“A Clockwork Orange” is a psychological thriller that examines and analyzes the effects of a corrupt individual and society’s attempts to reintegrate him. The director Stanley Kubrick depicts a deeply chilling and disturbing story of a young man by the name of Alex and is considered a menace to society who is eventually punished for his wrong doings and given the chance of a lifetime to “reinvent” himself. The new an innovative way to reintegrate disturbed individuals into society is through a type of conditioning that causes a nauseating reaction to violent acts for the patient.
It is difficult to determine the time period of the film since Kubrick uses scenery that makes it appear as though it could take place today, tomorrow, yesterday, or even fifty years in the future making it applicable to all times. In addition, Kubrick is very cautious to use problems in society that have been evident and irksome since the beginning of man such as rape, muggings, murder, etc. With this stunning combination of society’s everyday problems, “A Clockwork Orange” is the type of movie that appeals to all time periods and will always be applicable to the troubles that are present in today’s society.
The psychological aspect of the movie is the way in which society wishes that it could deal with them through a simple program that allows the individual to be “reborn” in a sense and make it physically impossible for them to return to their old devious ways. The conditioned versus an unconditioned response technique is a major factor in Alex’s transformation toward becoming an acceptable human being in society.
During the first half of the movie before Alex undergoes treatment, he is shown with his fellow “droogs” or his small four member gang that creates havoc throughout England with their acts of “ultra-violence” where they commit heinous acts of violence and on random victims. Alex and his droogs are shown in the first scene of the movie at their favorite local hang out joint called the Korova Milkbar where they indulge themselves in drugged milk beverages. The movie never directly states what is in the milk, yet after drinking it, the droogs all seem very excited and almost imagining their environment.
This leads one to believe that there was some type of an amphetamine or hallucinogen because the amphetamine would cause an “increase in energy and alertness” while the hallucinogens caused a “sensory distortion” (Kalat 94). The amphetamine is considered a stimulant which causes an increase in the “activities levels and pleasure” which explains the groogs eagerness to go out and expend seemingly endless amounts of energy without so much as breaking a sweat (Kalat 95).
This particular milkbar is very unusual in that, the entire room is filled with sexual images of women in compromising positions that are dispersed throughout the room and available to give the laced milk from their nipples. Alex and his groogs hit the streets to begin their night of ultra-violence and it begins with the senseless beating of a drunken homeless man under a bridge. From there, the group heads out even more anxious than before and go to a home of a crippled man and his wife.
Upon tricking the wife to allow them in saying they had an awful car accident, and upon entering the four boys begin to rape the woman in front of her husband while he was senselessly beaten. The only major difference between the two encounters is that the boys were a wiser and wore masks during their attack. The psychological aspect during this part of the movie is more to realize the mental capacity of the attackers. The groogs and especially Alex are not phased by the ruthless violence and desperate cries for help from their victims.
Most psychologists would conclude from these observations that Alex’s problems are not that he enjoys violence, but rather he had a troubled childhood along with his uninvolved parents that shaped him into the “monster” that he had become. It has been agreed that the majority of social development in humans is established in the earlier stages of childhood and adolescence. One aspect of the movie that infers that Alex has a unique and troubled home life is almost any scene that involves his parents.
Alex’s parents are very distant and unconcerned with his activities and lack of attendance at school. They are the typical example of uninvolved parents who are very uninterested in their child’s activities, do not spend time with them, and may spend very little time with them (Kalat 194). This type of parenting can lead to children who are generally impulsive and undisciplined. Agreeing with this observation is that Alex may have been raised in a broken home and that his mother in the movie is not in fact his biological mother.
It is believed that children in broken homes may have more difficulties in the real world have a greater difficulty with their academics, social, and emotions (Kalat 194). This could lead Alex to grow up according to the belief that his attachment was never fully developed to one parent and that he developed later in life the inability to have close relations with others. This includes his friends or groogs who he seems to simply bully around and never confide any secrets or let on that he has confidence in them.
