Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

A Blowjob for the Übermensch, or: Stanley Kubrick's Bobby Fischer Moment

directed by Stanley Kubrick
starring Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee,
Michael Bates, Warren Clarke, Adrienne Corri

The England in which Anthony Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange was an England marked by think pieces and concerned chatter about juvenile delinquency; the idea then was that "we need to do something — anything — to put a stop to this nonsense." What Burgess intended in response was a condemnation of the future toward which he saw English society rushing: a profoundly un-Christian tomorrow in which man is stripped of his God-given free will for the sake of the greater good, robbed of his ability to make a moral choice, and rendered no better than the lowliest of animals. What kind of world are we clamoring for, Burgess asked, if it's one in which all that is noble and admirable about humanity is flattened under the same juggernaut of "scientific progress" as its propensity toward violence and destruction? Burgess' concerns were fundamentally Christian ones, humanist to the core; Stanley Kubrick's, coming from a professed agnostic with his thinking shaped by the Holocaust-centered nihilism of the Jewish world, were not. Fittingly, Kubrick — still working in smart-ass satirist mode after his Dr. Strangelove blew up the world to the strains of "We'll Meet Again" — took a flick of the switchblade to Burgess' cautionary dystopian tale and slashed away all that worried-about-the-state-of-man malarkey; stripped it, in the manner of its sociopath-as-rock-star protagonist, down to its barest essence: tits, bush and the sing-song of Burgess' invented Nadsat dialect over Beethoven's Ninth.

Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of A Clockwork Orange means to stagger us with the prescience of its warnings about the corruption of the individual, but its stunted adolescent morality makes it a disingenuous mess. Kubrick's far less honest about his aiming for pulpy, transgressive kicks and strip-show titillation here than your average exploitation filmmaker. Not only does A Clockwork Orange virtually trump for sleaze any Euro-perv grindhousers with their shameless resorts to lovingly choreographed rapes, fetishistically filleted femme-flesh, preteen training bra-fillers or the Auschwitzian curves of a perpetually undressed Laura Gemser, Kubrick's film is worse: it's an exploitation film with airs. Like the most puerile forms of punk rock or the genocidal ghetto pathology of gangsta rap, A Clockwork Orange is perhaps best appreciated when one is fifteen or sixteen years of age — a time when one is generally unburdened by larger intellectual demands about art and can simply get off on volume and cartoon antiheroes and mindless rebellion against formalism for their own sake. It suggests Phillip K. Dick as adapted by an autistic, photography-obsessed kid who'd spent his childhood locked away from humanity with his father's classical records and a closet full of spank magazines.

With its closing twist-of-the-shiv meant to sledgehammer home just what a black joke society is (as if our skulls weren't already numb from the previous two hours' worth of its upending-of-orthodoxy thwacking), Kubrick — arguably the pre-eminent film stylist of the twentieth century — impresses as little more than a self-important high-schooler who'd stumbled across the term "protean irony" somewhere and couldn't wait to get called upon in English Lit the next day, so that he could expound gaseously upon this newfound wisdom, to his professor's bemusement and to everyone else's utter boredom. Civilized society is but a sham, A Clockwork Orange seems to insist — a middle-class illusion propped up by upper-crust phonies and double-talking politicians, and enforced by fascist correctional officers and lecherous youth counselors, not for the advancement of anything good or worthwhile but merely so that stammering, ineffectual fathers can sit about with the morning paper, munchy-wunching "lomticks" of toast, while their own children rape and pillage and light the fire that causes their mannered little world to burn down around them. Consequently, we're to understand, said society is no more legitimate or worthy of respect than the nightly rape 'n' pillage routine of a dead-end kid and his dim-witted band of "droogs."

This is, of course, about the biggest load of horseshit ever served up by an artist of considerable stature, but it's mere cover since Kubrick couldn't admit to what he was really on about: that Burgess' remorseless thug Alex is the unironic hero of this film, with his ascendant will to power against a thoroughly robotized populace. Alex is far too charismatic for it to be any other way — far too potent a shot of self-determination in his bold peacocking through dreary, mechanized surroundings; far too wink-wink entertaining with his sardonic faux-deference to the corrupted authority all about him; far too seductive in his voice-over narration to us, replete with flattering intimacies such as "O my brothers" and "your humble narrator" spoken in the same plummy, contrived cadences he uses to con his elders within the narrative. Kubrick designed the film as a love letter to Alex, as a Rossini symphony fashioned from the two-chord crudity of Alex's sense of entitlement and his junkie's need for kicks. It's Alex as a punk-rock Richard III, as a sneering, bowler-and-codpiece-clad proto-Johnny Rotten striding through the burned-out remains of a vaguely post-socialist Old Blighty with his dunced-out Sex Pistols — scooping up record-store strumpets and ravaging the homes and wives of the chattering class not as a political statement, and not even as a means of waking up an older generation gone flabby and self-righteous, but simply as a means of thrusting middle fingers skyward in the tradition of literature's greatest rogues.

