“Is there anything sadder — and ultimately more repellent — than a clean-minded pornographer?” In addressing Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, Pauline Kael, as quoted above, regards Kubrick and his film as unimpressive and unnecessary eroticism. In rebuttal, I argue that the elegance of violence in the film works toward overall horror, the sexualization within society does little for dehumanizing the “straight” citizens in opposition to Alex, and, in compliance, Kubrick does employ strategic, questionable methods in pushing the audience to view Alex as the ultimate good guy, or at least victim, within the film.
Kael claims that the movie is classified as “clean-minded pornography” with the intent to arouse audiences because of Kubrick’s “pedantically calculated scenes”, however, this strategy does just the opposite. The rape scenes are riddled with savagery in that Alex doesn’t seem connected to anything he’s doing. He definitely seems to be getting pleasure, as demonstrated in the raping of Mrs. Alexander when Alex is dancing to his cover of Singing in the Rain and laughing all the while. So, yes, the experience is arousing for Alex, but does little for the average audience member. If anything, the unsettling detail accompanied by the fluid and vibrant motions hinting at Alex’s excitement during his intentional violent fits create disgust. Arguing that Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is pornography is debatable because whether or not the intent of these scenes are to arouse is unknown, but on either side of the argument, it seems unjust to claim that whatever it is remains clean-minded.
Kael argues that the innocence and whimsical nature of the violent acts, such as the pairing of classical music with brutality, remains as reasoning for it to be looked at as comical and light-hearted, but Alex is raping someone. This is observed in the first attempted raping of a young woman by another unrelated group. Pornography has the intent to arouse the audience and this scene just shouldn’t. This woman is suffering and very obviously feeling distressed, as seen in her cries for help. The elegant music and fluid choreography emphasize the innocence felt by the teens and therefore creates more of a sickening atmosphere than an arousing one. These children are toying with this innocent girl and exploiting her for their own enjoyment, not hers. No matter what way it’s looked at, it’s a crime and a discomforting one at that. The added classical music or other just furthers the idea that Alex likes this and sees nothing wrong with what he is doing. He likes rape. And the fact that such innocence in Alex’s mind is mimicked in his actions, his “schoolboy” like and accepted behavior, elongates the intended repellents from Alex’s actions and, more so, the society that has created him.
In Kael’s review, she suggests that “the trick of making the attacked less human than their attackers, so you feel no sympathy for them…” is a thing. This doesn’t actually seem to be Kubrick’s goal. As stated previously, Kubrick does well in disconnecting Alex and making the audience feel uncomfortable with the ease urged toward Alex’s endeavors. Each victim acts as a victim might. Nothing seems peculiar or off-putting. In fact, the Alexander home is very welcoming and warm and Mr. Alexander’s mental stability has flown out the window afterwards. Kael claims that “the “straight” people are far more twisted than Alex; they seem inhuman and incapable of suffering” because Kubrick’s over-sexualized community adds even more “deformity” to the plot. The problem remains that it is unclear in the film just how long society has been this way. These elderly citizens could have been born into this. It’s normal for them. Take the scene with the fit cat lady for example. Her house is riddled with sexual vulgarity, but still when answering the door to Alex remains fearful and skeptical. She isn’t violent. One could argue on the contrary using the battle scene between her and Alex as an example, but that’s just self-defense. What attacked person wouldn’t try to save themselves? Alex broke in to a house with locked doors and high windows. She is also older, accounting for her dominant attitude. While it may be a plausible argument to say that the sexual respects add twist to the concept, what isn’t clear is why this makes the adults and other characters less human. It only pushes the concept of a crippled societal structure by pushing the question of why these sexual exploitations are acceptable in such a society. The adults aren’t acting in any way vulgar or crass. As a matter of fact they seem frail and confused, as shown through Alex’s father upon Alex’s return home. Not trusting a flawed society seems to be the ultimate message for the film.
In the end, there is no hiding the fact that Kubrick is pushing Alex to be the abused protagonist. Because of what Kubrick has portrayed society to be, sexual and crime run, the audience is very capable of pinning everything on the man. Kael says that “Kubrick has removed many of the obstacles to our identifying with Alex” in comparison with Burgess’s novel. Apparently, Alex’s habits are cleaned up in the film and throughout he is given opportunities to play the innocent bystander. For example, after leaving the government facility and returning home, he finds himself to be actually homeless and ultimately alone. The audience, at this point, feels bad for poor little Alex and the rest is history. From the start, glimpses at the disorganized and faulty world around Alex and the aggressive nature of what is arguably all teenagers leads the audience to believe that Alex is a product of society to begin with. In the end, after he is “cured all right”, the audience sees that what Alex is now is a product of what the authorities have yet again made him and not only through the conditioning, but also through bribes and hush profits. Kubrick’s argument isn’t that man should accept what man has made, but rather man should blame authorities for what man has made.
In conclusion, while I disagree that detail takes away from the dramatization of the violence and the modern citizen within the film is dehumanized, I believe Kael is right in saying that Kubrick pushes a little too hard in wanting the audience to see eye to eye with Alex and accept what he is.
Kael, Pauline. “Stanley Strangelove.” Visual-Memory. The New Yorker Magazine. January 1972. Web. 4 April 2016