(Be warned, spoilers abound. Proceed cautiously.)
As you know, A Clockwork Orange is divided into three parts with seven chapters each. The film, of course, came out at a time when the American version of the novel left out the twenty-first chapter, so most who have only seen the film don’t realize that Alex eventually turned his back on a life of violence. Kubrick himself did not realize Alex’s change of character because he’d only read the American version of the novel at the time he filmed, which would only stand to reason.
However, Anthony Burgess, the author, demanded in later American editions that the twenty-first chapter be included, and so now there’s a stark contrast between those who have read the book and those who have only seen the movie. Some would argue that there are two Alex’s out there – one who revels in his return to violence and another who ultimately opts for a life of peace.
Most believe that Burgess is delivering a message that even the worst of us can reform by choice. Most argue that the theme of the novel is that even the worst of deviants can achieve civility if given enough time. They say this, of course, because Alex supposedly chooses to turn his back on his wayward activities as he ages and matures.
I, on the other hand, would like to introduce an alternate perspective. I’m sure I’m not the first to make this argument, but I would dispute Alex’s reform. It is widely believed that Alex grows out of his criminal mindset and consciously wants to be good. But, the book actually suggests that he grew bored with his illegal activities, that they no longer thrill him. Alex choosing to become a law-abiding citizen due to sheer boredom is not quite the same as choosing to be good because of a change in heart.
Understandably so, most would contend that he chose to be good, what matters the motivation? I believe it to be an important distinction. In my mind, motivation is everything. Choosing to be good because one realizes the depravity of past iniquities and desiring redemption is one thing; choosing to be good simply because one’s previous lifestyle no longer entertains is quite another.
Alex will always be the criminal. He may live a guiltless life for a few years, but if he could alter his lifestyle so nonchalantly on a whim, it would only stand to reason that a relapse could occur just as suddenly. Remember, this was a boy who, at only fifteen, beat people, stole, raped, and even killed. Unless the government didn’t truly reverse their tinkering with him and his reconditioning still persists somewhere within the recesses of his mind, I believe a return to crime is inevitable in Alex’s future.