When Alex leads his gang on a random break-in that culminates in the assault of a writer and the rape of the writer's wife, he directs his boys in imitation of the way that Kubrick the director might marshal his actors and walk them through a scene. Alex bellows the lyrics to "Singin' in the Rain" while gagging the writer and snipping away bits of the wife's clothing because it's a means of upping his high, because the bitterly ironic counterpoint of Alex conjuring a Hollywood musical while engaging in utter savagery was too pointedly wicked for Kubrick to resist showing us, too amusing in ways that only the cleverest of monsters could engineer. It's Alex's willful embrace of his Jungian "shadow," fueled by the wide-eyed shock of complacent souls who never expected to answer a knock at the door and greet their worst nightmares. What Alex is saying to the writer, in effect, echoes the elegantly ruthless Nazi bogeyman of legend — a specter that haunted Kubrick's imagination from childhood through his work on the aborted Holocaust project Aryan Papers. He's saying: I'm not some deranged lunatic ravaging your wife because I can't help myself. In fact, the actual rape isn't what arouses me the most; it's staging the violation of your pride and joy as a piece of performance art for which you, O my brother, are a most unwilling audience. It's knowing that my perfectly arbitrary entry into your placid little life, while meaning nothing to me, will leave you and your turtledove with scars that'll never heal.

Kubrick allows nothing into his film's narrow purview that might spoil our affection for Alex — not even Burgess' original text. Gone here is the murder of a fellow inmate that the Alex of the novel commits while in prison. Kubrick takes the ten year-old girls Alex doped up and molested on the page and abracadabras them into foxy adult fillies who consent to a fast-motion threesome over a synthesized parody of the William Tell Overture because Kubrick the Alex groupie has to drop in a digression about his bad boy's way with the ladies. Kubrick even goes out of his way to uglify Alex's environment, so as to leave us no doubt as to who the real villains are. Thus, the blandly efficient Britain of the book becomes here a barren wasteland of trash-strewn government-issue housing projects with broken-down elevators, its police force comprised wholly of Gestapo-ready sadists. The mild-mannered writer Alex attacks in the book carries on here — glowering under crazy-old-man eyebrows and teetering on the brink of a seizure — as if the actor Patrick Magee had rushed over from playing a mad scientist in a Roger Corman production and had forgotten to switch characters. He blathers on about "the full apparatus of totalitarianism" while plotting to use the rehabilitated Alex as a political tool against the government.

Alex's "post-corrective advisor" goes from being a fairly respectable figure in the book to leering at Alex with cryptic closet-homo menace and smacking him in the balls — he's so eager for an excuse to toss this hunk of young meat to penitentiary wolves, his warnings to Alex to keep his "handsome young proboscis" out of trouble come off as thinly veiled incitements. Under Kubrick's design, Alex's crimes are made palatable to us, even justified, by the fact that everyone else is so much worse than he is: soulless little crypto-fascists who lack Alex's devilish charm or his honesty about the ways that they, too, use others as instruments for their own gratification. Alex doesn't exist because he's what a society of the future will inevitably give rise to, he exists because Kubrick wants him to — he's the crystallized essence of Kubrick's icy remove from human folly. He's Kubrick's golem of fuck-your-system chaos that humanity deserves, in his eyes, for having stuffed itself to inertia on material comforts, for having given its bent for lies and hypocrisy free reign in the delirium of a smug postwar moral certainty allowed to flourish behind the protective fence of what Alex's first victim terms "earthly law an' order."

Kubrick's naked admiration of Alex's viciousness and cunning is there right from the opening shot, with its calculatedly iconic close-up of dashing, Olivier-gone-psycho Alex staring us down while high on drug-laced "milk-plus" and contemplating the "ultra-violence" that he and his gang are set to unleash upon a future-shock England full of supercilious upper-class twits. Here, though, as the camera pulls back from Alex's dead-soul glare, the better for us to marvel at Kubrick's meticulously lit and set-designed wank-fantasy of future decay that's just as orchestrated for maximum shock value (and, hence, just as phony) as any scandal-seeking modern art piece, or just after, as Alex and his gang thrash an old bum in an alley, the celebratory impulse is at least implicit — it could reasonably be misread as an artist's commitment to presenting his characters' milieu as is, free from editorializing. Gradually, though — as Kubrick serves up slavering and rather obsessively drawn-out preludes to rape; as he dishes up both a gang fight that might double as a battle royal at a WrestleMania and that sped-up mini-orgy with the grandeur of classical for isn't-this-ironic musical accompaniment; as he freezes time with static, interminable sequences that jerk themselves to a froth over beatings and other tortures; as he taunts us with cheeky-lad bits of sacrilege that strain so hard to rattle our Christian sensibilities that they nearly shit themselves — his m.o. becomes unmistakable.

He insists that when his camera lingers like a drooling priapist on the exposed breasts and asses of the film's female victims, or when he mocks those whom Alex attacks by making them the most contemptuous Monty Python caricatures of drunkards and high-society nitwits that he can, he's merely showing us the way that Alex sees things. In his oft-quoted interview with Michel Ciment, given at the time of Clockwork's release, Kubrick stated that, "Since [Alex] has his own rather special way of seeing what he does, this may have some effect in distancing the violence."

