Alex (A Clockwork Orange)

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Alex DeLarge
AlexDeLarge.png
Alex in a shot from the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange, directed by Stanley Kubrick.
First appearance A Clockwork Orange
Created by Anthony Burgess
Portrayed by Malcolm McDowell
Information
Religion Church of England
Nationality British

Alex is a fictional character in Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange and Stanley Kubrick's film A Clockwork Orange, in which he is played by Malcolm McDowell. In the film, his surname is DeLarge, a reference to Alex calling himself Alexander the Large in the novel. In the film, however, two newspaper articles print his name as "Alex Burgess."[1] In addition to the book and film, Alex was portrayed by Vanessa Claire Smith in the ARK Theatre Company's multi-media adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, directed by Brad Mays.[2][3][4]

Character overview[edit]

Alex is the narrator, protagonist and antihero in the novel A Clockwork Orange.[5] He is portrayed as a sociopath who robs, rapes, and assaults innocent people for his own amusement. Intellectually, he knows that this sort of behaviour is wrong, saying that "you can't have a society with everybody behaving in my manner of the night". He nevertheless professes to be puzzled by the motivations of those who wish to reform him and others like him, saying that he would never interfere with their desire to be good; it's just that he "goes to the other shop".

He speaks Nadsat, a teenage slang created by author Anthony Burgess. The language is based on largely English and Russian words, but also borrows from other sources such as Cockney rhyming slang, Romani speech, and schoolboy colloquialisms. His beverage of choice is milk spiked with various drugs, which he and his fellow gang members ("droogs") drink to fortify themselves for "ultraviolence". Alex is very fond of classical music, particularly Ludwig van Beethoven, whom he habitually refers to as "Ludwig Van". While listening to this music, he fantasizes about endless rampages of rape, torture and slaughter.

Character biography[edit]

Alex lives with his parents in a block of flats in a dystopian England in which his brand of "ultraviolence" is common. At the age of 15, he is already a veteran of state reform institutions. (In the film, he is somewhat older.) While the youngest of his gang, he is the most intelligent, and designates himself as the leader. Another member of the gang, Georgie, resents his high-handedness, and begins plotting against him. One night, the gang breaks into a woman's house, and Alex assaults and kills her. As Alex flees from the police, Dim hits him with his chain (a milk bottle in the film) and leaves him to be arrested. Alex is found guilty of murder and sentenced to a lengthy prison term.

Over the next three years, Alex is a model prisoner, endearing himself to the prison chaplain by studying the Bible. (He is especially fond of the passages in the Old Testament portraying torture and murder.) Eventually, prison officials recommend him for the Ludovico Technique, an experimental treatment designed to eliminate criminal impulses. During the treatment, prison doctors inject him with a drug that makes him nauseous and make him watch films portraying murder, torture and rape. The treatment conditions him to associate violent thoughts and feelings with sickness. Alex is particularly affected by watching footage of Nazi war crimes set to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, one of his favorite pieces of music, and he can no longer hear it without feeling sick.

His sentence is commuted to time served, and he is released. Once he returns to society, however, he finds that the treatment worked too well: any thought of violence brings him to his knees him with pain, and he cannot defend himself. He is rejected by his parents, brutalized by his former victims, and beaten by his two former accomplices, Georgie and Dim, who are now police officers.

He collapses in front of an old house, owned by a writer the government considers "subversive". The writer is one of the gang's victims, but he does not recognize Alex, who had been wearing a mask as he and his friends beat the man and gang-raped his wife, who later died of her injuries. When Alex tells him of his plight, the writer promises to help him. However, the writer realizes who Alex is upon hearing him singing "Singin' in the Rain", the very song he had sung while raping his wife. He drugs Alex and forces him to listen to the Ninth Symphony, which causes Alex so much pain that he attempts suicide by jumping out of the window.

He survives, but is badly injured, and wakes up in a state hospital. His parents take him back, while the government, smarting from the bad publicity, gives him a well-paying job. The treatment, meanwhile, has worn off, and Alex is his old ultraviolent self again: "I was cured all right."

While the film ends here, the novel features an additional chapter in which Alex, now a few years older, outgrows his sociopathy and begins to think about starting a family.

Reception[edit]

The American Film Institute rated Alex the 12th greatest film villain of all time. Empire magazine selected Alex as the 42nd greatest movie character of all time[6] Wizard magazine rated Alex the 36th greatest villain of all time.[7] Malcom McDowell's performance has been widely acclaimed by critics.[8][9][10] McDowell was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama, and some consider his failure to receive a Best Actor nomination at the Academy Awards a major snub.[11] In 2008, his performance was ranked #100 on Premiere Magazine '​s "100 Greatest Performances of All Time."[12] Vanessa Claire Smith won LA Weekly '​s Leading Female Performance award for her gender-bending performance in the stage production of A Clockwork Orange.[13][14]

References[edit]