“A Clockwork Orange,” both in its print and screen versions, proved controversial for its depiction of violence in a dystopian future Britain, but its story explored serious issues. As Stanley Kubrick surmised, “The central idea of the film has to do with the question of free will. Do we lose our humanity if we are deprived of the choice between good and evil?” And in the director’s view, the answer to that question was an emphatic “yes.”
In the film, Malcolm McDowell’s Alex DeLarge undergoes aversion therapy to “cure” him of his violent impulses. But after becoming a so-called “productive member of society,” he’s depicted as a hollow creation of an authoritarian government. He eventually attempts to die by suicide, only to wake up in a hospital and find his old proclivity for ultra violence has returned. Both Kubrick and Anthony Burgess drew a parallel between the depravity of Alex’s delinquency, the authorities’ relentless focus on ridding their society of crime at any cost, and the behavioral psychologists that so assuredly “treat” Alex with aversion therapy. The troubling suggestion at the heart of it all is that they’re all as bad as each other.
But in Burgess’ original vision of the story, the final chapter saw Alex undergo a personal conversion of his own, having rediscovered his violent urges only to decide he’s probably better off giving it all up and settling into a more conformist existence. When “A Clockwork Orange” came to North America, the U.S. publisher W. W. Norton decided that chapter wasn’t necessary, and convinced Burgess to allow them to publish a version without it, resulting in a novel that finishes on the line “I was cured all right.” It was this version that Kubrick read and adapted.