"The story functions, of course, on several levels, political, sociological, philosophical and, what's most important, on a dreamlike psychological-symbolic level." (Stanley Kubrick)
A Clockwork Orange shows Stanley Kubrick's use of the Tarot as an esoteric framework for his films. Anthony Burgess' original novel contained 21 chapters, corresponding to the 21 cards of the Major Arcana.
One of the principle archetypal messages of the Old World western tarot can be found in the tarot card The Fool. Typically, the card shows an individual soul, a “fool,” about to step off of a cliff into incarnation. As this old story from the Old Book is told, The Fool is stepping away from source (i.e., The Sun) and off the cliff into a physical body below.
Now, in the opening scene of A Clockwork Orange, as we previously saw in the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick symbolically depicts Alex and his Droogs as heirs to the sacrificial power of the Goddess, the all-nourishing Source in the Milky Way from which all things spring. (The women are mannequins; figuratively "made of stone"--the Monolith fallen from heaven.)
|(Note the chains.)|
This is the Fool card, and as such it also represents the force that will carry Alex through the other cards. Thus we see Dim, most directly representing the Fool (the "dim-witted"), operating the phallic spigot that dispenses the lac virginis that will be their sustenance and their salvation.
Dim calls the milk dispenser statue “Lucy”. Lucy comes from the Latin name Lucious, meaning light. Like the droogs in their white uniforms, she is white. The milk container she is kneeling on has a very odd design – rows of light bulbs. (Rob Ager)If A Clockwork Orange is about anything, it's about cocks, and the damage they can do in the wrong hands.
As the Magician, Alex becomes the rogue juggler, his overtly phallic staff now making a mockery of the drunkenness of the Most High--the King now reduced to the status of a beggar. Heaven has fallen into Earth--"as above, so below."
All the world is a stage, and its principal occupation is in rending the force of Spirit on the torturous wheels of Generation--thus we are introduced to the Rape of Persephone. Our stage is being set for the Real Horrorshow.
Alex and his Droogs are the apes of 2001; the difference is only one of clothing. The past and the future are one. AMOR has fallen upside-down and become ROMA, thus expressing itself in its first manifestation on the evolutionary ladder as violence and Empire.
"The Malay word for man is 'orang', as in 'orangutan' (man of the jungle), and a clockwork orang would be a clockwork man."
With Alex being a "clockwork man," his identification with Pinocchio is immediately apparent, confirmed by the mask with an elongated nose he wears in the following scene. He, too, will journey to Pleasure Island before descending into the belly of the whale.
A Clockwork Orange records the rape and death of a woman. We will notice that this theme has already been made implicit in the previous scenes of the film. Now Alex encounters the High Priestess on the checkerboard floor, and the meeting is no less destructive.
|Stripping the Shekinah of her vestments|
We should understand that there is really only one woman, and that all of Alex's escapades so far are depicting that same woman. Alex's crime is sexual in nature, as, indeed, it must be. The Sanctuary has been violated, the Temple profaned, and the Goddess raped.
|Into the Black|
The theme of these opening sequences is the descent of Spirit into Matter, for which reason we see Alex's right eye (the path of the descending Lightning Flash) in a state of "illumination" as he travels in "one magical movement from Kether to Malkuth."
Alex's parents clearly take no great interest in him; impotent though they are, they remain the Emperor and Empress, who become the receptacles of the Spirit fallen for on high. (We are obviously meant to connect this particular shot to the Sun card--for the reason, see below.)
The Hierophant gives Alex a bit of useless and unhelpful advice. As with all symbolic priests, he takes a certain perverse sexual interest in his protégé. Note the two heads in the window, representing the two principles of Ice and Fire that Alex will need to alchemically combine in the path of Temperance.
Alex now encounters the two women on the Lovers card, the two aspects of his anima, Virtue and Vice--or, Betty and Veronica. (Our Veronica's popsicle is crooked, a visual symbol of her inherent Vice.)
Cut from the altogether mechanical sex sequence to show one of Alex's less than faithful Droogs holding a wheel, symbolizing his continued enslavement by his own lower nature in the eternal Wheel. Like the two sphinxes on the Chariot card, they now plot to overthrow their leader--Alex's rule as Ego is wholly imaginary. The Charioteer has not yet dedicated his sexual forces to the purposes of regeneration, and thus he is enslaved by it.
