This is a film with a message: it's the capacity for choice that makes us human. To be capable of good and bad and to choose to be good is what makes us good. Divested of this capacity and to be programmed to behave only one way makes us into clockwork automatons--Clockwork Oranges. Orange is appropriately ambiguous because how can a biological organism-a nice, beautiful, juicy orange-be like a passive assemblage of nuts, bolts and levers?
Alex is the magnetic leader of a band of young men whose way of life is to go around beating up people and molesting women. The setting is England, the near future, a world sufficiently like and unlike ours to make it a grotesque uncanny valley. The language of the script is a parody of English: words and phrases from different periods (thou and oh my brothers, and a liberal sprinkling of sovietisms to suggest a totalitarian state). The boys are dressed in a mixture of the Dickensian and Elizabethan with prominent codpieces and affect an exaggerated civility and cultivation of manners as they indulge in acts of brutality. Alex loves Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and the violence is accompanied by this music. It is true that much of our musical heritage has been inspired by the battlefield. Beethoven's Symphony which is inspired by Utopian sentiments of human harmony is here used ironically to express a world bordering on chaos..
The mayhem of the first hour of the film results in a power struggle and the unintended murder of a woman. Alex is arrested, spending two years of prison, which is full of hilarious parody, as Alex feigns an inner change in a desperate bid to have his fifteen year sentence commuted. He is chosen, in recognition of his exemplary behavior, for the newly invented Ludovico treatment, whereby he is programmed to become incapable of wrong-doing. Beethoven's Symphony now throws him into paroxysms of agony.
The movie, for all it's famed lurid subject matter is an artistic triumph. Even the violence is meticulously choreographed, and I think ultimately Stanley Kubrick is depicting the violence which is a part of our nature. We are riveted by it's spell binding power because Alex and his friends represent an undeniable aspect of the human nature of which everybody partakes. In the middle of the film is some footage about Hitler and the troops of youth parading with Nazi emblems. Kubrick has replaced Wagner with Beethoven in a brilliant feat of irony.
War has always been synonymous with glory. History is punctuated with gory battlefields. In the film, this propensity for violence is expressed in an easily conceivable situation where the machinery of law and order has become ineffective. One solution which the film satirically offers is the lobotomization of the capacity for choice. This of course is much easier than "educating" people to a point where they stand in control of the tempestuous and unruly seas which constitute our inner reality, spiritual victors in the inner war.
A great movie.