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Good Novels That Turned Into Pretty Good Films, Part 4

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A Clockwork Orange

The Book

     Published in 1962, A Clockwork Orange is one of those unique cases where if it weren't for the film, we might not be talking about the book.

     Sounds a bit strange, I know, but author Anthony Burgess felt the same way.

     He wrote the book in a three-week writing spree purely to get a paycheck. But at the same time, he created something that would find a life on the silver screen and make him famous the world over – especially around Halloween time.

The main character in the novel, Alex, is a psychopathic delinquent with a flair for "ultraviolence" and "the old in-and-out". Alex and his "droogs" wreak havoc on a slightly futuristic England but because of his heavy-handed nature, Alex's droogs turn on him. After assaulting (and killing, as it turns out) a rich old woman, Alex is left incapacitated by his friends for the police to find and arrest.

Once the murder is discovered, Alex is sentenced to prison. However, his violent ways aren't quelled by incarceration. When he is blamed for the death of a cellmate, Alex is accepted into an experimental behavior-modification treatment known as the Ludovico Treatment, which is a form of aversion treatment. Alex is made to take a drug that causes nausea then is forced to watch hours of graphically violent films. What makes it even worse is that one of the movies features Beethoven's Ninth Symphony – Alex's favorite – as the soundtrack. As a result of this treatment, over time when Alex sees or thinks about a violent act (or hears Beethoven's Ninth) he becomes cripplingly nauseous and completely harmless. Pleased with the outcome of the experiment, government officials release Alex back into the public with great publicity.

However, once he's out of prison, Alex's world has completely changed. His parents have rented his room out so he's forced to wander the streets where he runs across his previous victims who are ready for revenge. Alex is helpless, unable to aggressively protect himself lest he becomes ill. He is rescued by the police – who turn out to be his old droogs – who leave him bloodied and dazed on the outskirts of town. He is taken in out of sympathy by a writer who was one of Alex's previous victims as well but does not recognize him. Finally, one of the writer's associates realizes who Alex is and they proceed to torture him by playing Beethoven's Ninth over and over. Alex, unable to go on, attempts suicide by jumping out of a high window.

Obviously, Alex survives the fall (otherwise, I would have written "committed suicide") and wakes in a hospital heavily bandaged and broken. He finds himself surrounded by government officials who are willing to go to great extremes to counter the negative PR surrounding the incident. The final chapter, chapter 21, finds Alex with a new, kinder group droogs and thinking about settling down with a wife of his own.

While the story is interesting in and of itself, it's the creative slang that Burgess created that stands out. Known as "Nadsat", the language is a mélange of slang and derived Russian. For example, in the book "gulliver" means "head" and comes from the Russian "golova" ("head"). This was wielded effectively in the novel and even more effectively in the film. Overall, the book works but, compared to Burgess's other works like Nothing Like The Sun and The Wanting Seed, is not his greatest.

LITERAREA BOOK RATING: 7

The Film (click for trailer)

While the film (1971) hews closely to the overall narrative of the novel, there's one place it deviates significantly – it omits the final chapter. Now, it would be natural to blame director Stanley Kubrick (or screenwriter Terry Southern) for this. After all, Chapter 20 ends with Alex saying (sarcastically), "I was cured all right." This leaves the ending tantalizingly ambiguous – does Alex straighten out or go back to the ultraviolence (the imagery Kubrick uses at the end of the film leaves little doubt)?

But don't blame Kubrick for the omission: the American publisher left out the 21st chapter in the American edition. It was a strange turn in American publishing: a publisher actually cutting the redemptive chapter in order to end on a darker note. And Kubrick certainly is known for "darker notes". In fact, it's no understatement to say that Kubrick really ran with the darker notes. The brutality (and morbid glee) of Alex and his droogs are featured graphically and to great effect – after the all, the story is about the change in a character's perception of violence (from enjoying it to being sickened by it). The brutality of Alex and his droogs combined with the aforementioned glee makes for mixed viewing – you find yourself chuckling one moment and being disgusted the next. Pornographic imagery is used throughout the film in varying degrees, from the relatively light, e.g. pornographic artwork, to the more graphic, e.g. the "Singing In The Rain" scene. In its original release, the film earned an X rating. Kubrick re-cut the film to achieve an R rating in 1973. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, losing to The French Connection.

LITERAREA FILM RATING: 9

OFFICIAL OVERALL LITERAREA RATING: 8

A Clockwork Orange turns the tables on the film-vs.-novel debate. In this case, the novel, which is engaging and interesting, probably would have been only known in literary circles, primarily by Burgess enthusiasts (your humble scribe being one of them). But thanks to Kubrick's mesmerizing adaptation (and McDowell's unforgettable performance) the novel continues to sell modestly well. I just recently re-read the book for maybe the fourth time while having viewed the film easily over a dozen and, to me, this one case where I actually prefer the film to the novel. Or, more precisely, I prefer the film OVER the novel.

