I had to do a response analysis for A Clockwork Orange for my Cinema Auteurs course this semester, and this is what I wrote.
A Clockwork Orange is one of the more difficult of Stanley Kubrick’s works to sit through. There are undeniably cruel and even grotesque sequences of rape and sexuality. Again, the phallic symbols make more of an appearance than anyone probably deems necessary. Symbolism plays the largest role in the visual language of the film, and even though they are shocking to look at, they serve the purpose of forcing the viewer to see the world Kubrick is portraying with no padding whatsoever.
Some of the symbols in the film include: milk, darkness/night, and phallic imagery. The character of Alex is exaggerated, but the symbols which surround him compliment his disturbing nature.
If we take the darkness and night time symbol (and even as a motif), Alex’s activities are almost exclusively associated with them. Maybe the most brutal scene in the entire film when Alex is raping a man’s wife after breaking into their home, the whole scene takes place at night. Cities are quiet at night, Alex’s victims are helpless even in their own home. Nobody will come to help them. Also, Alex and his gang wear these disturbing masks which also follows the symbol of darkness because their faces are hidden as they would be in the night and in the shadows. And, on a deeper level, the cover of the night is empowering to a character like Alex. He is enamored with the solitude and privacy which the darkness of the night provides him. He is allowed the freedom to make his dastardly choices and commit his horrific acts within the envelope of darkness.
On the opposing side, daylight and light even, represent an inherent danger to Alex. He is threatened by it. During the daytime, Alex can be seen clearly as what he is. His actions are on view for everyone, and he can be caught by the authorities he fears and rebels against. In the latter half of the film, the scene when Alex is caught by his former friends who became officers in the field and tortured by having his head repeatedly forced under water, (even after Alex’s supposed reform) the daylight is torturous to him—this is what happens when Alex exists in the daytime. He becomes more vulnerable and karma (for lack of a better term) can reach him.
Alex himself also brings to light the existence of men’s worst impulses. Men are cruel and perverted, and Alex is an exaggerated personification of what happens when those basic desires go totally unchecked. Alex dresses in a strange, costume like way which may be meant to reflect how Alex sees himself on the inside, or in his mind.
The other element which accompanies Alex and his escapades is the classical music by Beethoven which follows him throughout the film. Classical music follows a form (I can’t entirely recall the exact structure as it is in the music itself) which the film also seems to follow. Disregarding the middle portion of the film, the beginning and end of Alex’s arc (if you can call in that) are inverses of each other. In the beginning of the film we see Alex and his gang tormenting unsuspecting, innocent people and making their lives miserable. Then, at the end of the film, those same kinds of unsuspecting, innocent people turn the torment onto Alex. It’s almost a kind of harmony—the same notes being played in a different register, but at the same time, and in a complementary way. And, it would also seem indicative of the duality that is Alex and his life. As a person, he has good tendencies (albeit latent ones), and bad tendencies which are more dominant. That is his nature even, you could say. He has two sides, but one is obviously stronger than the other.
If you wanted to make a larger statement about art in the context of Alex—then you could potentially say that the use of Beethoven during Alex’s most brutal scenes is a literal representation of the duality of art. You have this beautiful (or largely regarded as beautiful) piece of music accompanying an undoubtedly brutal and grotesque act. So maybe Kubrick is saying something akin to the idea that art can represent both the beautiful, and the grotesque through a single person, or through the lens of a human being rather than object usually associated with art.
Maybe the last bit is a stretch, or maybe I’m not articulating it well, but I think the connection is there.