Clockwork Orange and the Antisocial Mind
According to a movie review by Damian Cannon (1997), “it’s easy to see why A Clockwork Orange has divided critics-it’s extremely graphic and unsettling.” Even for those in favor of its artistic value, is it just an accident that the movie’s disturbing scenarios where “youths form ritualistic gangs, fight battles, and engage in vandalism” (Cannon, 1997) are depicted as futuristic events? Do we not allow ourselves the rationale of being intrigued as long as we retain the option to conveniently and expediently assign disturbing events into a category which in some way is always far removed from our present circumstances? Thus, we remain civilized and safe while we simultaneously experience the tingle of conflicting emotions which director Kubrick has knitted together from sensorial odds and ends. Indeed, “by the end of A Clockwork Orange we are manipulated into cheering for Alex, despite his brutal and amoral nature” (Cannon, 1997). Regardless of the divisions by which it is regarded, however, the movie’s focus on the antisocial mind transforms it from a purposeless showcase of outrageous behavior into a tool which educates us about our society. It illuminates both the nature of atrocity as well as the mechanisms we use to remain at a safe distance from it. The significance of any media depiction of violence potentially frightens even as it reassures; we allow ourselves to be taken to some illicit edge while we realize that it is still only a movie.
Does Antisocial Personality Disorder exist only in the safe future, or are we able to recognize it in people we’d assume were normal? Richard Niolon (2000) offers insight when he says, “think of the good-looking and popular frat boy, who says whatever is needed to get a girl drunk and alone, then slips the “date rape” drug into her drink to have sex with her. He feels no “remorse” until caught.” According to this, Antisocial Personality Disorder doesn’t just exist in
movies or in people we’d typically regard as criminals. Appearances—as in the case of the frat boy—are often deceiving. This boy could call his family the next day and win their sympathy by telling them how homesick he is.
The characteristics of Antisocial Personality Disorder give an indication why such behavior can take place. As suggested by Niolon (2000), these include a tendency to tell lies, to act in an impulsive and reckless manner, to resent authority, to blame and resent other people, to feel contempt for others and regard them as something to be manipulated, to be unable to find employment, and to be unable to keep promises. This list is so beneficial because it seems to cover such a wide range of behaviors. It seems to associate a particular personality style with the development of a disorder. Thus, for example, an intelligent computer programmer may write viruses which ultimately destroy others’ computers because he resents the idea that they do not live on the same level of intelligence as he does. He destroys their computers, and then blames them for not being careful enough in guarding against viruses. Who would suspect him? In fact, he takes advantage of others’ lack of suspicion, manipulating them into thinking he is just a harmless computer programmer.
Indeed, it is difficult to diagnose Antisocial Personality Disorder. According to Lee (2008), “personality disorders are among the most difficult disorders to be diagnosed and treated in psychology.” Even as an educated guess, it seems likely that this difficulty is based on the idea that an antisocial person is incapable of realizing they even have a problem. To them, the world is a place full of instant gratification even if others are hurt in the process. Further, childhood conduct disorder, found in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual and “characterized by chronic misbehavior” (Lee, 2008), is seen to be associated with the development of adult antisocial
disorder. What this means in terms of diagnosis is that the antisocial attitudes stemming from childhood have become so developed in an adult that this person can, for example, seem to be charming while actually being manipulative. They can give the therapist a hearty handshake while resenting the therapist’s authority. The antisocial person has become so adept at telling lies they can possibly fool even the most experienced therapist. Since they can no longer distinguish between right and wrong, they find it impossible to benefit from therapy. Thus, the ingrained patterns continue.