 

4) A Clockwork Orange

The Book

Published in 1962, A Clockwork Orange is one of those unique cases where if it weren’t for the film, we probably wouldn’t be talking about the book. Sounds a bit strange, I know, but author Anthony Burgess felt the same way. He wrote the book in a three-week writing spree purely to get a paycheck. But at the same time, he created something that would find a life on the silver screen and make him famous the world over – especially around Halloween time.

The main character in the novel, Alex, is a psychopathic delinquent with a flair for “ultraviolence” and “the old in-and-out”. Alex and his “droogs” wreak havoc on a slightly futuristic England but because of his heavy-handed nature, Alex’s droogs turn on him. After assaulting (and killing, as it turns out) a rich old woman, Alex’s is left incapacitated by his friends for the police to find and arrest.

Once the murder is discovered, Alex is sentenced to prison. However, his violent ways aren’t quelled by incarceration. When he is blamed for the death of a cellmate, Alex is accepted into an experimental behavior-modification treatment known as the Ludovico Treatment, which is a form of aversion treatment. Alex is made to take a drug that causes nausea then is forced to watch hours of graphically violent films. What makes it even worse is that one of the movies features Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – Alex’s favorite – as the soundtrack. As a result of this treatment, over time when Alex sees or thinks about a violent act (or hears Beethoven’s Ninth) he becomes cripplingly nauseous and completely harmless. Pleased with the outcome of the experiment, government officials release Alex back into the public with great publicity.

However, once he’s out of prison, Alex’s world has completely changed. His parents have rented his room out so he’s forced to wander the streets where he runs across his previous victims who are ready for revenge. Alex is helpless, unable to aggressively protect himself lest he becomes ill. He is rescued by the police – who turn out to be his old droogs – who leave him bloodied and dazed on the outskirts of town. He is taken in out of sympathy by a writer who was one of Alex’s previous victims as well but does not recognize him. Finally, one of the writer’s associates realizes who Alex is and they proceed to torture him by playing Beethoven’s Ninth over and over. Alex, unable to go on, attempts suicide by jumping out of a high window.

Obviously, Alex survives the fall (otherwise, I would have written “committed suicide”) and wakes in a hospital heavily bandaged and broken. He finds himself surrounded by government officials who are willing to go to great extremes to counter the negative PR surrounding the incident. The final chapter, chapter 21, finds Alex with a new, kinder group droogs and thinking about settling down with a wife of his own.

While the story is interesting in and of itself, it’s the creative slang that Burgess created that stands out. Known as “Nadsat”, the language is a mélange of slang and derived Russian. For example, in the book “gulliver” means “head” and comes from the Russian “golova” (“head”). This was wielded effectively in the novel and even more effectively in the film. Overall, the book works but, compared to Burgess’s other works like Nothing Like The Sun and The Wanting Seed, is not his greatest.

LITERAREA BOOK RATING: 7

The Film
While the film (1971) hews closely to the overall narrative of the novel, there’s one place it deviates significantly – it omits the final chapter. Now, it would be natural to blame director Stanley Kubrick (or screenwriter Terry Southern) for this. After all, Chapter 20 ends with Alex saying (sarcastically), “I was cured all right.” This leaves the ending tantalizingly ambiguous – does Alex straighten out or go back to the ultraviolence (the imagery Kubrick uses at the end of the film leaves little doubt)?

But don’t blame Kubrick for the omission: the American publisher left out the 21st chapter in the American edition. It was a strange turn in American publishing: a publisher actually cutting the redemptive chapter in order to end on a darker note. And Kubrick certainly is known for “darker notes”. In fact, it’s no understatement to say that Kubrick really ran with the darker notes. The brutality (and morbid glee) of Alex and his droogs are featured graphically and to great effect – after the all, the story is about the change in a character’s perception of violence (from enjoying it to being sickened by it). The brutality of Alex and his droogs combined with the aforementioned glee makes for mixed viewing – you find yourself chuckling one moment and being disgusted the next. Pornographic imagery is used throughout the film in varying degrees, from the relatively light, e.g. pornographic artwork, to the more graphic, e.g. the “Singing In The Rain” scene. In its original release, the film earned an X rating. Kubrick re-cut the film to achieve an R rating in 1973. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, losing to The French Connection.

LITERAREA FILM RATING: 9

OFFICIAL OVERALL LITERAREA RATING: 8
A Clockwork Orange turns the tables on the film-vs.-novel debate. In this case, the novel, which is engaging and interesting, probably would have been only known in literary circles, primarily by Burgess enthusiasts (your humble scribe being one of them). But thanks to Kubrick’s mesmerizing adaptation (and McDowell’s unforgettable performance) the novel continues to sell modestly well. I just recently re-read the book for maybe the fourth time while having viewed the film easily over a dozen and, to me, this one case where I actually prefer the film to the novel. Or, more precisely, I prefer the film OVER the novel.

About the Author
A Juilliard-trained writer, Kevin Kizer has fought against numerous world-champion writers during his career, besting the reigning middle weight writing champion in an exhibition bout in Helsinki in 1976. He also played a crucial role on the U.S. gold-medal winning writing team during the 1984 Pan-Am games, where he came off the bench in dramatic fashion to write the winning prepositional phrase just as time expired.