But everything in the film is distanced this way, both before and after Alex's artificial conversion to harmlessness — Kubrick's heightened approach to Alex's hopped-up ultra-violence is scarcely differentiated in style or tone from a shot of him browsing discs in the record shop. Nearly every scene comes shrinkwrapped in the unrelatable hyper-reality evoked by the tinny electronic score (with its Muzak dehumanization of the great composers' works), by the wide angle lenses' distortion of space, by the laboratorial set design and that hard, flood-lit, almost shadowless lighting scheme Kubrick employs — and every character but Alex is painted in the same buffoonish brushstrokes as his victims. Alex's "rather special way of seeing" is the perspective Kubrick wishes to endorse — it's the perspective we're meant to cling to — because Kubrick maintains it even in those rare moments when Alex isn't around.

It's impossible not to snigger at Alex's "Singin' in the Rain" bit because Kubrick has timed the kicks and slaps to Alex's victims, and their responses, to go along with the rhythm of the melody — it's the debauchment of Western civilization as jaunty adult musical. Adrienne Corri, as the writer's wife, is absolutely stripped for our — and Kubrick's — voyeuristic gaze, just as it's entirely by design that Kubrick prefaces the rumble that Alex and his boys have with a rival gang by jumping ahead, before Alex has even arrived, solely so that we can watch the rival faction strip and attempt to restrain a girl that they're about to gang-rape. It's a sequence that — par for the course with this film — goes on endlessly, far past the point where we could excuse it as merely ornamental. Kubrick makes sure his camera gets unobstructed, full-on shots of the girl's big, bobbling tits swaying from side to side like milk sacks about to burst from the pressure of overfilling, as well as of her dense, jungle-like — and very Seventies — mat of bush. Kubrick teases with each woman's helplessness before raw animal impulse as a pornographic come-on to an audience primed for rollercoaster thrills 'n' chills — the titillation of vicarious hooliganism. I suppose if I weren't the stylishly jaded, dominance-enjoying sophisticate that I find myself, I'd register this stuff as offensive in and of itself (it isn't); what's conspicuous about it, though, is how transparent Kubrick is in the ways that he uses it.

Speaking with Michel Ciment, Kubrick enshrined his directorial motives in one of the most self-aggrandizing, woundedly defensive heaps of professorial pomposity a director's ever flung at the general public:
A Clockwork Orange has received world-wide acclaim as an important work of art. It was chosen by the New York Film Critics as the Best Film of the year, and I received the Best Director award. It won the Italian David Donatello award. The Belgian film critics gave it their award. It won the German Spotlight award. It received four USA Oscar nominations and seven British Academy Award nominations. It won the Hugo award for the Best Science-Fiction movie. It was highly praised by Fellini, Buñuel and Kurosawa. It has also received favourable comment from educational, scientific, political, religious and even law-enforcement groups. I could go on.
Oh, do go on, Stanley.
But the point I want to make is that the film has been accepted as a work of art, and no work of art has ever done social harm, though a great deal of social harm has been done by those who have sought to protect society against works of art which they regarded as dangerous.
Now, recall Kubrick's serenade to his own irreproachability as you go back through Clockwork and note all the shortcuts and crafty elisions he utilizes to achieve his ends. He cuts off that rival gang's ravishing of their prey with the appearance of Alex and his droogs; we never see the rape carried through. Likewise, he ends the scene of Alex with the writer's wife just before the actual penetration begins. Stripping these actresses and leaving us with only the full measure of their womanly bounties uses the stimulation of softcore to shut down our resistance, just as Alex and his crew deaden with drugs whatever slivers of compunction might precede their rampages. It prods us to acknowledge in ourselves the part of these thugs' underdeveloped psyches that gets its jollies from thickets of snatch-thatch and fun-bags that pendulate like the woes of an accused man; it's a flagrant, carny-barker appeal to the fourteen year-old boy inside us all. Spoiling our dubbed-Swedish-nudie-on-late-night-cable high with the women's teary-eyed agony, or with the relentlessness of a five-on-one pounding followed by a likely dispatch via switchblade to the poor lass' throat, would wilt our erections and cause us to dissociate, pulling back into hard, moral — adult — considerations.

In Kubrick's eyes, the real crime is not what Alex does, but rather when the state gets its mitts on him and saps him of his taste for the finer things in life, drugging him into marching in lockstep behind all the other parrots of good-think, who shuffle off to the factory for another-day-another-dollar and cozy themselves in front of the telly at night like good little consumers. Thus, Kubrick glides through the section of Alex in prison by completely omitting any possibility of the bitch-boy-for-survival act that a rascal with the winsomeness of a young Malcolm McDowell would likely succumb to. We get a nod toward buggery as the prevailing order when a burly inmate taunts Alex with air kisses and winks during prayer service but its implications are never built upon, and we don't expect them to be — Kubrick showing us his foxy firebrand broken down and dominated by a masculinity more powerful than his own would shatter the alpha-god allure that Kubrick's predicated upon Alex's dominion over others. It might even hinder us from following our captain on the Good Ship Dystopia down Kubrick's intended path of forced identification.

Kubrick, of course, goes out of his way later to show Alex in the grip of the mind-warping Ludovico Technique while imprisoned, then helpless with his good-citizen reconditioning against the seething vengeance of those he once wronged. But this, too, is in service of his effects; it's meant to bind us to our dissolute Brando-of-the-id against the hypocrisy we've watched him endure, to rouse the champion of the underdog in us all and stoke our need to see him returned to his true nature as a proper corrective to such woeful imbalance. Poor Alex! Kubrick says. His parents are clueless, unloving dolts! His only friends betray him without hesitation! The cops are ruffians and every other authority figure is full of shit! What, oh, what does our Alex have left to him but to give back to society what they've given him?

