Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Clockwork Orange, 68/100

What could I possibly say about Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange that hasn't been said before? Beats me. But I have to write something.

It's considered one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century. It inspired one of the most critically-acclaimed films of all time. Plus plenty of halloween outfits. I'm guessing one out of every five college freshmen has the notorious movie poster in their dorm (next to "crazy stairs" and Munch's The Scream). It created an entirely new form of slang, nadsat, which is going to make me ask for "eggiweg" for breakfast for several weeks I'm sure.

And its own author hated it.

From Burgess' book Flame Into Being : The Life and Work of D.H. Lawrence:

The book I am best known for, or only known for, is a novel I am prepared to repudiate: written a quarter of a century ago, a jeu d’esprit knocked off for money in three weeks, it became known as the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify sex and violence. The film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about, and the misunderstanding will pursue me till I die.

The misunderstanding was that by depicting "ultra-violence," the novel was glorifying it. It was released in 1962 after all.

Did Kubrick's film adaptation glorify sex and violence? First off, are we combining sex and violence into one thing? -- as in "violent sex"? If not, then I'm not sure why sex is in that sentence. Because sex does not need to be glorified. Most people find it pretty glorious already. Secondly, at no point in the film did I feel violence was being glorified. Try watching the scene where Alex rapes a woman while belting out "Singing in the Rain" and not be traumatized for life. I feel a bit traumatized just typing it out.

The moral of novel (and film) is extremely clear. Anyone who can make it all the way through either should have the intellectual capacity to understand its message: it's better to have free-will and be evil than none and be forced into kindness. It's a big idea with a lot of social and religious implications. One could argue for days on it. I won't be doing so because I have a stack of books on my nightstand I need to attend to. But one thing it's NOT doing is saying "violence is sweet."

*Warning, possible SPOILERS below. If you care about that sort of thing.*

But I have another bone to pick with Burgess. In the original UK version there are 21 chapters. In the first US edition they cut the last chapter, and that is what Kubrick based his film on. After reading the full 21 chapter version I have to agree with Kubrick and say the last chapter felt unnecessary. It changes the tone of the novel drastically, and quite honestly, makes no damn sense. I get what he was going for -- a sort of No Country for Old Men type of old vs. youth battle. Alex grows one year older and, poof!, wants to be responsible, stop the raping, killing, and pillaging, and (good god) have a kid of his own. If Burgess had fast-forwarded 5-10 years in the future, this may have worked. Although from a stylistic point of view it's still horrible. The previous chapter ending in flying colors, and the last being a great pile of mush.

What if instead of Brian De Palma ending Carrie with her grabbing that girl's arm, it continued 5 minutes more with them sitting down together and discussing the weather? No! Bad storylining. Bad bad.

But THAT'S IT! I swear that is the last novel with rape in it I will read this year (what's left of it). I'm all raped out. 

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