Study Guide for A Clockwork Orange

1. Filmographic Information:

A Clockwork Orange. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. UK: Warner Brothers/Hawk Films (prod.) / Warner Brothers (distribution), 1971. Stanley Kubrick, Prod. and script, from the novel by Anthony Burgess. 137 min.

2. Major Cast

Characters Actors
Alex* Malcolm McDowell
Georgie (2nd in command to Alex) James Marcus
Dim (Alex's large, dumb droog) Warren Clarke
Pete (the third droog in first part of film) Michael Tarn
Mum (Alex's mother) Sheila Raynor
Dad (Alex's father) Philip Stone
Mr. Deltoid (Alex's probation officer) Aubrey Morris
Mr. Alexander (the writer, another "Alex") Patrick Magee
Miss Weber, the Cat Lady Miriam Karlin
Chief Guard Michael Bates
Prison Chaplain Godfrey Quigley
Minister of the Interior Anthony Sharp
Dr. Brodsky ** Carl Duering
Dr. Branon *** Madge Ryan

* In the novel Alex has no last name, but uses "Delarge" in a dirty joke.
** Male head of Ludovico's Technique (or Ludovico Technique) center
*** Female second-in-command to Brodsky at Ludovico Technique center

ALSO: Tramp, Billyboy (leader of gang Alex and his droogs fight early in the film), Mrs. Alexander; Constable, Inspector (at police station); Prison Governor (warden in US English); Joe (the Lodger [with Alex's parents]), Julian (male aide to Mr. Alexander); Dr. Taylor (psychiatrist who tests Alex).

3. Plot

The rise and fall and fall and further fall and final victory of Alex. Using the divisions of Burgess' novel:

Part 1: Episodes in which Alex "rises" in crime to murder, and then falls into the hands of the police, betrayed by his droogs.

Part 2: Alex in the hands of the authorities, first as 6655321 (which Kubrick shortens to just 655321) "in Staja (State Jail, that is) Number 84F" (which Kubrick may also shorten) and then at the Ludovico center, where he is reduced to a "clockwork orange"-finally being utterly degraded in his "passing-out day" display and getting released.

Part 3: Alex victimized by his former droogs and former victims until he takes his final fall-the literal jump with his attempted suicide. Then the reversal of Alex's rise in the hospital, leading to his ascension to his vision of the good life and "I was cured all right."

4. Theme

The problem of free will in a world of at least Original Sin and probably Innate Depravity. On ideological grounds, most of us must say, Better a wicked human being than a "clockwork orange": the superimposition of the mechanical upon the human until there is no real free will, hence, no real humanity. But the cost of having an Alex around is very, very high.

5. Notes

A Clockwork Orange may be seen in context of some of Kubrick's other films as part of an on-going investigation into human violence, especially violence by males.

  • Paths of Glory (1957): Men kill, and die, when ordered to.
  • Spartacus (1960): Those in power will use violence to stay in power; pushed far enough, the oppressed will use violence to free themselves from oppression.
  • Dr. Strangelove . . . (1964): Men get a (Freudian?) sexual kick out of violence, with an exploding thermonuclear device the ultimate male orgasm (but, as one woman observing the shot noted, Col. Kong / With the H-bomb schlong [my rime] is imaged as being screwed more than screwing-obviously . . .).
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): Man is a biological product with a "genetic cultural affinity" for weapons, and strong innate urges (e.g., territoriality, status, survival) that will get him to use whatever weapons are avilable (the Dart-Ardrey hypothesis).
  • Barry Lyndon (1975): Those in power -- fathers, military officers, etc. -- use violence against subordinates to get their way, and the subordinates usually submit.
  • The Shining (1980): The devil made him do it?
  • Full Metal Jacket (1987): When men get in touch with their killer instinct, they kill someone they know and hate; to get them to go half-way around the world to kill strangers takes a good deal of work, imaged as "brain surgery."

Cf. and contrast this debate with himself with Terry Gilliam's debate with Terry Gilliam on Romance.