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Kubrick squeezes such played-to-the-rafters, comic-book overkill from every actor who isn't Malcolm McDowell in this film not because he'd forgotten how to put conventional human beings on the screen, but because he loathed conventional human beings — at least somewhere in his core. Among the most frequently quoted of Kubrick's public statements is this assessment of man, a sentiment that would have had the great Sam Peckinpah nodding in fervent agreement:
Man isn't a noble savage, he's an ignoble savage. He is irrational, brutal, weak, silly, unable to be objective about anything where his own interests are involved — that about sums it up. I'm interested in the brutal and violent nature of man because it's a true picture of him. And any attempt to create social institutions on a false view of the nature of man is probably doomed to failure.
Furthering his self-perpetuated image as eternal pessimist and student of anthropologist Robert Ardrey's ignoble-savage theory African Genesis (as was Peckinpah), Kubrick even countered what he saw as the misguided optimism of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his 1762 treatise Émile, or On Education:
Rousseau's romantic fallacy that it is society which corrupts man, not man who corrupts society, places a flattering gauze between ourselves and reality. This view ... is solid box office but, in the end, such a self-inflating illusion leads to despair.
Burgess would assail what he characterized as a willful misreading of Kubrick's film by ostensible sheep when he spoke of attending a screening and having his senses assaulted by "blacks standing up and shouting, 'Right on, man,' because they refused to see anything beyond a glorification of violence." Actress Miriam Karlin — in Clockwork, she's the "cat lady" whose death at the hands of Alex sends him to the big house — pinpointed the honesty of the film's advertising when she opined that "the film has been really badly sold on violence and sex. The kids come out saying, 'That's what we're revolting about, this plastic world.'" But violence and sex are virtually the only elements of Kubrick's narrative; the gut reactions at which Burgess and Karlin wrinkled their noses were not only anticipated by Kubrick, but fully counted upon for the bait-and-switch he so clearly intended (and for confirmation of Kubrick's worldview, I'd wager).

His effects in this film are so singularly bombastic and proto-Oliver Stone-ish (to a degree that Clockwork stands as an anomaly within the Kubrick canon), so geared toward eliciting Negroidal hooting and spastic, seal-like applause from us during the early parts, then so undeniably committed to taking that approval and ramming it shiv-like into our delusions of refinement and self-determination, because his view of society in Alex's world is a mirror he professes to hold up to our own; because we're the thrill-seeking simians he imagines laying down the money to see a film touted on its own posters as "[b]eing the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are rape [and] ultra-violence." (Recall that Kubrick maintained strict control over every aspect of his films' releases, down to the promotional campaigns.) As said simians, we're naturally impervious to subtle measures — what Prof. Kubrick's peering-down-his-nose discourse on the sorry state of humanity calls for, of course, is nothing less than stentorian declamation with the occasional jab of his pointer or meaty fist pounded into the lectern for properly accusatory emphasis.

As outlined above, Kubrick shared with Sam Peckinpah a fundamental doubt of man's innate drive toward peace — Peckinpah's 1971 masterstroke Straw Dogs is as devoted to blowing this notion all to hell as is Clockwork. The plain difference between them — the thing that makes Straw Dogs stand erect with the inflexibility of God's truth while Clockwork wobbles under inauthenticity — is Peckinpah's essential admission of humanity; it's that, contrary to Kubrick's distance through garishness and stylistic distortion, Peckinpah flambés his own flawed nature in addition to that of his characters. In Dogs, he's right there in the thick of it alongside us: peering up into the eyes of a rapist from his victim's point of view; so close to the faces of his embittered couple during the climactic siege that we can hear the panicked whirring of their minds leapfrogging from one rapid-fire survival strategy to the next.

With regard to its Christian-baiting and its New York salute to the durability of English (read: white) social structure, one may even see in Kubrick's Clockwork approach the Jew's inherent disdain for the goyim rearing its head, as it inevitably does with any Jewish artist. We never get the sense in Kubrick's films — films devoted exclusively to dissecting the lives of Gentiles — that Stanley the Great ever deigned to count himself among us mere mortals. (Kubrick is said to have put any novel he adapted through a ritualistic de-Semitification: according to his Eyes Wide Shut co-writer Frederic Raphael, Kubrick especially insisted on the WASP-ishness of that film's married couple, despite the source characters in Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 Traumnovelle being most likely Viennese Jews.) There's never the presence of an "I" in these films — some yearning of his to better understand people, some personal confessions or demons or even private fetishes that the director was burning to release, or attempt to make sense of, through the catharsis of storytelling. There's only "he," "they," "you": the godlike remove of the self-styled satirist peering down in dry amusement at the pettiness of the tiny figures beneath him; the dispassionate certainty of the effects-obsessed technician whose fixation on the perfect canvas reduces even the weightiest themes — eradication of the self, filicide, war — to no more than whatever extra brush stroke or splash of color they add to his predetermined masterpiece.

