A Clockwork Orange: A Critical View Essay Sample

By psychological definition, people affected with antisocial personality disorder (also known as “sociopaths” or “psychopaths”) have incredible manipulation skills. They fail to conform to social norms, are deceitful and aggressive, and seek to destroy with little remorse. Sex, cruelty, and dominance define parts of antisocial personality behavior, and also perfectly define the odd, near-antithesis of a hero, Alex, in A Clockwork Orange who exists as the “beloved” psychopath in this story. He religiously ventures out on nightly rampages with his band of “droogs” after consuming some type of spiked beverage, tearing down what society has morally built and ripping holes into the reasoning of random citizens.

If ever there was a movie that depicted sociopathic behavior, A Clockwork Orange would be the one. Though this is Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation to an Anthony Burgess novel about punk-rock gangs and brainwashing, the film perfectly portrays the bizarre and outlandish behaviors of a young male living with antisocial personality disorder. Though the film is, at times, hard to understand and subtitles may be found useful, this does not change the impact the movie has; It may even add to the atmosphere Kubrick is attempting to create and emphasize.

The main character in A Clock Work Orange, Alex, perfectly fits the mold and maintains all of the qualities that are considered when looking to diagnose a person with antisocial personality disorder. Alex is deceitful and manipulative. He knocks on doors claiming that his friend is hurt and lying for dead in the road and he desperately needs the help of his soon-to-be victim(s). He is impulsive. He will do anything at the drop of a hat, all of his actions are impulsive and are minimally thought out if they are thought out at all. He is aggressive. This is quite obvious in Alex’s behavior.

He not only is aggressive towards his prey, but also towards the “brothers” which he conducts these insane acts with. If an accomplice is to turn against him or propose another idea, his aggressiveness with them is horrific. Alex is irresponsible. Yet again, quite obviously noted. It is apparent that Alex thinks only about himself yet does not take the blame for any of his actions. When caught in the act he is quick to blame the other members of his gang and proclaim that they forced him to participate. Alex also lacks a sense of conformity and has no remorse what-so-ever for others. This is easily noted not only in his nightly charades, but also in his lack of desire to attend school, or even to get out of bed for that matter.

The movie’s psychological validity comes under questioning with the introduction of the conditioning treatment Alex participates in after two years in a penitentiary. Although the actual process of Pavlovian conditioning seems to be portrayed quite accurately, many questions arise when taking a critical psychological viewpoint.

The first question to arise is the way in which Alex is chosen for this new, radical treatment. He is simply picked from a lineup of his jail mates because he bursts out with some random comment. The only thing the reverend/experimenter knows about him at the time of the selection is that he had brutally murdered someone. It is true that the jail’s chaplain had taken a liking to Alex because he was young and was interested in reading the “big book,” and Alex was vigorously trying to have the chaplain recommend him for this new treatment. But this, in no way, seems to play a role in his selection.

With the treatment being so new and so radical, it is quite possible that this is exactly how candidates were chosen, but at the same time it is extremely unscientific and unprofessional. It would not be at all possible, with today’s rules and regulations set forth on the psychological community, that an experimenter would go about these means in selecting an individual that he or she sees fit for treatment.

Another question brought up by the movie’s interpretation of Pavlovian conditioning in the treatment of Alex’s antisocial personality disorder would be the amount of time spent in administering the treatment. It is barely out in the papers that he is even receiving such treatment and Alex returns home. From the very first treatment Alex notes that when he first finds himself feeling nauseous he attributes it to the drugs, but as soon as the end of that first treatment he seems to be attributing it to the violence in the film. Such a rapid association is highly unlikely to occur.

Of course, this is a Hollywood interpretation and there is a limited amount of time to reach the end of the film, but such a rapid recovery is extremely difficult to grasp. Alex is portrayed in the mental institute for a mere week or so and no person could be “cured” of years and years of psychotic behavior in such a short span of time, no matter how radical the treatment.

Time is a major factor when it comes to conditioning or counter-conditioning as some may view it in this case. The time it would take to admonish such horrible behavior would be months and months. As in experiments like “baby Albert,” it was possible after only a short while to condition a fear response too small, furry, white animals, but it would take twice as long for the counter-conditioning to take effect. If one were to look at antisocial personality disorder as a conditioned disorder, then the counter conditioning of such a thing that has been in place for quite some years would take a burdensomely long time to take place.

Alex’s recovery after his attempt to end his life by jumping out of a window is also questionable. The end of the movie leaves one pondering whether or not the conditioned response actually still remains. Is it possible for one that has been exposed to such trauma to advertently extinguish their learned behavior without any counter-conditioning what-so-ever? If so, what are the phenomenon behind such a recovery?

It may be noted that over a long period of time without reinforcement of a behavior, that behavior may become extinguished. But the abrupt change noted with Alex at the end of the movie when he hears part of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and cringes, at first, but then a scene of him “doing the ole in-out” from his mind is shown, is unaccounted for. Would this really be possible?

This seems to be much more of a Hollywood ending than a psychological phenomenon. This allows for the moviegoer to be satisfied at the end. It would not be possible for such a character to simply be healed and live happily ever after in such a film. The agony is that Alex will continue on his sociopathic rampages even though there is no real psychological evidence that such an event would ever occur.

One final question posed is the psychological ability and capacity of those other three young males Alex associated himself with. Though Alex’s disorder was the main focus of the movie, it also seems possible that his “followers” could have also been a focus. Though Alex was the facilitator for the majority of the shenanigans that took place, he did have accomplices in these horrible acts. The film does not show that these other men are quite possibly also suffering from some type of mental incapacity, possibly the same which drives Alex’s insane tendencies.

Credit should be given, though, to the portrayal of the administration of the treatment. It would be extremely likely for a patient to be given some type of medication (the unconditioned stimulus) that would make them ill (even medication that would cause a partial paralysis as the one in the movie did) and not be informed as to what it was. It is possible that if the patient knows that the medicine will have an adverse consequence, then the outcome would be far less intense and less likely to have an effect.

It may also be likely that a person receiving such treatment would develop a conditioned response to something other than that which is intended. In Alex’s case, it was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Unfortunately for Alex, he finds Beethoven’s music to be amongst his favorites and is extremely anguished by this. It would be perfectly acceptable to note this response in conditioning if the behavior, which was intended to be conditioned, was. Alex develops a conditioned response, the illness, to a conditioned stimulus, sex and violence. All in all this is exactly what is intended with such a treatment.

The side affects that Alex experiences are also quite believable. Although the likelihood of such a patient running into all of his or her arch nemesis on the street by pure chance is highly improbable, the lack of a place to call home and a family that would be willing to embrace such a criminal and psychopath is appropriately portrayed.

As a whole, A Clockwork Orange was an appropriate portrayal of the life and treatment of an individual with antisocial personality disorder. Though critiques are noted, the film did justice to the Pavolvian technique used in the treatment of many of these types of patients.