A Clockwork Orange is another case where I have seen the movie before reading the book. My original impressions of the film were that watching the movie is like a strange but fascinating ride to travel. I didn’t really ponder much what the political implications are and I think the reason that I did not is because the story feels so far removed from reality. Reading the novel did not change this attitude.
A Clockwork Orange is based in the not-so-distant future where supposedly the youth gangs have taken over and society is going downhill very fast. The narrator is the so-called leader of one of these small gangs and the story follows his life. In the story, Alex goes to jail after being betrayed by his fellow gang members and left unconscious at a crime scene where Alex “inadvertently” kills a woman. After being in jail for two years, Alex is chosen to be the guinea pig in a brainwashing treatment that causes him to be physically repulsed by all violence. The remainder of the story follows Alex as he is released back into the “real world”. In this real world, the newly brainwashed Alex cannot function successfully. In the end, due to circumstances that leave Alex badly harmed, the brainwashing is reversed and he is “cured”. The 21st chapter shows Alex in another gang but we find that he has a change of heart as he realizes that he has grown up and outgrown the desire for violence.
When listening to the book (which I highly recommend as it would, I imagine, be difficult to read the dialogue of the unusual language found in the book), I was, at first, bombarded by the strange language of the narrator. I learned that the language created by the author is called Nadsat and is seen as a mix between Slavic, rhyming slang, Russian and words from the author’s imagination. On Sparknotes, I found a Nadsat glossary of commonly used words found in the novel. But, I discovered that as I read more and more that the more and more comfortable I became with the language. According to Wikipedia, the author intentionally uses this language so that we, as readers, find ourselves brainwashed to thinking that this language is a normal way to communicate. Also, the strange language helps us to be separated emotionally from the disturbing action of Alex and his gang so that we can relate to him more easily. The more we get involved in the story, the more we understand Alex and what he is communicating with us and, in the end, we may even come to empathize with this rapist, murderer, thief, etc. The final chapter where Alex has his epiphany that he has matured and wants to be a better man with a family was omitted from the American publication of the novel because American publishers argued that Americans wanted a darker, more realistic ending. It seems that while Burgess begrudgingly agreed to this omission that he felt that it caused many people to misinterpret the purpose of the novel, which was to show that redemption and change is possible but must be achieved out of one’s own freewill and not by some outside pressure or source.
I was surprised to find that the novel was just as twisted as Kubrick’s film. It is hard for me to think of anyone who has a more twisted mind than Stanley Kubrick. Well, now I can add Anthony Burgess to the list of people with minds so twisted that they can come up with this material. Perhaps Kubrick isn’t nearly as twisted as I thought and instead he is amazingly good at adapting twisted material to the silver screen. Actually, there is one scene in the book where Alex gets two 12-year-old girls drunk and then rapes them. This scene in the movie was changed so that Alex is instead having an orgy with two consenting teenage girls. So, Kubrick had to even tone down some of the twistedness of the book. I did read that Alex’s pet snake, which does not exist in the novel, was added to the film simply because Malcolm McDowell, the actor who played Alex, had a fear of snakes (crazy!). And, the biggest difference between the novel and the film is that Kubrick, who had been mainly exposed to the American version of the novel, finished the film without the final chapter of redemption. I wonder if it really true that Americans prefer a darker ending and see Kubrick’s ending as more realistic.
I think that because the world that Alex lives in is so strange that having seen the film helped me to understand what was going on in the novel. My husband asked, since the film and novel are so similar, did listening to the novel add anything to the film experience that is A Clockwork Orange. I am not sure that it did. But, I can say that I enjoyed both the film and novel and don’t regret watching or listening to either one. I would recommend the book to anyone who has most certainly enjoyed the movie and wants to experience the story in another media.