It's the chilly inhuman flawlessness that's the star of a Stanley Kubrick film. In The Shining, that chilliness lent itself to the mounting aura of dread we expect from a horror film; in Eyes Wide Shut, it served well the dream-logic journey from desire frustrated by diktat of what seems like cosmic will to sex "magick" and an apparent blood sacrifice. But in Clockwork, filtered through film-student shock cuts to a row of naked, bleeding Jesus figurines on Alex's mantle, or through schoolboy naughtiness such as Alex's pet snake posed against a mural of a spread-eagle woman so that it looks to be performing cunnilingus on her, it leaves us with little to register but how much, like Alex, Kubrick would love to smack and kick and mock us out of our self-induced stupor. His forays into Alex's sexual adventurism may as well have been posed with mannequins because the warm blood behind that sexuality is lacking; the spontaneity and messiness of sexual endeavor would never be his forte as a director. What we take away from these moments is another awkward cashing-in on Seventies permissibility from a filmmaker whose career dated back to black-and-white days. Kubrick as sudden libertine is like a sheltered private-school kid playing naughty — he revels in shouting dirty words to impress the jocks and class cutups (whom he knows he's better than, anyway) but there's no true irreverence behind his stabs at mimicking the commoners; he hasn't yet learned how potty-mouth and a fondness for boobies sit within the framework of plebeian self-expression.

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A 2005 Haaretz article details Kubrick's conviction that no single film could ever capture the full scope of the Holocaust; it references what it calls "Kubrick's fascination with the Nazi era." It also quotes Geoffrey Cocks, author of The Wolf at the Door: Stanley Kubrick, History and the Holocaust, as having argued that "the Holocaust serves as the 'veiled benchmark of evil' in many of Kubrick's films." I tend to doubt, though, that his view of things was this tidy, this comforting to lifelong investors in the one-world credo dispatched from limousine-socialist mealy-mouths like bags of wheat dropped from helicopters onto villages of starving Africans. Kubrick, according to Frederic Raphael, once offered that "Hitler was right about almost everything"; as if this weren't enough to get the screenwriter all verklempt, Kubrick would also savage Steven Spielberg's Oscar-bait-ification of the official exterminated-Jews narrative in Schindler's List. (Crispin Glover in his 2013 essay "What Is It?": "When Steven Spielberg clutched his Academy Award for Schindler's List, saying it's for the 'six million,' was he speaking of a quantity of people killed, or the quantity of dollars poured into his bank account?") As quoted in that Haaretz article, the director challenged Raphael:
Think that's about the Holocaust? That was about success, wasn't it? The Holocaust is about six million people who get killed. Schindler's List is about 600 who don't.
Michael Herr, who co-wrote Full Metal Jacket, would peg the director, in his 2000 biography Kubrick, as an "old-fashioned social Darwinist" who laughingly paraphrased Jewish Trotskyite-turned-"godfather" of neoconservatism Irving Kristol's maxim that a neoconservative is "a liberal who has been mugged by reality," and who leaned toward enlightened despotism as a political panacea, given man's cutthroat irrationality and inherent selfishness. Herr saw fit to underline that Kubrick was "certainly a capitalist" and, in the documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, he asserts that, with Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick had "accepted that it was perfectly okay to acknowledge that, of all the things war is, it's also very beautiful." Kubrick himself insisted, in a 1987 interview with critic Gene Siskel that Full Metal Jacket "suggests that there is more to say about war than it is just bad."

So Kubrick was no stranger to wandering down the off-roads of unsanctioned thought. His disingenuousness in Clockwork aside, I have no kick against his fascination with Alex; I'm not such a dullard that I'd insist upon something as mundane and as nitwit-coddling as "likable characters." After all, however one wishes to quantify them (racially, culturally, via individual intelligence or personal achievement), there absolutely are such things as superior beings — nature's nod to Nietzsche's concept of the Übermensch, if you will. If we take Frederic Raphael at his word and retrofit Kubrick's "Hitler was right" onto Kubrick at the time of Clockwork, we might say that it's Kubrick's conflicted relationship with Jewishness — his grappling with the crashed economies, banker-funded wars, and mass genocides wrought by high-level Jewish predation upon the West — that muddles his approach and keeps him bouncing between alpha-goy worship and mockery of those whom the Jewish Talmud likens to "cattle" and other animals, of those whose lives Jewish tradition considers lesser than Jewish lives, of those whom philosopher and Torah scholar Maimonides, in Mishneh Torah, Laws of Idolatry 10:1, termed "worshipers of an alien deity" while declaring, in Laws of Murder 4:11, that Jews are forbidden from ever saving one of these "alien" worshipers from perishing.

Like all Jews, Kubrick was deeply self-contradictory in regard to these shkotzim whom his people's history (and, seemingly, genetic code) programmed him to chip away at with all manner of socio-cultural critique and selective historical emphasis, all while relying — of course — on the generally tolerant and highly prosperous societies Gentiles maintained to provide him and his kin safe harbor and a first-rate standard of living. (Bronx-born and -raised, Kubrick moved with his family to England in 1961, ostensibly to escape the crime-ridden hellhole that New York was already becoming. He'd reside in the U.K. for the remainder of his life.) His Alex is born of that most characteristic of Jewish traits: the apparent compulsion toward provocations of their host societies — a compulsion so metronomically consistent in sparking the endless loop of pogroms and expulsions that is Jewish history, even the non-Biblically-inclined might well wonder how the lament of the Jews in Matthew 27:25 that "[Christ's] blood be upon us and on our children" doesn't qualify as actual living curse passed down through the ages. Here, though, that compulsion seems tempered with Kubrick's awareness of its fundamental shortsightedness. As even the hardiest of parasites must know that it's only as healthy as its host — and seeking to extract a better life from the advancements that another nation's rightful inhabitants have worked to build and sustain is, in essence, a kind of parasitism — Kubrick's fashioned Alex as a warning flare sent back from the Oceania of a future he saw his beloved English society hurtling toward.

