A Clockwork Orange: Freedom of choice or choosing freedom?

A Clockwork Orange

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Screenwriter: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee and  Warren Clarke

A Clockwork Orange: Freedom of choice or choosing freedom.

What is it to have freedom of choice and what can these choices lead to? Stanley Kubrick’s (1971) A Clockwork Orange can be seen to cast a critical lens on the notion of human determinism. Litch (2009, p.121) states that through the theses of human determinism our choices are not of free will but are fully determined by preceding events. Does this mean then that the anti-hero Alex had no choice throughout the movie? Were the events leading to his incarceration and choice of rehabilitation already pre-determined by some unknown causal effect?

Alex and his Droogs make their way through life on what one can only describe as violent thuggery and criminality. It is their choice to beat a homeless old man and it is their choice to rape the catlady but it is also Alex’s choice to undergo aversion therapy after his incarceration. So which of these choices reflect true freedom of choice and is freedom of choice desirable given the outcomes in the film.

It would seem that the amoral choices of Alex are not determinist as he has the ability to choose not to carry out his deeds. Stoehr (2006, p. 163) questions whether the freedom to choose is a desirable thing when you consider the actions of Alex and it would seem on viewing that perhaps the State is correct to re-program Alex’s uncontrollable desires through the ‘Ludovico Treatment’.  However, as Shaw (2008, pp.48-49) argues, Alex after the treatment is not a ‘good’ Alex but one whose ability to choose is removed by the State and this power to render him without the freedom of choice to be far more threatening.

It is, in a morose way, gratifying that Alex in the end is able to return to his ways of ultra-violence and to throw of the shackles of the State’s control of his free will. Shaw (2006, p.48) argues that it is his ability to return to his choice of vile and evil acts that speaks of the power of human free choice and it is this ability that returns him his autonomy. However the fact that he does return to his ways in some way goes to give credence to the theses of human determinism.

Alex’s reversion to his former self and the apparent ability to choose to go back to his former life does not necessarily mean determinism is at play but given the definition from the opening of this review it could be argued that Alex’s new decisions are based on his preceding actions before his treatment. However to be absolutely certain of human determinism Alex would need to be real and would need to be studied. As Litch (2009, pp.122-125) suggests there are ways to determine whether this theses holds credence but it would require testing that is not possible on fictional characters. Looking at this film in this way holds more questions than answers as to what constitutes freedom of choice and whether it actually exists, but is it possible that this was the intention of the director all along. Are we really free to choose or is every choice already determined?

Litch, M. (2009). Philosophy through film (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Shaw, D. (2008). Film and philosophy: Taking movies seriously. London: Wallflower.


Pan’s Labyrinth: One girl’s reality.

Pan’s Labyrinth Trailer

Director: Guillermo Del Toro

Sreenwriter: Guillermo Del Toro

Starring:  Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil and Sergi López

Pan’s Labyrinth: One girl’s reality.

Guillermo Del Toro’s (2006) Pan’s Labyrinth deals with one girls reversion into a mythical world of her, supposed, own making. However how can we truly know what is real and is reality objective. Through psychoanalysis one could be lead to believe that Ophelia’s world is a happenstance of the harsh and cruel world she lives in (Seagal, 2006). How then do we know if it is her circumstance that mars her reality or if her fantasy can have an outcome on her other life thus having an effect on reality? If her fantasy can affect reality what is to say that it too is not within the realm of reality?

Early on we hear Ophelia’s mother remonstrating her for bringing to many books to her step-fathers’ abode, especially the fact they are fairytales and these are nonsense. However it is these fairytales and the girl’s beliefs that allow her to live through a harrowing existence. In her new home Ophelia is visited by a faun who gives her instructions to fulfil a quest to return the princess of the opening fable to her father. What ensues is a fantastical journey played against the background of the brutality of Vidal and Franco’s Spain.

Throughout the film we see instances of the sheer brutality of Ophelia’s stepfather and as an audience it would be easy to sympathise with Ophelia’s reversion to fantasy in escaping her horrid reality but how can we explain things from her fantasy impacting on her reality. If you consider the instance of Vidal finding Ophelia’s magic root and her mother’s subsequent hurling of it into the fire remonstrating to Ophelia that there is no such thing as magic. How can you explain the immediate effects of the magic roots death to that of the complications of Carmen’s pregnancy and death? MacKinnon and Heise (2010, p.232) assert that the continental philosophers view of reality is subject to the use of language, and in some instance visuals, and it is therefore society and reality that is made from the construction of words. If this is the case then cannot Ophelia create her own reality in parallel to the reality of the other protagonists in the film?

