A Clockwork Orange: Representations of the Female Body
Caution, spoilers for A Clockwork Orange ahead.
The use of the female body for more then cheap, sexual entertainment and instead as a symbolic or thematic image has been used many times throughout the history of film. Films such as American Beauty have based a margin of their success in their use of symbolism represented by the female body, but its Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 classic that pushes this idea in a bolder direction.
Stanley Kubrick is known as one of the most influential filmmakers in history. This is due primarily from his use of hidden meanings and messages through his very specific and usually eerie cinematography and style of direction. His films are a popular and entertaining choice for film students to dissect and analyze, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, or The Shining. Undoubtedly one of his most famous works, A Clockwork Orange, also falls into this category. This particular feature has been deemed one of the most controversial films of all time due to its violence and philosophical themes. Based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, it describes a boy named Alex who, along with his “droogs (meaning “friends” in the Nadsat language spoken by the youth),” actively involves himself in horrible and violent displays for nothing more but his own enjoyment. This includes rape, murder, stealing, fighting, drinking, etc, and lacking any sort of respect for authority. The movie follows him as he is arrested, conditioned against his passion for ultra-violence, and attempted transformation into a regular, moral person, only to have it all unravel in the last few minutes. Along with Kubrick’s other films, A Clockwork Orange has been heavily analyzed, perhaps over abundantly so, by fans and critics alike, mapping out it’s themes of violence and morality reflecting back towards society and questioning the purpose and meaning of being human.
When watching the film, one will notice immediately the copious appearance of female nudity, specifically breasts, used throughout the film. It was for this reason, along with scenes of uncomfortable violence and themes of rape, that the movie received its NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. While its clear that the showing of breasts was added to convey its adult themes and possibly attract male audiences, Kubrick’s past film style should be noted when making these observation. One should accept the possibility of a hidden meaning behind these scenes depicting Alex’s changing mental state as he is faced with experimental conditioning and self-inflicted karma. Assuming that every detail in the film is deliberate, it is not a far leap to assume the importance of breasts to not only the visual appeal of the film, but as a thematic appeal as well.
Connecting Alex’s Mentality and Breasts
Within the very opening shot, the camera slowly zooms out from a close-up of Alex’s face to reveal a tight room where he and his friends are relaxing and drinking milk laced with drugs. This is the Korova Milk Bar, where the four of them enjoy spending time away from their sport. As the room’s interior is revealed more and more, white mannequins of featureless, naked women with large breasts become visible and are placed all over the room in various poses and positions. At one point, one of the droogs approaches a mannequin and puts his glass under one of it’s nipples and milk is drained into the glass from her chest. The amount of attention given to the female body makes it’s thematic importance apparent in this scene alone. As an audience, we are supposed to gather that Alex and his gang are at the height of their lives, connecting the female body to their mindset. The way the scene is shot makes looking away from these mannequins especially difficult.
The next few times that a woman’s chest is shown happen during events involving physical dominance, mostly in a sexual sense. The first scene of this trend opens to another gang of boys violently harassing a woman while unfitting music plays as the score. This gang forcibly rips her clothes off until she is completely naked, with a full frontal shot of her chest as they surround her and toss her back and forth. Just as they seem ready to take sexual advantage of her, Alex and his droogs arrive on the scene and this delves into a battle between the two gangs, allowing the woman to escape. In the end, Alex’s gang wins the fight, which leads to them later breaking into the house of an older couple and harassing them in a similar style as the second gang. After wrecking the house and beating them, Alex takes a pair of scissors from the husband’s desk and cuts two large holes into the wife’s shirt, exposing her breasts. The scene is uncomfortable, and it ends before any actual rape is shown, but is still heavily implied. While the opening scene showed women’s breasts on mannequins, these scenes are the first time we see actual breasts on a living female through times of distress. It is to be believed that Kubrick’s intention, whether conscious or otherwise, was to connect images of breasts with the horrible deeds performed by Alex for sport. Its true that there are other scenes depicting this, such as the scene after the opening where the boys beat up a homeless man singing on the street, but these instances involving feminine nudity prove to be more alarming, and more detail and major plot points seem to be shared while breasts are onscreen during the first quarter. (For example, Alex’s rendition of “Singing in the Rain” which returns later in the film )
Later, Alex returns home and the next day and brings two women back to his home. He has sex with both of them, and the film shows the entirety of the event but speeds through it, lasting only a few minutes. Once again, we see Alex’s dominance, and while their copulation is mostly consensual, slight reluctance can be observed between the two women as he progresses on them. This is the last scene that features physical breasts before the conditioning treatment that cements the visual appearance of breasts with Alex’s violent and decidedly evil nature.