Might it say something unflattering, after all, about the Jewish character that the West has been the safest, most persecution-free home the Jew has ever had — that America, in particular, has virtually embraced the Jew with open arms: defeating Nazi Germany to liberate the concentration camps, allowing millions of Jews to emigrate to her shores, and offering the Jew carte blanche to own and control all facets of her media; to shape her culture via his artists and journalists whose media predominance marks them as the gatekeepers to all public expression; to prevail via in-group favoritism in her Ivy League colleges, in her legal and medical fields, in her banking and financial sectors; to hold sway over the minds of her youth via his infiltration of her academic institutions; to control the supply of her currency then loan it to her at interest via his Federal Reserve; to steer her foreign policy via his all-powerful lobbying groups while ensuring that the chief directive of her elected officials is the unrelentingly aggressive pursuit of Israel's interests — and the Jewish response to all this has overwhelmingly been to shower its adopted home with criticism and opprobrium, to advocate seemingly anything that undermines or subverts Western values and cultural cohesion, to recast both Western history and the existence of her majority culture as prehistoric artifacts to be tossed aside, or out-and-out destroyed, in favor of some ever-mutating whimsy of "progress"?

Behold a double-edged sword: Clockwork's workaday Britons are the contemptible cattle of the Talmud, yet Kubrick's Alex is a kick to the yarbles from Britain's empire-building, civilization-spreading, imperially-English-and-all-naysayers-be-damned past to its present-day beneficiaries: the descendants of those very same kings and warriors and statesmen and philosophers, who now sit fat and sated inside the comforts bought for them by blood and toil; descendants, though the term befits them only as a house cat is akin to a mighty cheetah, guilt-tripped and mind-fucked into mirthless sub-existence by the orchestrated social decay of Orwell's 1984 come to life, which is to say, the seething anti-European resentment of a post-World War II Zionism given political primacy and armament-backed legitimacy. Today's Englishman is arrested merely for voicing unfashionable opinions online. He's written out of his own history, in real time, by British media. His daughters and nieces are pimped by foreign grooming gangs while his police look the other way. His vote to reclaim the sovereignty of his grandfather's nation is all but laughed at by his ruling class. He's stabbed, bombed, acid-drenched, and plowed with vans by the unassimilable hordes replacing him on his own soil while the alien mayor of his own capital tells him that this is simply the new order of things.

What's worse: he allows it — this farce, this surrender of his birthright, this tattered white flag waved with a trembling hand upon the cultural battlefield as he stands atop the smoking corpses of his own readily sacrificed children and grandchildren — for no greater reward than the promise that his capitulation will save him from schoolyard taunts like "racist" and "xenophobe." However bombastic Kubrick's Gentile-degradation porn may have been, one need only look at what's come since to see how optimistic the old nihilist actually was.

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Kubrick stages the rewiring of Alex's instincts as an allusion to the CIA's MK-ULTRA mind control program (purportedly discontinued in 1973) — it's to Clockwork Orange what secret-society occult sex rituals were to Eyes Wide Shut, what his supposedly having helped to fake footage of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing was to The Shining (some say): its covert central subject matter. Though the program's existence wouldn't be revealed to the wider public until the de-classification of related CIA documents in 1975, it isn't terribly far-fetched to imagine that Kubrick was privy to things ahead of Joe Six-Pack. After all, his extensive NASA connections allowed 2001: A Space Odyssey to anticipate the methods by which we'd send astronauts to the moon a year later. His expansion of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita hid within the plain sight of its narrative the possibility of pedophile networks involved in child pornography — and this, over half a century before "Pizzagate" became a buzzword for internet black-pillers. Similarly, Dr. Strangelove, via its General Ripper, prefigured modern concerns about the fluoridation of our water supply; its titular ex-Nazi scientist pulled comedy from the U.S. recruitment of Der Führer's best engineers and technicians in what would later come to light as Operation Paperclip. Even its re-creation of a B-52 bomber's cockpit was so dead-on down to the last switch, it drew attention from Pentagon officials concerned that Kubrick might have gained access to top-secret information via a breach of security.

