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Now Kubrick Fights Back
by Stanley Kubrick

"An alert liberal", says Fred M. Hechinger, writing about my film A Clockwork Orange, "should recognize the voice of fascism." They don't come any more alert than Fred M. Hechinger. A movie critic, whose job is to analyze the actual content of a film, rather than second-hand interviews, might have fallen down badly on sounding the "Liberal Alert" which an educationist like Mr. Hechinger confidently set jangling in so many resonant lines of alarmed prose. As I read them, the image that kept coming to mind was of Mr. Hechinger, cast as the embattled liberal, grim-visaged the way Gary Cooper used to be, doing the long walk down main street to face the high noon of American democracy, while out of the Last Chance saloon drifts the theme song, "See what the boys in the backlash will have and tell them I'm having the same", though sung in a voice less like Miss Dietrich's than Miss Kael's. Alert filmgoers will recognize that I am mixing my movies. But then alert educationists like Mr. Hechinger seemingly don't mind mixing their metaphors: "Occasionally, the diverting tinsel was laced with some Grapes of Wrath realism," no less. It is baffling that in the course of his lengthy piece encouraging American liberals to cherish their "right" to hate the ideology behind A Clockwork Orange, Mr. Hechinger quotes not one line, refers to not one scene, analyzes not one theme from the film - but simply lumps it indiscriminately in with a "trend" which he pretends to distinguish ("a deeply anti-liberal totalitarian nihilism") in several current films. Is this, I wonder, because he couldn't actually find any internal evidence to support his trend-spotting? If not, then it is extraordinary that so serious a charge should be made against it (and myself) inside so fuzzy and unfocused a piece of alarmist journalism.

Hechinger is probably quite sincere in what he feels. But what the witness feels, as the judge said, is not evidence - the more so when the charge is one of purveying "the essence of fascism". "Is this an uncharitable reading of... the film's thesis?" Mr. Hechinger asks himself with unwonted, if momentary doubt. I would reply that it is an *irrelevant* reading of the thesis, in fact an insensitive and inverted reading of the thesis, which, so far from advocating that fascism be given a second chance, warns against the new psychedelic fascism - the eye-popping, multimedia, quadrasonic, drug-oriented conditioning of human beings by other beings - which many believe will usher in the forfeiture of human citizenship and the beginning of zombiedom.

It is quite true that my film's view of man is less flattering than the one Rousseau entertained in a similarly allegorical narrative - but, in order to avoid fascism, does one have to view man as a *noble* savage, rather than an ignoble one? Being a pessimist is not yet enough to qualify one to be regarded as a tyrant (I hope). At least the film critic of The New York Times, Vincent Canby, did not believe so. Though modestly disclaiming any theories of initial causes and long range effects of films - a professional humility that contrasts very markedly with Mr. Hechinger's lack of the same - Mr. Canby nevertheless classified A Clockwork Orange as "a superlative example" of the kind of movies that "seriously attempt to analyze the meaning of violence and the social climate that tolerates it". He certainly did not denounce me as a fascist, no more than any well-balanced commentator who read A Modest Proposal would have accused Dean Swift of being a cannibal.

Anthony Burgess is on record as seeing the film as "a Christian Sermon" - and lest this be regarded as a piece of special pleading by the original begetter of A Clockwork Orange, I will quote the opinion of John E. Fitzgerald, the film critic of The Catholic News, who, far from believing the film to show man, in Mr. Hechinger's "uncharitable" reading, as "irretrievably bad and corrupt", went straight to the heart of the matter in a way that shames the fumbling innuendos of Mr. Hechinger.

"In one year," Mr. Fitzgerald wrote, "we have been given two contradictory messages in two mediums. In print, we've been told (in B.F. Skinner's Beyond Freedom and Dignity) that man is but a grab-bag of conditioned reflexes. On screen, with images rather than words, Stanley Kubrick shows that man is more than a mere product of heredity and-or environment. For as Alex's clergyman friend (a character who starts out as a fire-and-brimstone spouting buffon, but ends up as the spokesman for the film's thesis) says: 'When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.'"

"The film seems to say that to take away man's choice is not to redeem but merely to restrain him; otherwise we have a society of oranges, organic but operating like clockwork. Such brainwashing, organic and psychological, is a weapon that totalitarians in state, church or society might wish for an easier good, even at the cost of individual rights and dignity. Redemption is a complicated thing and change must be motivated from within rather than imposed from without if moral values are to be upheld."

