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A Clockwork Orange

The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast ‘L’Argent’ and ‘A Clockwork Orange’ with special attention to themes, ideologies, and style. Both films are successful adaptations; ‘L’Argent’ is based on a short story ‘Faux billet’ by Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, whilst ‘A Clockwork Orange’ should be best seen as a close interpretation of the novel by Anthony Burgess of the same name. Both films follow the texts of the works of fiction they are based on with a significant degree of accuracy; with regard to crime fiction ‘liberties cannot be taken with the author’s text with an easy conscience’ (Bazin, 1967, p. 54).

Essentially, the chief thematic preoccupation of both movies is the individual’s ability to choose between good and evil, which is inherently linked to the problem of free will. The relationship between individual and society, restricting human’s autonomy in many different ways, and the making of human character remain in the focus of both films. ‘A Clockwork Orange’ explores the controversies of human nature: the protagonist, Alex DeLarge, is equally fascinated by Beethoven’s music and horrific violence.

The film graphically portrays all the crimes Alex commits, ranging from vicious street beating to unmotivated murder to carefully planned robbery that falls flat and brings Alex behind the bars. While Alex is essentially a rotten and spoiled teenager, the film makes the viewer sympathetic of him. His charismatic personality symbolizes aggressive sexuality and seemingly everlasting defiance. This impression is further strengthened when Alex agrees to undergo the so-called ‘experimental treatment’ that is supposed to make him incapable of committing violence.

However, this form of social conditioning turns out to be more a form of cruel and unusual treatment, when Alex is forced to listen to the music he worships while footage of murder and violence is shown to him on the screen, ranging from cruelty of Nazi soldiers to scenes of rape and beating. The treatment strips Alex of his free will and personality: ‘The fascistic state that reduces Alex to a whimpering, sick tool of the government is fearful of the very qualities that specifically make Alex human’ (Falsetto, 2001, p. 174). This social conditioning turns Alex from an offender into a victim.

In such a way, the film reinforces the notion of inevitability of retribution. After being released from jail, everything goes fatally wrong for the protagonist, as he encounters people he committed violence against him, and they simply turn their back on him, in the best case. He arrives home and learns that his room is already rented to another tenant by his parents, and the new tenant only adds insult to injury by describing how horrified he is about Alex’s past. Alex fails to release his anger, as any attempt of violence makes him sick. A series of events that follow are somewhere in between random coincidences and karmic punishment.

A homeless man asks Alex for change, and he turns out to be the bum Alex has beaten up in the tunnel. Exactly at the same location, Alex is assaulted by a crowd of homeless. Two police officers who stop the fight are his betrayed fellow gang members, and they take him to the woods outside the town and try to beat him to death. Nearly-blind and bleeding Alex seeks refuge in a country house that, by another strange coincidence, belongs to the writer whose wife he raped. He is given poisoned vine and finds himself in a bed, with Beethoven’s 9th Symphony playing out loud.

The music makes him jump out a window in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. The last scene uncovers the hypocrisy of the government and society, as Alex lies in the hospital bed and is talked into smiling at the cameras, so that he can be presented in the media as a success of the experimental treatment. The underlying message of ‘L’Argent’ is very different. The film consistently shows that the ideals of social justice and retribution are, in fact, ephemeral. The protagonist, Yvon Targe, is nothing but a victim of other people’s dishonesty and society’s inability to tell right from wrong.

The true villains never get punished; neither Norbert and Matrial, nor the shop owner and shop assistant are charged with passing on the ill-fated phony note. Yvon looses his job after failing to prove his innocence. Thus, it does not take much time for this honest and hardworking man to turn into a beast. After an unsuccessful attempt to drive a getaway car for a band of criminals, he goes to prison for a tree year term. Circumstances only reinforce his anger and alienation. While he is in prison, his child dies of diphtheria and his wife leaves him.

After his release, he is vile enough to commit every crime from theft to murder. The two films hold contradictory views on the nature of man. ‘A Clockwork Orange’ sends the message that man’s nature is initially evil, and society has to limit man’s freedom of action to prevent a hobbestian state of anarchy and a war of each against all. The fact that society can be too oppressive and restrictive does not discard the notion that offenders like Alex have to be controlled and isolated. On the contrary, ‘L’Argent’ shows how society can turn initially good men into monsters.

The feature that both films have in common is the sharp criticism of the existing law enforcement and correctional systems. While the aforementioned social institutions are supposed to ensure impartial and humane treatment of offenders with a view of integrating them into society after they serve their sentences, they have become elements of a vicious circle of crime and violence. Therefore, both films are, in essence, antiestablishment in their ideological orientations. It is necessary to take into account the historical circumstances of the creation of Leo Tolstoy’s story and Anthony Burgess’s novel.

Leo Tolstoy held numerous beliefs concerning nonviolent resistance and communal living; he believed that society has to be radically transformed to become more just and free. Anthony Burgess’s novel was written at the heights of the beatnik’s movement who supported the cause of liberation from the oppressive structures of the society. Another feature both films share is the powerful symbol of a downward spiral. Everything goes fatally wrong in the lives of the to protagonists immediately after they loose their free will, either under the pressure from the circumstances or as a result of society’s intervention into the human psyche. Therefore, the two films are close in terms of themes explores, underlying message they carry, ideological orientation, and symbolism.

References L’Argent. Dir. Robert Bresson. Eos Films, 1983. A Clockwork Orange. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Hawk Films, 1971. Bazin, A. ‘In Defense of Mixed Cinema. ’ What is Cinema , Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1967, pp. 53-75. Falsetto, M. Stanley Kubrick: A Narrative and Stylistic Analysis, Second Edition. New York: Praeger, 2001.

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