The goal of MK-ULTRA, according to the decision reached in Supreme Court case CIA v. Sims 471 U.S. 159 (1985), was "the research and development of chemical, biological, and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior." In a footnote to the decision, it's stated that
Several MKULTRA subprojects involved experiments where researchers surreptitiously administered dangerous drugs, such as LSD, to unwitting human subjects. At least two persons died as a result of MKULTRA experiments, and others may have suffered impaired health because of the testing.
One of these "subprojects," never officially acknowledged, is said to be Project Monarch, a system of trauma-based programming, developed by Nazi scientists (Josef Mengele — Slayer's very own "Angel of Death" — chief among them) and later refined under the aegis of the U.S. government. Project Monarch is said to focus on the prolonged, ritualistic exposure of its subjects — or slaves — to physical torture and various horrors so intense that their minds essentially fracture. This fracturing is a built-in self-protective component of the psyche — in effect, the mind shuts down in order to dissociate from a reality that it cannot handle. It's while the subject is in this dissociative state, it's said, that the programmer is able to create alternate personas, or "alters," within the subject's compartmentalized mind — personas that can be triggered by key words or phrases, or by specific sights or sounds, and reinforced by "handlers," for whatever purposes the programmer wishes. Word around the conspiracy-buff campfire has it that the mind-controlled slaves turned out by Project Monarch range from "Beta sex kittens" created to serve as playthings for wealthy elites (actors and actresses, singers, models — Marilyn Monroe is said to be the prototype) to "Delta"-level killers — Manchurian Candidates, if you will — trained to carry out, or act as patsies for, high-level assassinations (Lee Harvey Oswald, Sirhan Sirhan, Mark David Chapman, John Hinckley, Jr.) as well as other politically useful acts of violence and destruction (the Manson murders, Jonestown, the Oklahoma City bombing, various false-flag shootings). If properly conditioned, it's said, a Monarch killer should have little to reveal in the event of capture but the false memories and motives implanted via his alters.

Kubrick foresees the government using this far-past-Orwellian gambit to strengthen its grip on a populace that's already "mind-controlled" by trinkets and distractions, by easy sex, by "law and order" with its soothing assurances against the pandemonium at society's gate, by the drugs it uses just to spark (or repress) basic human emotions, by the media it consumes (hence, Alex's fondness for Hollywood cinema; hence, his calling up the imagery of sword-and-sandal epics — like Kubrick's own 1960 Spartacus? — in his biblically-inspired daydreams of blasphemy). Alex strapped to a chair in a grim simulacrum of a movie theater, his eyes propped open and all manner of wires running from his "gulliver," is the film's clearest expression of MK-ULTRA/Project Monarch techniques — the alter of a Pavlovian Alex conditioned to abhor violent sights, with the accompanying music of Beethoven's Ninth as an unwitting trigger to this response, is created before our eyes.

The Alex of the first act ceases to exist from this point — the remainder of the film is given entirely over to his alters. The programming of the "good" Alex who's released back into the world, too neutered for sex or even for self-defense, is reinforced in a sort of S&M horror show by a series of symbolic "handlers" tasked with keeping him in a continuous state of disarray: his former droogs (now duly appointed officers of the law), the old vagrant he'd nearly killed at the beginning of the film, and — naturally — the writer whose wife he'd despoiled and apparently left for dead, all of whom waste no time repaying his old cruelties upon their recognition of him. Beethoven's Ninth — blasted at Alex by the writer, as he's learned of Alex's conditioned repulsion toward it — is the trigger that pushes this alter toward its predestined self-destruction: Alex hurls himself from the window in what now plays as a nod to Frank Olson, a biological warfare scientist and CIA employee who either leapt, "fell," or was pushed to his death from a New York hotel window in 1953 after having been unknowingly dosed with LSD in a run-up to MK-ULTRA testing. (A second autopsy performed on Olson in 1994 would find indications of blunt-force trauma to the head, suggestive of injuries sustained prior to his fall.)

Alex's return to malevolence is no triumph of the rake, however. No less a personage than the Minister of the Interior himself visits Alex in the hospital after his jump, all dulcet-voiced apologies for Alex's ordeal — which, he notes, has lost him a considerable amount of public support. He assures Alex that the writer — now branded a dangerous subversive and put away for his own good — poses no further threat. He tells Alex he'll be given a job and made a proper beneficiary of the new order if he's willing to be used as a mascot for the Minister's upcoming re-election — if they have what the Minister refers to, first with a hint of darkening in his tone, then victoriously, as an "understanding." Out come the flowers and cameras for the front-page photo-op; along with them, gigantic speakers blasting Beethoven's Ninth, which Alex, in his newly deprogrammed state, is able to enjoy again. Except that this isn't deprogramming at all — the Ninth now serves as the trigger for his second alter: a cheerleader for the new socialism, whose gift for deception is in service of the politician who's literally fed him by hand, who'll now charm and proselytize on behalf of a government he's trained to regard as the sole means to his daily sustenance.

Of course, everyone recalls the "I was cured, alright" parting shot, in which Kubrick cuts to Alex's fantasy of tangling with a tasty young "devotchka" before the applause of Victorian-garbed onlookers who represent the high society that's just given him a license to operate. What no one seems to discuss is what immediately precedes this: Alex, shaking hands with the Minister, hypnotized by the sensory overload of Beethoven at top volume and flashing camera bulbs, suddenly lets his mouth go crooked, eyes gazing blankly above him then rolling back in his head, as if some switch inside his brain had just been flipped. It's Kubrick's broadest stab at evoking the catatonia of mind control — what MK handlers refer to as sending the subject to his "happy place" so as to facilitate the dissociative process. It says that the renewal of his yen for kink is no less a function of government-engineered identity than when the "new and improved" Alex nauseated at the sight of a naked woman. It says that the Alex we first met — cockroach though he was — is, for all intents and purposes, dead and gone; relegated to a hologram of his pre-alter existence that twitches and crackles to life at the whim of others.

