On the ending of Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” (1971).

At the end of the film, Alex has agreed to publicly support the ruling party in exchange for a cushy job. Listening to Beethoven and reflecting on his good fortune, he thinks: “I was cured all right.”

The Ludovico Technique had cured Alex’s love of violence, but from his point of view the cure was worse than the disease: he thought it would get him released from prison and that he would resume his old way of life, but it left him powerless and suicidal. During the period of unconsciousness after his suicide attempt, however, brain surgeons “deconditioned” him so that hearing Beethoven’s Ninth no longer caused him to be violently ill.

That’s part of the irony of Alex’s final statement: he has been cured of the cure. But the irony is more complex, because we also see what Alex is imagining as he makes that statement. Continue reading

Truthfulness and Realism: Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.”

I’ve been teaching a course on philosophy and film. As it nears the end, I’m thinking about films that didn’t make it into the course but that could have and perhaps should have. This version of the course (I’ve taught it a few times) focused on the problem of identity and moral personhood: numerical identity in Inception and Solaris, for example, and differences between persons and what Harry Frankfurt calls “wantons” in A Clockwork OrangeThe Servant, and Vertigo, among others. We tended to focus more on content than form, but we were never very far from issues of truth, reality, and the art of film.  

Which made me want to identify films that bring these epistemological and ontological themes in both life and art together with personhood. In the films of Stanley Kubrick, there’s something of a dialectic between truthfulness and realism. Realism can reveal truth but also obscure it, and be obscured by it. And “realistic” isn’t the right word for the film I have in mind; “truthful” is closer to the mark. Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999) portrays intimate personal relationships truthfully. What does that mean?

The film is about a couple, Alice and Bill, who, although they’ve been married at least seven years, still seem to be adjusting to the transition from passionate love to a companionate marriage. When we first see them, as they are preparing to leave for a Christmas party, they are very much in the companionate mode: intimate and trusting, but something less than passionate. Continue reading