Understanding Clockwork Orange

On the 40th anniversary of Kubrick’s famous adaptation of the Burgess novel, Tim Robey analyzes the movie’s impact. I am surprised to see a British writer missing the critically important point that Kubrick’s version is not based on what Burgess actually wrote and what most Britons actually read.

The UK version of the book has 21 chapters. In the final chapter, Alex realizes the emptiness of his life, renounces violence and gets married (sounds Dickensian, does it not?). But the American publisher refused to publish the book in that form, making the book end after Chapter 20 with Alex still violent and sociopathic.

Kubrick read the US version and made the film based on that. He apparently saw the UK version much later and said he didn’t like it, but we will never know what would have been the cinematic result if the American publisher hadn’t imposed such a change in the book over the author’s objections.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.