Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ dystopian novel A Clockwork Orangewas definitely due for a full treatment – a full Ludovico Treatment! I last watched the film some six or seven years ago and, while I knew there were obvious “MK Ultra” themes, there was much I missed. The same happens with literature too, depending on the phase and time in your life. Being much more grounded these years later, I am surprised at how much I missed (isn’t that always the case?).
A Clockwork Orange is a film about MK Ultra, and not only that, it is about the truest, fullest and most dangerous aspect the years of programs under that moniker – that pop culture itself is a form of that mind control, that the masses are actually a kind of Alex deLarge writ large. Premiering in 1971, some eleven years after the novel’s release, Kubrick’s version is rightly praised for its vision, art direction and message, yet as time propels us forward into the uncertain future, the dystopian feel of the film seems less shocking. One could argue that is because of the intense popularity of apocalyptic dystopias in fiction and film, or is it because we actually are moving inexorably into the abyss of Alex’s demented, absurd world?
The first idiosyncrasy which stuck with me was the story’s most famous – the degenerated English which, arguably as difficult as ebonics, at least has a degree of creativity and humor in it, which today’s emoji-textspeak makes look brilliant by comparison. Me textspeak makes me gulliver want to return eggiwegs upon your table, good sir. Orwell warned of the disintegration of the language in 1984 and Burgess acquiesced, but could either have ever foreseen the shit emoji? Eventually we’ll merely think in pizza, dog, cat and shit emojis.
Alex, we are to believe, is utterly brutish and depraved, aside from this one, mysterious high culture fascination. Indeed, in the scene where Alex plays Beethoven’s 9th, we see a serpent, a naked woman and four Jesus statues clumsily rammed together, as if it constituted Alex’s crude attempt at a religious altar. Edenic and Satanic all at once, Alex’s bedroom is also prepped for what appears to be his own preferred sexual ritual of the old, orgiastic in-out. Alex’s whole world, including his gang of droogs, are iconic embodiments of the brutish state of nature, direct from the pages of Hobbes. It is here the Leviathan will attempt to “rehabilitate” him.
Before we come to that, other cultural comments stood out to me. A milk bar – doesn’t that sound like a pretentious, hipster fad? Avant Garde pornographic art everywhere, and receptacles that are tits? I would give the “Milk Bar” a good chance of happening in the near future, but the problem is, is it degenerate enough? We already have sexbot bars, so a Milk Bar wouldn’t be very edgy. Of course, if you put a Chocolate Milk Bar in a low-income, minority area, it would be edgy, especially if the mammaries also dispensed Kool-Aid.
Also pervasive in Alex’s world is a degenerate, consumerist popular music “culture” where band names appear as hilarious and nonsensical as if they were cut and pasted directly from Paste Magazine’s last top ten. Dude, have you heard the new Heaven 17 and Cyclops? While pop culture is much older than the 1960s, Burgess knew it would be a powerful social engineering force in the dystopian future, and I believe this scene is crucial for interpreting the rest of the film. What Alex is forced to watch, strapped down as he undergoes the Ludovico Treatment, is his own droogs killing a man and raping a woman. In other words, we are Alex and the two most notable images Alex is forced to watch are his own attacks and World War 2/Hitler footage. Through the creation of new “imprinting” and association, the sickness Alex is made to feel is a behaviorist-style operant conditioning.
“Aversion therapy,” and ultimately the entire time Alex spends in and out of “the system” is not at all about rehabilitating prisoners, but as Kubrick makes clear concerning the film, a statist apparatus using these methods and techniques upon a mass audience. The prisoners and “patients” are thus merely guinea pigs for the long-term social engineering goals, not the least of which is to create a catatonic, pacifist public, emasculated and ultimately dispossessed of any free volition – as Bertrand Russell predicted. For those interested, I have an entire chapter in my book Esoteric Hollywood on this topic, which can be purchased here.
Like Brave New World, the facade of better living through chemistry is unmasked to be a gigantic pharmacological public-private partnership, aimed at creating “sheep,” which Alex mentions numerous times in the film. In fact, the film even carries this point much deeper, elucidating that the liberal, behaviorist conception from a Skinner or a Watson that man can be perfected and engineered into something docile and obedient to the whims of the state-god is merely a demythologized, emasculated Christianity applied to the state. The state apparatus becomes a de facto church, and this is precisely what even Alex learns as he ponders the “Big Book,” the “sheep” and the government plans to mold Alex into the “model citizen.”
As has been said many times, while it’s my analysis that the ideas of creating a mind controlled assassin and using trigger words was a real aspect of the MK Ultra projects and research, it was not the chief point. The real power of this research was in its use for mass psychology and social engineering. This is why so many of the MK Ultra doctors were involved in psychology, pharmacology, academic research, psychiatry, medicine, etc. It was not primarily a series of programs focused on sexy snipers and head shots, but on the psyche, from a pragmatic, materialistic perspective.
It is chiefly under this scientistic facade it was able to become so anti-human. As Kubrick points out so many times in his films, the establishment that purports to cure man of his ills and “perfect” him is, in so many cases, a large part of the cause of his ills – Kubrick even has Alex’s case worker/social worker molest him! With the prevalence of sexual and pornographic art throughout the dystopia, we can deduce the normalization of sexual traumatization and abuse, possibly even pedophilia. This also fits with Burgess’ other dystopia, The Wanting Seed, where the whole society is homosexual. Alex, we see, is a subject of sexual-based traumatized mind control throughout his whole life. It should come as no surprise that a social order that protects and allows and propagates these crimes is unable to ‘cure’ man of anything, other than dosing him full of more drugs.
The “criminal reflex” cannot be cured by external stimuli, because free will is real. Western civilization, since the time of the Greeks, has consistently fallen back into this pagan notion – popularized by the Greek philosophers and even the pre-Socratics – that the only reason man does wrong is a lack of education. Thus, the logic goes, more social programs, more welfare, more external stimuli applied, from womb to tomb, might one day hold forth the hope of ‘curing man.’ Yet what is man, on this ridiculous scheme?
Nothing but a supposedly more complex bag of goo and hair that are a distant cousin of the apes in Kubrick’s 2001. If we are still just a ‘planet of the apes,’ and those apes are just a slightly more advanced worm, the notion of “fixing” something is rendered utterly meaningless. Fixing a thing assumes some higher, more advanced objective standard by which one can measure the need, or lack thereof, to be “fixed.” In Democritus’ world of chaotic atoms falling through space, nothing is ever “fixed,” because nothing is broken. On the other hand, if man is not what these stupid and contradictory worldviews say, and is made in the image of a divine Creator, endowed with a logos and a soul, then man has the capacity for free will. If man has the capacity for free will, no amount of external stimuli, chemical or cinematic, can “cure” what is within him. As the minister tells Alex, “goodness comes from within.”
The reason the film prominently portrays the All-Seeing Eye is because the hell-hole world Alex inhabits is the world of the actual Illuminists – characters like Weishaupt, St. Just, St. Simon and Comte, who continued the Illuminist tradition of socialism, communism, rationalism and scientism. This ideology, adopted by the Royal Society and the modern scientistic establishment, as well as most of modernity, is based on MK Ultra. Behind these “philosophers,” academic entities and CIA entities are the billionaires and oligarchs like the Rockefellers, who set up the Tavistock Institute to participate in this type of research.