Alex (A Clockwork Orange)

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Alex DeLarge
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
Religion Church of England
Nationality British

Alex is a fictional character in Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange and the film A Clockwork Orange, in which he is played by Malcolm McDowell. In the film his surname is DeLarge, referring to Alex's calling himself "Alexander the Large" in the novel.

The American Film Institute rated Alex the 12th greatest film villain of all time, Empire selected Alex as the 42nd greatest movie character of all time[1] and Wizard rated Alex the 36th greatest villain of all time.[2]

Character overview[edit]

Alex is the narrator, protagonist and anti-hero in the novel.[3] He is portrayed as a sociopath who robs, rapes, and assaults innocent people for his own amusement. Intellectually, he knows that this sort of behavior 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 droogs drink to fortify themselves for "ultraviolence." Alex is very fond of classical music, particularly Beethoven, whom he habitually refers to as "Ludwig Van." While listening to this music, he fantasizes about endless rampages of rape, torture and slaughter.

Novel and film biography[edit]

At the beginning of the novel, Alex is 15 years old and already a veteran juvenile delinquent. In the film, to minimize controversy, Alex is portrayed as somewhat older, around 17 or 18 (McDowell himself was 26 when he portrayed Alex). He lives with his parents in a bleak, heavily-vandalized Municipal Flatblock in an unnamed English city in the near future.

He is the leader of a gang of "droogs": Pete, Georgie and Dim. Although the youngest of the foursome, he is clearly the most intelligent and bold, as well as the one who comes up with most of the ideas. Georgie and Dim resent the way Alex treats them, and set him up to be arrested. The gang targets an elderly woman's house, with Alex breaking in and beating her unconscious. When he opens the door to let the others in, the police are already on the way; Dim strikes him in the face and flees with Pete and Georgie, leaving Alex to be apprehended. While in custody, he learns that the woman has died from her injuries.

Alex is convicted of murder and sentenced a 14-year term in a "Staja" (State Jail). He ignores the convict code of ethics by betraying a fellow prisoner's escape plans to the prison chaplain, knowing that he will report it to the warden. He curries the chaplain's favor by reading the Bible (using it to fantasize about being one of the crueler Roman Emperors, or one of the soldiers who tortured Jesus). He is selected for the "Ludovico treatment", justified in the novel by his stomping an obnoxious fellow prisoner to death in their cell.

The treatment, a form of aversion therapy, involves injecting him with a drug that makes him violently ill, and then showing him films of rape and violence — which will result in him becoming sick at the thought of hurting anyone. While being forced to watch footage from a Nazi concentration camp, Alex notices the soundtrack; classical music. While in the novel, this soundtrack incidentally makes Alex, in a sense, "allergic" to all music, the film concentrates solely on Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, which was the symphony in particular that was playing, coincidentally also his favorite. Since he now associates Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with violence, he similarly gets sick when listening to it.

After the Ludovico treatment, Alex's sentence is commuted to time served and he is released. However, he soon finds that the treatment worked too well: he is unable defend himself even when attacked. Upon returning home, he is rejected by his parents, who have rented out his room and turned over his belongings to the police pursuant to a new law compensating victims. He is then nearly beaten to death by a scholar whom his gang had previously victimized (a homeless man in the film). When two policemen break it up, they turn out to be none other than Dim and Billyboy, a former adversary and gang leader whom Alex had bested in the past, who brutalize him further and leave him in the countryside.

Disoriented with pain, Alex stumbles to the nearest house, pleading for help. The owner is one F. Alexander, a writer whom the government has classified as subversive. Alexander recognizes Alex from the newspapers and wants to help him. Alex recognizes Alexander as one of his past victims; the gang had beaten him severely, leaving him a paraplegic, and forced him to watch as they gang-raped his wife, who later died of injuries brought on by the assault. Alexander fails to make the connection at first and treats Alex well, but eventually realizes his guest's true identity. In the film this occurs when Alexander overhears Alex in the bath singing the song "Singin' in the Rain", which he had been singing during the attack. In the novel, Alexander realizes who he is dealing with when Alex says "I thought you didn't have a phone", remembering his wife's excuse for not letting Alex and his gang into the house.

Seeking revenge, Alexander drugs Alex, locks him in a room, and forces him to listen to the Ninth Symphony, the effects of which Alex had mentioned in conversation. Wracked with pain, Alex tries to commit suicide by jumping out the window — only to survive and awaken in a hospital with multiple injuries. Through a psychological test, Alex realizes that the effects of the Ludovico treatment have been reversed. His parents arrive to welcome him back home, and the Minister of the Interior, smarting from the bad publicity Alex's case has brought, offers him a government job. In the film and the early United States editions of the book, Alex becomes his old ultraviolent self again, thinking sarcastically: "I was cured all right."

The final chapter shows Alex, at the age of 18, now holding a job at the National Record Library. Although he has put together a new gang of droogs, he discovers that he is growing out of his sociopathy and daydreaming about starting a family. This chapter was not included in the American edition of A Clockwork Orange until 1986, and was not incorporated into Stanley Kubrick's film screenplay.

Kubrick's reference to Anthony Burgess[edit]

In the film two newspaper articles print his name as "Alex Burgess." This was Stanley Kubrick's reference to the novel's author.[4]

In other media[edit]

Alex was portrayed by Vanessa Claire Smith in the ARK Theatre Company's[5] multi-media adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, directed by Brad Mays.[6][7][8] This production utilised three separate video streams outputted to seven onstage video monitors - six 19-inch and one 40-inch. In order to preserve the first-person narrative of the book, a pre-recorded video stream of Alex, "your humble narrator," was projected onto the 40-inch monitor,[9] thereby freeing the onstage character during passages which would have been awkward or impossible to sustain in the breaking of the fourth wall.[10]


Alex DeLarge, as played by McDowell, was named the 12th greatest movie villain of all time in the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Heroes & Villains. The character was named the 36th greatest villain in the Wizard Magazine #177 feature "100 Greatest Villains of All Time".

McDowell's performance has been widely acclaimed by critics.[11][12][13] He was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama and his failure to receive a Best Actor nomination at the Academy Awards is now seen as a major snub.[14] In 2008, his performance was ranked #100 on Premiere Magazine '​s "100 Greatest Performances of All Time."[15]

Vanessa Claire Smith won LA Weekly '​s Leading Female Performance award for her gender-bending performance in the stage production of A Clockwork Orange.[16][17]