I wanted to get down some thoughts about A Clockwork Orange, which I've just finished listening to on cd and Burn After Reading, now that I've seen it a couple of times. I've been interested in ACO since reading an old Mad Magazine parody many years ago. I first saw the movie the summer after my freshman year at college and have seen it a few times since. At its heart is an interesting story of dystopian, anti-heroic humanism that resonates loudly in some ways with C.S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength. Burgess' point in ACO is that man is not a creature to be wound up like clockwork and let go to live a determined life whether by the state or by God. Alex is a vicious criminal and hoodlum but he is that way because that is what he wants to be. If he wanted to be good, he could, and it is the very choice that makes him human and makes his actions good and evil. If society wants to "cure" him so that he not only cannot do evil but also must do good to when he desires evil then it achieves a certain short-term goal of reducing crime but does not truly thereby make itself better. In so doing it devalues the individual life it exists to protect and perhaps, to draw conclusions from the ways in which the third part of the book plays out, it may create an even worse evil. It has not eradicated Alex's desire for evil only frustrated it. It seems implied that through a bit of personal application he may in time develop a means of circumventing his conditioning. Interestingly, despite his appy polly loggy for the necessity of the final chapter to his argument (Burgess claims his American publisher originally rejected it because it was too hopeful and Pelagian) in Alex's conviction that his future son will follow in his criminal footsteps and reject his fatherly advice because that's what teenagers do, there seems to be an undermining of the whole theme of freedom. Still its a very interesting story, not least because of the invented Nadsat language that Alex and his droogs use. It was fun to listen to and I'm always open to good dystopian humanism.
One of the other things that I'm always open to is good absurdist humor a la the Coen Brothers. However, one thing Burn After Reading is not is humanist. It seems much more Ecclesiastesical. There's a definite feeling of vanity, vanity, all is vanity. It would seem that all is much ado about nothing as the different characters pursue various ends to often brutal conclusions while in the dark about what is really going on. BAR is definitely in the Fargo vein of absurd and brutally violent comedy. But it likes the stabilizing presence of a Marge Gunderson or even the tired despair of the Sheriff in No Country for Old Men. It just has that feeling of one damned thing after another with no one really knowing what is going on, even the people who are payed to know. Fargo and Lebowski are Coen movies that I'm somewhat repulsed by still enjoy either because of particular characters or techniques. No Country has a power in that it's played straight. After BAR I just want to throw up my hands in frustration and confusion like the chief spook. It doesn't make sense and those poor people are dead and it's such a nice day and there you go (that's Marge Gunderson of course, not the spook). Vanity of vanities, all is vanity under the sun.