"It takes the likes of Hitler or Stalin, and the violence of inquisitions, pogroms and purges to manage a world of ignoble savages", declares Mr. Hechinger in a manner both savage and ignoble. Thus, without citing anything from the film itself, Mr. Hechinger seems to rest his entire case against me on a quote appearing in The New York Times of January 30, in which I said: "Man isn't a noble savage, he's an ignoble savage. He is irrational, brutal, weak, silly, unable to be objective about anything where his own interests are involved... and any attempt to create social institutions based on a false view of the nature of man is probably doomed to failure." From this, apparently, Mr. Hechinger concluded, "the thesis that man is irretrievably bad and corrupt is the essence of fascism," and summarily condemned the film. Mr. Hechinger is entitled to hold an optimistic view of the nature of man; but this does not give him the right to make ugly assertions of fascism against those who do not share his opinion. I wonder how he would reconcile his simplistic notions with the views of such an acknowledged anti-fascist as Arthur Koestler, who wrote in his book The Ghost in the Machine, "The Promethean myth has acquired an ugly twist: the giant reaching out to steal the lightning from the Gods is insane... When you mention, however tentatively, the hypothesis that a paranoid streak is inherent in the human condition, you will promptly be accused of taking a one-sided, morbid view of history; of being hypnotized by its negative aspects; of picking out the black stones in the mosaic and neglecting the triumphant achievements of human progress... To dwell on the glories of man and ignore the symptoms of his possible insanity is not a sign of optimism but of ostrichism. It could only be compared to the attitude of that jolly physician who, a short time before Van Gogh committed suicide, declared that he could not be insane because he painted such beautiful pictures." Does this, I wonder, place Mr. Koestler on Mr. Hechinger's newly started blacklist?

It is because of the hysterical denunciations of self-proclaimed "alert liberals" like Mr. Hechinger that the cause of liberalism is weakened, and it is for the same reason that so few liberal-minded politicians risk making realistic statements about contemporary social problems.

The age of the alibi, in which we find ourselves, began with the opening sentence of Rousseau's Emile: "Nature made me happy and good, and if I am otherwise, it is society's fault." It is based on two misconceptions: that man in his natural state was happy and good, and that primal man had no society.

Robert Ardrey has written in The Social Contract, "The organizing principle of Rousseau's life was his unshakable belief in the original goodness of man, including his own. That it led him into most towering hypocrises must follow from such an assumption. More significant are the disillusionments, the pessimism, and the paranoia that such a belief in human nature must induce."

Ardrey elaborates in African Genesis: "The idealistic American is an environmentalist who accepts the doctrine of man's innate nobility and looks chiefly to economic causes for the source of human woe. And so now, at the peak of the American triumph over that ancient enemy, want, he finds himself harassed by racial conflict of increasing bitterness, harrowed by juvenile delinquency probing championship heights."

Rousseau's romantic fallacy that it is society which corrupts man, not man who corrupts society, places a flattering gauze between ourselves and reality. This view, to use Mr. Hechinger's frame of reference, is solid box office but, in the end, such a self-inflating illusion leads to despair.

The Enlightenment declared man's rational independence from the tyranny of the Supernatural. It opened up dizzying and frightening vistas of the intellectual and political future. But before this became too alarming, Rousseau replaced a religion of the Supernatural Being with a religion of natural man. God might be dead. "Long live man."

"How else", writes Ardrey, "can one explain - except as a substitute for old religious cravings - the immoderate influence of the rational mind of the doctrine of innate goodness?" Finally, the question must be considered whether Rousseau's view of man as a fallen angel is not really the most pessimistic and hopeless of philosophies. It leaves man a monster who has gone steadily away from his nobility. It is, I am convinced, more optimistic to accept Ardrey's view that, "...we were born of risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles and our irreconcilable regiments? For our treaties, whatever they may be worth; our symphonies, however seldom they may be played; our peaceful acres, however frequently they may be converted into battlefields; our dreams, however rarely they may be accomplished. The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how magnificently he has risen. We are known among the stars by our poems, not our corpses."

Mr. Hechinger is no doubt a well-educated man but the tone of his piece strikes me as also that of a well-conditioned man who responds to what he expects to find, or has been told, or has read about, rather than to what he actually perceives A Clockwork Orange to be. Maybe he should deposit his grab-bag of conditioned reflexes outside and go in to see it again. This time, exercising a little choice.

The New York Times - Section Two, February 27, 1972

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