Book vs Movie: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

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The first time read A Clockwork Orange was quite a few years ago. I’m not sure where my copy is and don’t remember which version it is. This time around I had a library ebook, the complete original version of the novel. Until reading the introduction, I hadn’t even realized there were different versions. Apparently, the American publisher decided not to include the final chapter when it was first published. This is the version the film was based on. It seems like a minor difference, but it does change the character arc of the protagonist Alex.

Quick summary for anybody that’s not aware. The story follows Alex, a teenager who spends his nights perpetrating violent crimes with his band of “Droogs”. When his friends turn on him and a robbery goes wrong, he ends up in jail for murder. In exchange for a reduced sentence he receives an experimental treatment which eliminates his ability to perform acts of violence. Once released he has to learn how to cope with the effects of the treatment and face the consequences of his earlier crimes. The story is written in first person from Alex’s point of view including fictional teenager slang from a futuristic Britian. This time around reading the book, it felt I bit easier to understand. Most of it is fairly easy to figure out from the context but it is a bit of a challenge to read. It’s not something I was able to speed through. But I appreciated it forcing me to slow down and really be absorbed into the story.

One of the most notable elements of the movie are the visuals. Kubrik went well beyond what is described in the book, as least from what I could decipher. From the sets to the wardrobe, it went a long way in the worldbuilding for the story. The movie feels very long for a novel that is not very long. The novel isn’t even two hundred pages meanwhile the movie is just a little over two hours long. Likely because the story sticks pretty close to the source material. There were only a few minor changes. In particular was the insertion of a very long intake process to jail. None of which is in the book, instead we got a long block of text from Alex about not really being seen as a person in the jail, how they aren’t even called by their names but instead their number. Much of the dehumanizing experience that Alex describes is shown with specific action. I’ve already mentioned the most substantial difference between the original novel and the movie. The novel takes us a little further along in Alex’s story, and we get a chance to see more of a character arc. Meanwhile there’s not much development for his character in the movie. However, I thought it left the end of his story opened ended. Considering how young he is there’s still lots of possibilities for the future. Viewers could make varying assumptions on where Alex may end up.

I feel like I say this too often, but this is a hard choice. I like both for different reasons and each has its issues. While reading I did get frustrated at times with the language. It’s a fun bit of worldbuilding and adds to the experience, made it difficult to read at times. And as much as I love the movie, it felt very long, a bit too long. I can’t even begin to try and recommend one over the other. I’m calling this a tie, and I suggest going with your instincts on which you might prefer.

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