Ophelia’s death in one world and re-birth of life in the world of her fantasies is the final time where we can see her ‘fantasy’ impacting on reality. Her refusal to turn her brother over to the faun or Vidal displays a merging of both realities which affects both worlds (Orme, 2010). That is her death in one and new life in another.

Mackinnon, N., & Heise, D. (2010). Self, identity and social institutions. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

Orme, J. (2010). Narrative desire and disobedience in Pan’s Labyrinthe. Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies,24(2), 219–234. Retrieved From: http://proquest.umi.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au /pqdweb?index=0&di

Segal, T. (2009). Pan’ s Labyrinth : A subjective view on childhood fantasies and the nature of evil. International Review of Psychiatry, 21(3), 269-270. doi: 10.1080/09540260902747193

The Third Man: Morality and dissolving friendships

The Third Man trailer

Director: Carol Reed (1949)

Screenwriter: Graham Greene

Starring: Joseph Cotton, Valli, Trevor Howard and Orson Wells.

The Third Man:  Morality and dissolving friendships

What would it take for one to dissolve a friendship of twenty years and would the  morals of a given situation mean nothing in the face of loyalty? Carrol Reed’s (1949) The Third Man has at its heart I believe these very questions. These questions can be said to be based on Aristotle’s notion of moral intelligence, where one must be able to apply their moral commitments in a variety of settings (Wartenburg, 2007, p. 97).  It is this proposed moral intelligence that is questioned throughout the film as characters gradually learn more of the man that is Harry Lime.

At this point it would be pertinent to look at the film’s general premise and the situation of the main players. The Third Man takes place in post-war Vienna, which has now been partitioned into four sectors controlled by the allies; Russia, France, USA and Great Britain. It is a placethat has been ravaged during the Second World War and its people remain suspicious of the powers that enforce the laws. It is also a place where the black market of goods is flourishing. It is this black market that gives the backdrop to the story and characters that inhabit it. At its crux is the loyalty of one man to his dead friend.

Holly Martins, a pulp fictionist, arrives in Vienna at the invitation and cost of his good friend and entrepreneur Harry Lime, yet he arrives only to find his friend dead and it is at his funeral service that he meets Major Calloway of the British arm of law and order in Vienna. From here starts Martins quest for truth and defence of his friend’s good name. Martins’ believes his friend’s death is murder and Calloway’s reticence to act as the sort of corruption that he has explored in one of his western novelettes. Through his bumbling investigation and interaction with Calloway and Lime’s lover Anna Schmidt he begins to unravel Harry Limes life in Vienna. It is his blind loyalty to Lime at the beginning of the film that develops the notion of the ending of friendship due to one’s awakening of their moral intelligence.

The reality and ethics of post-war Vienna are found in Lime’s dealing in diluted penicillin that has at its roots a verifiable truth of this moment in history (Schwab, 2003). As Martins learns more of his friends illicit activities his loyalty begins to weaken and when he discovers the truth that his friend is still alive he learns that his friend is indeed capable of all that Calloway has espoused. In the Ferris-wheel scene Lime’s lack of morality towards the victims of his dealings is made apparent and Martins subsequent visit to the children’s ward leads him too finally join Calloway in ensnaring Lime.

The dissolving of their friendship on moral grounds is complete. According to Wartenburg (2007, p.114), it is possible to dissolve a friendship fully on moral grounds if one takes into account Aristotle’s belief that one can moralistically dissolve a friendship if the said friend turns out to be a vile and unrepentant individual. In watching the film you will indeed find that this is the case for the now truly dead Harry Lime.

Wartenburg, T.E. (2007). Thinking on screen: Film as philosophy. New York, NY: Routledge

Schwab, U. (2003). Authenticity and ethics in the film the third man. Literature Film Quarterly, 28(1), 2-6, Retrieved from: http://web.ebscohost.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au    /ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=21276838-120c-4ea0-9299-29901db8ecb1%40sessionmgr15&vid=2&hid=25

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