Alex, the obstinate Chariot driver, attempts to restore order--but they merely bide their time, waiting for the opportune moment to betray him.
|The Droogs stand with the light and dark sphinxes of the Chariot card|
(The cat ladies)
There has been great uncertainty as to the position of the Strength and Justice cards, and they are frequently interchanged for reasons relating to their astrological signs. Kubrick simply places them together as part of the texture of the murder of the Cat Lady.
|"Don't touch it. That's a very important work of art."|
We are, in fact, presented with The Chariot, Strength, and Justice as a cohesive unit, showing that Alex's imprisonment is due to his thoughtless misuse of fire. It is with his phallus (not indeed his own, but stolen) that he murders the woman, and for this he is thrown into prison.
"Also, take your fill and will of love as ye will, when, where and with whom ye will! But always unto me. . . . if the ritual be not ever unto me: then expect the direful judgments of Ra Hoor Khuit! "
At this point it should be blatantly obvious to all but the most repressed of individuals that Kubrick intends there to be a very specific sexual doctrine underlying all of this symbolism, and one that can easily be divined through a few moments of reflection by any curious individuals. When Alex lives on the night-side of divine power, he stands depraved and accursed, a murderer of all that is good and pure in the world. Alex is not the Other to be loathed--pity him, as he is ourselves.
|The sphinxes guard the sanctuary of Isis, daring Alex to solve their riddle|
Condemned by Justice and the Law, Alex enters a period of isolation, the Hermit.
Condemned to the prison of the world, Alex now yearns for freedom--he is trapped on the ever-revolving Wheel and realizes that the only escape is through an alchemical Death and Rebirth that will result in a psychic transformation of his leaden consciousness.
He begins to take his spiritual condition seriously, and reads the great religious texts, looking for the truths contained therein. (Veiling the Sacred under the guise of the Blasphemous has been this film's specialty.)
Here the Hanged Man would logically come--but we already encountered this card previously, where Kubrick revealed its hidden meaning as the Hanged Woman. Its event is primordial, and thus it happens in the first part of our film, which forms the continuous record of her death within Generation (assisted by the destructive hand of Alex's masturbatory proclivities).
Thus Alex is shuffled off to meet his Death in the movie theater of the Cave of the unconscious.
Dr. Brodsky: Very soon now the drug will cause the subject to experience a death-like paralysis together with deep feelings of terror and helplessness. One of our earlier test subjects described it as being like death, a sense of stifling and drowning, and it is during this period we have found the subject will make his most rewarding associations between his catastrophic experience and environment and the violence he sees.Here he is symbolically forced to confront the most gruesome and repressed aspects of his violent and depraved psyche. "He screams in horror, realizing that his own Eye of Providence and the Nazi swastika are one and the same" (Ager). We will note, however, the parallels with Shutter Island, where the captors and the captive are seen to be, in some respects, little better than each other.
It goes without saying that A Clockwork Orange is our Ludovico technique, showing the viewer the most depraved aspects of mankind in order to effect a change in conscience--with comparable levels of failure.
This corresponds to the concealed narrative in 2001. Dave Bowman must "step out" of the film ("Heywood Floyd" = "Defy Holy Wood"), and Alex must symbolically gouge out the Eye of the Pyramid--the projection booth. When Alex the Fool began his journey, he was at the top of the pyramid, faced with boundless opportunities--now he resides at the bottom, and must claw his way back to the top and destroy the world he helped create.
This is only the first stage of his transformation. Now Alex must embrace the path of Temperance and cleave to the Good as a new and rehabilitated member of society (it is not as though he has much of a choice--if he does not, he will feel the Wrath of God). And yet he finds that he now has a doppelgaenger--his parents have found a replacement Son, who represents the Sulphur to Alex's Lead.
Thus, dejected and rejected, Alex now crosses the Abyss in a state of poverty, helplessness, and disarray. As it always must be, he now encounters the very people that he first wounded--his karmic debts must now be paid, and his faithful Droogs, the elements of his old life of debauchery and theft, have now become the executors of the Law.
|Home is where the heart is|
|Jachin and Boaz at the top of the pyramid|
“There was your faithful narrator being held helpless, like a babe in arms.”
|An alchemical bath|
|"Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done."|
Drowned and beaten, Alex makes his way HOME, to the Tower as the House of God that dwells within the heart of all. Here he encounters the wounded Fisher King, the lonely Father God--and he quite rightly blames Alex for the death of his wife. (Once again, the Tower is made the site of the recollection of the original murder.)
