quarters. Unable to take the music any longer, Alex jumps out of one of the room’s windows. Echoing his previous dive into the pasta, Alex dives to the pavement below. Kubrick positions the camera from the perspective of an anonymous spectator below. Likewise, he draws on Alex’s repeated generic response of “as clear as an azure sky of deepest summer” by utilizing the clear-blue skies above as the backdrop for his scene. The viewer watches as Alex plummets to his possible demise, a shot of pavement, and then complete darkness.
The viewer slowly regains consciousness with Alex as the film fades in where he/she is met with Alex all bandaged up and in casts. As he lies in his hospital bed convalescing, Alex is heard in broken breaths (possibly assisted by a medical breathing apparatus) with our anti-hero’s voice-over echoing, “I jumped, O my brothers…and I fell hard. But I did not snuff it [die]. If I had snuffed it, I would not be here to tell what I told have. I came back to life after a long, black, black gap of what might’ve been a million years”. Alex soon starts to moan and groan in agony, unintentionally mimicking his assisted breathing and, perhaps, that of the “old in-out, in-out” as well; as the viewer will soon see, this was Kubrick’s intention.
We are then shown a shot of the entirety of Alex’s hospital room with a nurse and doctor emerging into the mise-en-scene from the right and from behind curtains, abruptly ending their sexual encounter with an involuntary coitus interruptus. The importance of having these two figures caught in the act of procreating …two figures who have sworn the Hippocratic oath to save lives… materialize from the right ironically parallels Alex’s suicidal plunge minutes earlier. The very society Alex was trying to escape from ultimately saves him only to enslave him later on.
Kubrick then sharply bombards the viewer with a barrage/montage of headlines that exclaim: “Government Accused of Inhuman Means in Crime Reform”, “Minister is Accused of Inhuman Cure”, “Government is Murderer”, and “Storm over ‘Crime Cure’ Boy”. Amongst the headlines is an obvious, intentional typo as well. Alex DeLarge is referred to as ‘Alex Burgess’; a tip of the bowler hat to A Clockwork Orange’s author.
Kubrick then cuts to Alex’s parents stooping over him in his hospital bed. They have brought him a cellophane-wrapped fruit basket with the words “Eat Me” clearly printed on a box of crackers nudged in between the bananas. Such symbolism might be referencing the size-enlarging cakes of Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or the epithetical catch-phrase (ie- in so many words, “fuck off”) or, perhaps, both.
In the next-to-final scene, Alex is a greeted by a purple-haired psychiatrist named Dr. Taylor. She has wheeled a mysterious mechanical device into his hospital room and explains to him that she’s going to show him some slides, which he is to give her his reaction to. She tells him that each of these slides will display a picture requiring a reply from him. After he nods in understanding, Dr. Taylor begins the test by reading aloud, “Isn’t the plumage beautiful?” In turn, Alex’s responds with “Cabbages. Knickers. It’s not got a beak.” She continues to show him more slides and cheerfully documents his somewhat disturbing responses; ultimately, displaying that Alex is now ailment-free in his lust for ultra-violence.
Finally, Kubrick ends his cinematic adaptation of Clockwork Orange with a visit from the Minister of the Interior – the same Minister who permitted Alex to undergo the aversion therapy of the Ludovico technique earlier in the film – has interrupted Alex’s dinner, which a nurse has been cutting up and feeding him. The Minister of the Interior whose first name is ‘Frederick’ (or ‘Fred’ as Alex calls him) asks everyone to leave the room so he can talk to Alex alone. Taking up knife and fork, Fred continues to feed Alex his food, while feeding him a sly political proposition. Between each cut-up morsel, the Minister apologizes to Alex, “We [the government] want you to regard us as friends. You’re getting the best treatment. We never wished you any harm.” After enticing him, the Minister, finally offers “an interesting job at a salary you [Alex] will regard as adequate and in compensation for what you believed you have suffered because you are helping us [the government]…We always help our friends, don’t we?” The Minister then feeds Alex a sizable piece of the steak he is having for dinner and, in return, receives a Cheshire Cat grin from our ‘malchikiwick’ anti-hero. Alex’s smile is his signature on the dotted line and his collusive agreement with Fred is met with a resounding deluge of floral arrangements, a sound system, and a flood of photogs capturing the two in an embrace and shaking hands as if they had just won some election.
With that in mind, it is hard not to overlook the political atmosphere during the 1970’s when the film was made. Great Britain was in the midst of a sweeping change in political ethos towards conservative ideals. Considering, Anthony Burgess wrote the novel ten years earlier when the UK didn’t appear to be in the clutches of political reform, it makes sense why Kubrick left out the 21st chapter in his film adaptation of  A Clockwork Orange. Though, according to Kubrick, this wasn’t done intentionally. In an interview with Michel Ciment, Kubrick states, “There are two different versions of the novel. One has an extra chapter. I had not read this version until I had virtually finished the screenplay. This extra chapter depicts the rehabilitation of Alex. But it is, as far as I am concerned, unconvincing and inconsistent with the style and intent of the book. I certainly never gave any serious consideration to using it”.
However, in disseminating the final scenes of the film, it is hard not to believe that the political shift to conservatism in Great Britain didn’t affect Kubrick’s bleak vision of the future as seen in the film. Regardless of his real reason for omitting the final chapter, Kubrick’s adaptation serves as an alternate reality to the book. A reality where Alex DeLarge’s marionette strings are manipulated by duplicitous politics. A reality where our ‘humble narrator’ has been willingly mollified into puppetry …and a well-orchestrated photoshoot.  A reality that has stripped away Alex’s adulthood, leaving him demasculinized and eternally knavish. A reality where society has failed him and he fails to care …or, rather, he fails to care as long as he’s being fed his ‘steaky-wakes’.

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