Where do we look for answers concerning why some people are antisocial and others are not? “Thus far it has been established through research and various studies that genetics do influence…antisocial behavior” (Jones, n.d.). This statement refers to the psychological consideration of nature versus nurture. Was the antagonist (or protagonist) of A Clockwork Orange a product of his genes or his environment? Returning to Shannon Lee (2008), we find that studies “show ample support for genetic influence in the development of anti-personality disorder…criminals with antisocial personality have criminal records more like their biological fathers than their adopted fathers, which supports that the disorder runs in families.” In coming to terms with this idea, we could use the example of a boy whose adopted father demonstrates a genuine concern for the feelings of others, while the boy’s biological father has been in prison for committing various crimes. According to these genetic studies, this boy (who has consistently witnessed good behavior) would be likely to develop antisocial tendencies. Additionally, giving further credibility to the presence of a biological component, “higher levels of [the neurotransmitter] serotonin in the blood have been in correlation with antisocial personality types” (Lee, 2008). This biological component, however, does not address every factor. Weak
ties and the absence of good communication within the family are factors in “promoting an environment that will influence antisocial…behavior” (Jones, n.d.). This association with family ties obviously conforms to the nurturing/environmental aspect of antisocial patterns. Accordingly, was Alex Delarge (1971) unable to communicate well with his family (or other authority figures) as a child, or did he just inherit faulty levels of neurotransmitters? This becomes the debate.
The reference to criminal studies leads us to other questions: how prevalent is Antisocial Personality Disorder and in what population is it most evident? “The National Co morbidity Survey, which used DSM-III-R criteria, found that 5.8% of males and 1.2% of females showed evidence of a lifetime risk for the disorder” (Cooper, n.d.). This survey is significant for at least two reasons. To begin with, it uses a standardized system of measurement; rates of incidence always appear more credible when they are acknowledged with predetermined criteria, provided here by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual. On the other hand, there is the significance in these results that we are seeing what we expected to see. At least in this culture, don’t we regard males as naturally more aggressive than females? Our learning experience regarding antisocial patterns of behavior comes when we determine the difference between naturally-occurring (and culturally-instilled) aggression and that aggression which becomes truly harmful.
Because we are the potential victims of Antisocial Personality Disorder, we find it easy to assess its consequences in terms of our own lives. Yet, a further consideration might be: what are the ultimate consequences for people with this disorder? Even if they do not go to prison, they still experience negative outcomes (Cooper, n.d.). Because of their reckless, impulsive quality, those with APD are more likely to die in accidents, abuse drugs and alcohol, commit suicide,
commit homicide, and suffer from depression and anxiety. Even though the “droogs” of A Clockwork Orange (1971) were shown to be enjoying their violent activities, we can view them as suffering individuals in need of psychological treatment. We can determine from a psychological standpoint that no one escapes the effects of antisocial conduct. Even though the rules of society appear intangible, we realize they are present because of the emotional consequences we feel in breaking them.
With this is mind, is there any hope for those with APD? They are clever and manipulative, and in this regard require effective intervention at perhaps its highest level. “Approaches that reinforce appropriate behaviors and attempting to make connections between the person’s actions and their feelings may be…beneficial” (Cooper, n.d.). In A Clockwork Orange (1971), this approach was unethically taken to extreme levels as Alex was made to watch scenes of violence to illustrate its impact on society. What is advocated instead is to sensitize the antisocial person to others’ feelings, to increase feelings of empathy. Even so, “effective psychotherapy treatment for this disorder is limited” (Cooper, n.d.).
Lastly, and perhaps most revealing, is the study of a man who had the presence of biological abnormalities, grew up in an environment with a lack of family support, and had not taken the medication he was offered to treat his APD. Yet, “somehow he willed himself to change his outlook and began taking the initiative to heal himself” (Lee, 2008). This man was capable of finding success in overcoming his antisocial disorder even in a context of ineffective treatment. What does this tell us as we use A Clockwork Orange as a study of Antisocial Personality Disorder? Do we keep social problems at a safe distance? Do we categorize all those with antisocial personalities as criminals? Do we trust the basic goodness of everyone?
Cannon, D. (1997). A clockwork orange. Retrieved on Nov. 13, 2008 from
Cooper, A. (n.d.).Antisocial personality disorder. Retrieved on Nov. 13, 2008 from
Lee, S. (2008). Developing and overcoming antisocial personality disorder.
Retrieved on Nov. 13, 2008 from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu
Niolon, R. (2000). Antisocial personality style. Retrieved on Nov. 13, 2008