Mr. Alexander: My wife . . . used to do everything for me and leave me to my writing.It is highly significant that none other than David Prowse, the future Darth Vader (the Dark Father), plays his assistant. Together, they form the God of Duality, Mercy and Severity. (It is interesting to note that the effeminately-dressed Prowse sits in the space once occupied by the dead wife, showing, again, his identification with the feminine Severity pillar.) Alex is made to drink every last drop of the cup of bitterness and suicidally plummets to his death from the Tower.
Alex: Your wife, sir? Has she gone away?
Mr. Alexander: No. She's dead!
Alex: I'm sorry to hear about that, sir.
Mr. Alexander: She was very badly raped, you see. We were assaulted by a gang of vicious young hooligans in this house, in this very room you're sitting in now. I was left a helpless cripple. [. . .] A victim of the modern age, poor, poor girl.
Now, why all the Ludwig van Beethoven? Ager hints that Kubrick seems to use Beethoven as a sort of Hamlet's Ghost; the hidden Father God who is at once the same as Mr. Alexander and Alex himself--note the similarity of the names! Ager has noticed Kubrick's many clues that the two are one and the same, but stops just short of the logical conclusion--that all of the other characters in the film are parts of Alex as well.
And Jake Kotze offeers some additional insight with Beethoven as Gary Oldman, already known for playing Harry Potter's Godfather and other Osiris-resonating characters (Osiris is a black dog). The scene shown here has baffled critics, but if it is remembered that A) the symbolism relates to the Hanged Man card, and B) Alex is masturbating furiously, it should become reasonably understandable.
Given that Alex and Beethoven represent each other, we must consider that in the snooker table shot we are looking at the animated bust of Beethoven as Alex, not as the writer. If this is the case then the meaning of the suicide scene changes to a crisis of identity rather than an aversion to music. Alex awakens in the attic room with a vision of himself as the insane Apex of his own power pyramid. Unable to shake the vision from his head and unable to escape the pyramid structure within which he is locked (the attic room seen in the symmetrical shot as a pyramid base) he leaps from the window and out of the power structure, expecting to die, but survives. (Ager)
|Osiris sits behind the green "pool" table, like Frank Poole in 2001 (fear death by water)|
"I came back to life, after a long, black, black gap of what might have been a million years."
Now (to return to the narrative), Alex's fall from the Tower is not the end, but another new beginning, and in the next scene we are treated to a vision of the rending of the Holy of Holies, in which Isis now lifts a portion of her veil to our faithful aspirant.
Like Osiris, Alex is badly wounded and bandaged, but now there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
His parents now greet him in the light of day, bestowing the fruits of regeneration. The Mother is now clothed in the Red of the Sun.
Previously, we saw the Hierophant standing with the two red and black heads on the left part of the windowsill, with a third, purple-colored head on the right-hand side, representing the alchemical Quintessence.
And now Alex is introduced to the Quintessence herself, wearing an almost identical purple wig.
Alex is given a personality test (his "Judgment") and one would think, by his answers, that he had regressed--but the images are of a peacock, a nude woman at the top of a ladder, a broken watch, and eggs, all of which have alchemical significance. The peacock is the Peacock's Tail, the woman is the Star at the top of Jacob's Ladder, the broken watch is his victory over Time and Death (Alex is the "clockwork orange," remember), and the eggs are the Philosopher's Egg in which he is to be reborn as a Star Child. Alex's madness reveals his new identity as not merely a fool, but the Divine Fool.
"Who therefore knows how to conjoin the principles . . . shall be the possessor of a treasure so great that even kings themselves shall venerate him."
"The kings, queens and princes of the Earth are their to witness their apotheosis, which signifies the supreme status of the Alchemical arts in this ritual drama."
Thus Alex now attains the Philosopher's Stone, and, like Job, is bestowed with blessings equal to that which he lost during his Long Dark Night of the Soul. (“And a very lonely place it is too, sir, when I wake up in the middle of the night with my pain. . . . I’ve suffered the tortures of the damned, sir, tortures of the damned.”) The rulers of the world now tremble before him, and he has become a King among men.
"I was cured, all right"--he's fucking angels up in heaven, now.