Kubrick highlights the unreality of Alex's "happy place" with a painterly stroke for the observant: a butterfly — Monarch, to be exact — on the hat of a woman within the crowd of applauders, at the leftmost edge of the frame. (As if to verify certain theories about the entertainment and fashion industries, Monarch symbolism — once one is attuned to it — tends to pop up in all manner of films, music videos, photo shoots and graphic design.) Worth noting is that her eyes — windows to the soul, as it's said — are "missing," i.e. completely covered by the pulled-down brim of the hat as if the Monarch had replaced them, whereas the eyes of all other onlookers within the shot are fully visible.

Those so inclined might, for that matter, note the shape of a pyramid on the brick wall overlooking Alex and his fellow inmates as they mill about in a circle — a "magic circle" being an important concept in witchcraft for the harnessing of energy. Their energies properly harnessed, the inmates then line up as prospective sacrifices for the Minister of the Interior, as the pyramid is situated directly above him — the pyramid being among the most well-known of "Illuminati" symbols indicating a hierarchy of human existence, with the elite, or "most illuminated," at the pyramid's apex. (From our vantage point, the Minister grows in stature beneath, or "within," the pyramid, the closer he gets to Alex.) They might also note that Clockwork's controlled-by-external-forces allusion starts even before the first shot's summoning of "all-seeing eye" iconography via the costume lashes on Alex's right peeper — a touch added by Kubrick. It extends to the film's title cards, presented as a slideshow loop of alternating colors: red-blue-red during the opening, then red-blue-red-green-magenta under the closing credits. Color programming is said to be used in the creation or triggering of various levels of alters, particularly in child subjects — red, for example, signifies the sexual programming of a beta "kitten"; green has been attributed to "self-destruct" programming — and Alex, with his arrested emotional development and tethering to his immediate wants, is nothing if not a child. (Burgess had written him as a fifteen year-old.)

Burgess' notion of the title was that a man without free will is as foreign to God's intentions as a piece of fruit that reveals itself to be composed of springs and levers upon peeling. Kubrick took the "clockwork" aspect far more literally: man is manipulable mechanics beneath his organic outer appearance, and all it takes is someone who knows how to program him to set the world wobbling on the precipice of an abyss — hence your Holocaust, says Kubrick; hence, your heresies against law an' order; hence, your slaves to a venal ruling class. It isn't just Alex, though; Kubrick, in effect, turns his audience into "clockwork oranges" predisposed against making a clear moral choice as to what degree it should identify with Alex. One could even say he's chuckling at this quasi-MK-programming of us during the color flashing of the end credits: as songs and nursery rhymes are often used in Monarch conditioning, so the reprise of "Singin' in the Rain," heard here in its original incarnation and now repurposed for Kubrick's effects, carries the playfully sinister air of something he's just implanted in our collective subconscious — its almost mindlessly whimsical melody now and forever acting as an instant trigger, per Kubrick's intentions, not to flashes of Gene Kelly on an MGM soundstage, but to our mental replay of Alex and his droogs' home-invasion-as-Broadway-showstopper. (Kubrick's sly acknowledgment of ditties as brainwashing tools wouldn't end here. Full Metal Jacket would examine the mind control used to mold recruits into Marines, going from call-and-response chants during training — used to effect a replacement of the self with a group identity — to hardened killers reinforcing their own programming by singing the theme to the Mickey Mouse Club in unison. One doubts this was incidental, given both Walt Disney's long-rumored status as a high-ranking Illuminist and the reputed importance of Disney-related motifs to MK-ULTRA rituals.)

The more incisive among us — dare I say "the smartest"? — will place ourselves in Alex's seat, with the wires running from our own heads, wondering how Kubrick's display of ultra-violence means to program us. We'll ask ourselves why Kubrick, our saintly moralist finger-pointer and lecturer on free will, has endeavored to achieve the opposite of what choreographed rape and documentary Third Reich footage has done to his Alex: Kubrick's desensitized us; he's beckoned us forward and made us want to see more. Regarding his comments in the Ciment interview and his general levitating-over-humanity approach as storyteller, I don't buy for a second that Kubrick means to implicate himself and the rest of Hollywood when we hear Alex speak glowingly of his "dear old friend," the "red, red vino on tap" of onscreen carnage, or when he fantasizes in the gaudy visual language of B-movies. Kubrick seems to have taken from Burgess' novel, and from the CIA experiments which so clearly fascinated him, a kind of artistic challenge: is it, in fact, possible to program or surreptitiously induce a room of simpletons into chucking aside civilizational fripperies and embracing the repellent?

Not long after Clockwork's release, its provocations spilled past the cineplex and into real-world England: the murder of a homeless man by a teenage boy who'd claimed Alex's hobo-throttling as inspiration, a sexual assault by hoods incorporating "Singin' in the Rain" into the act, death threats directed at Kubrick and his loved ones, protests outside their home. Kubrick volunteered — or was persuaded — to withdraw the film from U.K. cinemas out of anxieties about his personal safety and (what one imagines was) a sense of civic responsibility. It seems the question posed to him by his artistic challenge had been answered, his objectives quite easily reached among the unthinking and the unhinged — the Untermenschen, one could even say. I suppose we ought to be grateful a young Stanley Kubrick never went to work for the CIA.

©2018 Scott Is NOT A Professional Film Critic

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