Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange (1971, dir.Stanley Kubrick)


Q. What was your attitude towards violence and eroticism in your film?

Stanley Kubrick: The violence in the story has to be given sufficient dramatic weight so that the moral dilemma it poses can be seen in the right context. It is absolutely essential that Alex is seen to be guilty of a terrible violence against society, so that when he is eventually transformed by the State into a harmless zombie you can reach a meaningful conclusion about the relative rights and wrongs. If we did not see Alex first as a brutal and merciless thug it would be too easy to agree that the State is involved in a worse evil in depriving him of his freedom to choose between good and evil. It must be clear that it is wrong to turn even unforgivably vicious criminals into vegetables, otherwise the story would fall into the same logical trap as did the old, anti-lynching Hollywood westerns which always nullified their theme by lynching an innocent person. Of course no one will disagree that you shouldn’t lynch an innocent person, but will they agree that it’s just as bad to lynch a guilty person, perhaps even someone guilty of a horrible crime? And so it is with conditioning Alex.

Q. In your films, you seem to be critical of all political factions. Would you define yourself as a pessimist or anarchist?

Kubrick: I am certainly not an anarchist, and I don’t think of myself as a pessimist. I believe very strongly in parliamentary democracy, and I am of the opinion that the power and authority of the State should be optimized and exercised only to the extent that is required to keep things civilized. History has shown us what happens when you try to make society too civilized, or do too good a job of eliminating undesirable elements. It also shows the tragic fallacy in the belief that the destruction of democratic institutions will cause better ones to arise in their place.

Certainly one of the most challenging and difficult social problems we face today is, how can the State maintain the necessary degree of control over society without becoming repressive, and how can it achieve this in the face of an increasingly impatient electorate who are beginning to regard legal and political solutions as too slow? The State sees the spectre looming ahead of terrorism and anarchy, and this increases the risk of its over-reaction and a reduction in our freedom. As with everything else in life, it is a matter of groping for the right balance, and a certain amount of luck.

-excerpted from Kubrick: The Definitive Edition by Michel Ciment, Gilbert Adair, & Robert Bononno

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