Furthermore, Alex has a constant problem with a sexual addiction where he has one night stands and orgies with random girls, yet fails to develop a substantial relationship. This lack of closeness also may have contributed to Alex’s inability to identify exactly where he fit in with society and his small “identity crisis” that he experiences. He seems to be having trouble with his “concern with decisions about the future and the quest for self-understanding” because he is rather nonchalant about looking toward the future and simply lives off the constant high of his ultra-violence (Kalat 186).
Alex is eventually caught for his mischievous acts and given the opportunity to undergo an experimental program to supposedly cure all his “illness”. The government at this time is offering a new and innovative way to cure disturbed individuals through an extreme version of conditioning. Pavlov first discovered that certain stimulants triggered natural responses in both humans and animals which he called the unconditioned response since it needed no training or reinforcement to encourage it (Kalat 207).
By placing another stimulant in addition to the natural response, the animal then reacted to both the stimulant and the natural response in the same way. Alex’s government used his unconditioned response of enjoying violence and attempted to correct it by injecting him with a nauseating inducing drug before being shown violent acts. In turn while watching the violent acts Alex began to learn the conditioned response that while he watched violent nature he would feel a wave of immense sickness overwhelm him.
While the effects of the drug were the most prevalent Alex was shown films of graphic nature that included rape, murders, and all of the old activities of Alex’s past that he used to take pleasure in. All the while, Alex listened to the music of Ludwig von Beethoven during the films in the background. Strangely enough to Alex, he begins to feel an overwhelming feeling that he simply wants to die a “calm and painless death” despite the fact that Beethoven had once been his favorite composer and that violence once gave him a euphoric feeling.
The combination of music the nauseating feeling became the conditioned stimulus which means that they were the new stimulus that induced the conditioned response for Alex to not partake in violence. After many sessions involving this nauseating feeling associated with the violent images, Alex was released back into society and claimed to be completely cured. A simple cure was impossibility due to the fact that those who Alex had hurt in his life such as the homeless man, his groogs, and the crippled old man still had the feelings of resentment toward him.
The old man began to beat on Alex with the help of the other homeless people and Alex could do nothing to defend himself but instead sat there being beaten and regaining that nauseating feeling while wanting to die due to his conditioned response. Eventually, Alex coincidentally returns to the home where he had previously raped the woman and her crippled husband recognizes Alex; he locks Alex in a room with the music of Beethoven that was played during the violent images. This unconditioned response causes Alex to go insane without having seen any violence at all.
This response is a result of classical conditioning is the result that what had once prepared Alex to watch violent images now cause Alex the same feelings whether or not he is viewing the images. While in the room Alex goes to the extreme and attempts to commit suicide. This does not work and Alex is treated at the local hospital while those in charge of his classical conditioning responses were reprimanded for an inhumane process and treatment. The movie does not directly state, but it leads one to believe that Alex had some type of brain surgery to reverse his classical conditioning effects.
It does not appear as though any type of extinction or a removal of the classical conditioning through any other experiments other than surgery (Kalat 210). Soon Alex is back to his old ways of demoralizing women and undisturbed by his thoughts of ultra-violence. It is evident that through this film the idea of classical conditioning being used to reprimand a human or try and change characteristics are futile. While the classical conditioning worked, it may be said that it worked too well and that Alex was unable to be reintroduced into a society where there is a constant negative reinforcement for what he sees.
Even if Alex is not actively participating in the violent acts he still is negatively reinforced causing him suicidal thoughts and actions. The problem with Alex’s treatment was that the only positive reinforcement, or an encouragement to achieve a conditioned response, was that he no longer craved violence or sex, although it was seemingly easy to reverse the effects of his study. Overall, Alex is a perfect case of the negative effects of classical conditioning and brings up the question if perhaps there is no simple answer to cure any disturbed individuals within a society.