When publishers W.W. Norton released A Clockwork Orange in the U.S. in 1963, they sliced the final chapter, leaving Alex with the urge to carve “the whole litso of the creeching world with my britva.” The novel is written in a youth slang called Nadsat, which means “teenager” in Russian, the basis of the dialect. Filtered through the street talk, Alex’s violent urges lose visceral effect. Translated, he is saying he wants to carve the face of the screaming world with his razor. Alex remains untamed. The American publishers believed this was a more convincing ending. Kubrick’s film uses less Nadsat, and we get full visual representations of the ultraviolence, which gives Alex’s crimes stronger force than when cushioned by the playful language of the street.
It is important to note that the extra chapter is only an option moving forward. The Ludovico Technique, which brainwashed Alex into submissive acquiescence, is still reversed. The restored prisoner rehabilitation guinea pig gets to enjoy Ludwig van Beethoven once again, and imagine himself slashing his way through life in both versions. The extra chapter is merely an optimistic projection of a character arc, believing Alex will find his place in the world as a person, like other people. Not unlike Travis Bickle, played with the youthful menace of Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, here is another murderous sociopath whose redemption and celebration are shrouded in moral ambiguity.
The film and American printing of the book leave the audience to imagine Alex reverting to his ultraviolent nature. Even with the government’s stamp of approval, it is better than closing on a Pavlovian pup.
When Burgess wrote a film script to be directed by Nicolas Roeg (Performance, The Man Who Fell to Earth) in 1966, he agreed it was the proper ending. He left out the twenty-first chapter. Andy Warhol, who filmed an unauthorized adaptation called Vinyl in 1965, never got past the opening chapter. He didn’t think the story needed anything more than some debauched hijinks in the Korova Milkbar. Never released in theaters, Vinyl shows young toughs inflicting beatings and indulging in near-fetishistic masochism, to fill the voyeuristic needs of a glamorous troupe of Factory players like Gerard Malanga, Edie Sedgwick, and Ondine. The leather-clad youth gang looks like they stepped out of The Wild One (1953), Martha and the Vandellas’ “Nowhere to Run” plays on the jukebox.
Music and brutality go hand in hand in A Clockwork Orange, which is why the Ludovico Technique inadvertently works too well. Wendy Carlos’ score dramatically fuses the brutality with the baroque, but McDowell gives it the beat.
A Juvenile Delinquency Movie About Choice
In a surprise home inspection during the film, Alex’s post-corrective advisor, P.T. Deltoid (Aubrey Morris), warns the underage repeat-offender that the next time he’s caught, he will go to prison, not “corrective school.” These are called “reform schools” in American movies. At its heart, A Clockwork Orange is a glorified juvenile delinquent film, the kind that drove kids to rip apart theater seating after showings of Blackboard Jungle (1955).