After a fight with an old lady whose house Alex attempted to rob (which also features some artwork placed in the setting depicting naked women), he is arrested and sent to a prison where he volunteers himself to have experimental tests done to him. (It should also be added that there is a small scene in which Alex imagines himself being fed grapes by three topless women, which again strengthens the ideas explained above.) These tests involve conditioning someone’s behavior, in this case someone with immoral tendencies, by forcing them to watch films of crimes that they have similarly committed while giving them a medicine that causes them to be sick. Therefore, every time they perform or even think about performing the actions portrayed in the videos, they will feel horribly ill and violently dry-heave until these thoughts or actions dissipate. Much of the controversy surrounding the book specifically focus on this method of psychological treatment, questioning whether or not taking away a man’s choice still makes him truly human. During one of Alex’s conditioning sentences, where he is tied to a chair with his eyes forced open and pointed towards the screen, one of the videos shows a woman being raped by a large group of masked men. As expected, her breasts are exposed. This is important, because at this point the medicine that he had been taking begins to take effect, and instead of a feeling of empowerment he begins to feel the sickness creeping through him. His brain automatically associates the unbearable nausea with what is happening onscreen, specifically the breasts, and his body reacts negatively.
This leads to arguably one of the most important scenes in the entire film. Alex is placed in the middle of an empty stage with a spotlight shining over him and presenting him to a small crowd of scientists and other officials. A man comes out and begins insulting and abusing him, slapping him and forcing him to lick his shoe while Alex fights the wave of sickness that hits him. The man is demonstrating the effects of the conditioning treatments to the crowd and they seem very pleased. Yet it isn’t until a woman, completely topless and wearing nothing but a pair of panties, walks from behind the curtain and walks towards Alex across the stage. The music picks up, and one will notice it to be the same song used at the very opening of the film, but now with a completely different context. Alex falls to his knees at this woman’s feet and tries to reach for her chest, but the sickness ultimately consumes him and he is left as a quivering mess on the floor.
Reinforcing the importance of breasts to himself, this scene is powerful in showing the fall of Alex’s personal empire that he has manifested. His reaction when seeing the woman’s breasts was automatically to cup them in his hands, uncaring towards her own feelings from his behavior. To him, breasts had been a symbol of some sort of assurance that his life was in his own control, that he held influence over pleasures and personal rewards whether he was conscious of this or not. It had rarely ever occurred to him, if ever, any possibility of something taking away this power of choice that wasn’t death. Being forced to stare at his own tool of comfort only to be caused nothing but sickness and pain was torturous and, in his eyes, a thousand times more evil then anything he had ever done.
Dealing With the Effects of the Treatment
After the demonstration, Alex is now released into the public and has been hailed a regular citizen by the newspapers and media. However, he finds that his life has now become harder. He tries to return home only to find that his parents had rented out his room and kicked him out. A group of homeless men who recognize him and begin kicking him to the ground. He is saved by two police officers who turn out to be his old droogs who now take advantage of their power against him in cruel ways. The story takes a shift from Alex causing pain to him receiving it. An important aspect that must be noticed is the significant lack of breasts for the majority of this act of the movie. After the demonstration, no other breasts, or many women for that matter, are shown onscreen, dipping from the pattern that it has set so far. If we are to believe that a woman’s chest symbolized Alex’s evil habits, then the lack there of is another way of showing that this part of his life has been forced out. As Alex’s behavior and ability to choose has been taken away, Kubrick has taken away the comfort of breasts to alter the mood of the story.
Eventually, Alex finds himself back at the house where he attacked the couple to find that the wife had died after the attack. At first, the husband, who is now subjected to a wheel chair, fails to recognize him and offers him a bath. That’s when he hears Alex singing “Singing in the Rain” and recognized him immediately. Alex is drugged and taken to a room where he is tortured through his sickness and is eventually driven to jump out the window and attempt suicide. The camera falls through the window and the screen goes black.
A few seconds later, the camera fades to Alex lying in a hospital bed. Now, it is at this point that Alex’s conditioning has worn off and he is back to his old self again, but this has yet to be revealed to the audience. However, Kubrick gives a very large hint that he was back to normal. As Alex wakes up, he moans in pain or exhaustion and is answered by another moan somewhere offscreen. After a few moments of back-and-forth, a curtain in the room is drawn back and there is a fully topless nurse who had been having sex with a doctor in the room. The shot is set up like a big reveal, complete with the building of suspense and the drawn back of a curtain to display this nurse’s breasts. She quickly dresses herself again and runs to Alex’s aid, but Kubrick had used this little detail to express the idea that Alex’s original behavior had returned. Sure enough, in the next scene, he is shown a set of flashcards with different pictures and his responses were inappropriate and vulgar, which he expressed with a large smile on his face. The conditioning treatment had worn off and he was back to his old self.
The final shot of the film is a strange one, but cements this idea of breasts connecting to Alex’s psyche. He begins to daydream as Beethoven is played for him on overly large speakers given to him as a gift.There is a slow-motion shot of a crowd surrounding a topless woman straddling a shirtless man on the floor of what looks to be a photo shoot. The camera lingers on her as she wrestles and laughs with this man, and her chest is clearly shown. Its a strange, almost out of place shot that seems to exist only to fit in one more shot of a woman’s bare chest, which may be the only reasoning. This scene plays over the final line of the movie, spoken by Alex: “I was cured, all right!” The movie ends on a note of ambiguity, leaving the audience to assume that Alex had once again taken an evil role.
Stanley Kubrick was a very specific when pertaining to his directing style. He has made his mark on the industry through his obsessive attention to detail. Its hard to believe that the placing and usage of such controversial imagery wasn’t thoroughly planned out. This observable pattern is possible to miss, but after several viewings and knowledge of Kubrick’s style, one could easily find these patterns for themselves. “Evidence of the ol’ glassies!”
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