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In “A Clockwork Orange,” Are There Any “Good” Guys?

Audiences typically choose to look for the “good guys” in a movie. Viewers latch on to the protagonist because they are often presented as the “hero” of the story; a charismatic presence for which one feels compelled to root. But in A Clockwork Orange (1971), audiences do not get handed the protoypical “heroic” protagonist. Rather, what they get is Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell), a charming but twisted anti-hero. Alex may be the leading character in the film, yet he lacks the conventional cinematic and literary “good guy” traits such as pureness in spirit and intention to do right by others. As the story unfolds, Alex doesn’t exhibit the characteristics of a typical heroic leading man, but rather he delves straight into the role of the anti-hero as he partakes in acts of “ultra-violence”, including commitings acts of murder and rape for his mere amusement. His companions, or “droogs” as he calls them, have no problem with the acts themselves, they just want a little more democracy in the ultra-violence activity planning. Youth - like the manifested behaviors of Alex and his lackeys - is represented only as a violent expression without any restraints. Alex and his drooges are unrestrained by morals and society; they act impulsively without any regard for the consquences or the effects. They live to serve their carnal pleasures and this takes Alex far off the path of the heroic leading man.

When Alex is sent to prison for his crimes, he consciously decides to take the path least chosen by leading men. His pretense, rather than geniune attempt to change and impress the prison Chaplin (Godfrey Quigley) in order to secure an early release fortells his decline to anti-hero. The scene of his interpretation of a gruesome biblical passage is a prime example of the dual sides of Alex DeLarge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qa12tvOTQx8. Proclaiming that he is sufficiently cured while visions of ultraviolence and sex swirl in his mind reflect his lack of inherent goodness.

So what of the authority figures in the film? Are they the “good guys” or are they as depraved as Alex and his band of drooges? The Minister of the Interior (Anthony Sharp) is the biggest and most powerful authority figure presented in the proceedings and his methods of preventing crime are akin to torture. He is more concerned with preventing scandals from hindering his political ambitions. Alex’s probation officer, Mr. Deltoid (Aubrey Morris), may seem initially like a “good guy” by warning Alex about the path his crimes will lead to, but he ruins that image by gleefully spitting in young Alex’s face after he learns that he is to be sent to prison (plus there’s also this rather disturbing visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yN-c7Xo9kkw). Another authority figure, the chief guard, yells and berates the prisoners and cares only for adherence to proper procedure, emphasizing that authority as well as youth in this film are not to be trusted.

Even the anti-government revolutionaries in the film are not entirely wholesome “good guys”. Mr. Alexander (Patrick Magee) starts off as the film’s most sympathetic character as he loses his wife and mobility to one of Alex’s nights of ultra-violence. When Alex unwittingly returns to his house and describes his recent ordeals, Mr. Alexander and his friends decide to use Alex in their fight against the government. However, things turn nasty when Mr. Alexander figures out who his guest really is and then decides to change his plan to one of torture by playing Ludwig’s “9th” driving Alex to commit suicide. While his anger may be justifiable, in the end Mr. Alexander is nothing more than what he seeks to fight. He tortures Alex like the government he despises and plans to use him as a pawn in his own game. A Clockwork Orange is the rare film where the audience cannot feel completely comfortable about rooting for any of the main characters. Viewers will just have to settle for a very charming and amoral protagonist and give up on the notion of always being able to latch on to the “good guy”.