My last two posts, “Sociopaths. Learn, identify, avoid.” and “Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Equally as dangerous as sociopathy.”, have discussed the pathology, traits, psychiatric and anecdotal descriptions of two very serious, malicious in nature and practically incurable psychiatric disorders: Anti-social Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
As described by the examination of both disorders, prognosis is dim and treatment practically non-existent. Thinking about this assessment and both these diseases, I cannot help but conjure the images and ideas offered in one of my favorite books; the brilliant novel, “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess.
Published in 1962, “A Clockwork Orange” explores the violent nature of humans, human free will to choose between good or evil, and the desolation of free will, in the form of brainwashing, as a solution to evil.
A film adaptation, directed by the famed Stanley Kubrick, of the book was released in 1971. Ill-received by the book’s author; Mr. Burgess “bemoaned the fact that the book had been taken as the source material for a 1971 film that was perceived to glorify sex and violence.“
(Sidebar: “A Clockwork Orange” is on my personal list of film adaptations of novels in which I adore both the books and films equally but on completely different planes. I do not view one as having to do with they other. I consider this shortlist as separate works of art, beautiful in their own way, but not as reflections of the books that inspired them.
Presently, two other books/film duos that make this list. They are:
“Gone With the Wind”, by Margaret Mitchell, published in 1936 with a film release following in 1939. Ms. Mitchell similarly took issue with the interpretation of her single Pulitzer prize-winning publication as evidenced by the following statement; “the Margaret Mitchell estate refused to license the novel’s commercial use in connection with the façade, citing Mitchell’s dismay at how little it resembled her description”.
The other is the great “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey, published in 1962, with a film release (produced by the also great Michael Douglas in his breakout entrée into Hollywood) in 1975. Not so shockingly the adaptation of his book into film was less than pleasing to Mr. Kesey. While he participated in the early stages of script development, he withdrew after creative differences with the producers over casting and narrative point-of-view. Later he filed suit against the production and won a settlement. Kesey himself claimed never to have seen the movie, but it is said “he disliked what he knew of it”.
While I can understand the frustrations of the authors I also cannot deny the brilliance of all three films. Therefore, it is only fair to judge and enjoy both the films and the books that inspired them within two completely separate artistic domains. Each a masterpiece in its own right, however, I never (and urge others to do the same) allow one be taken as a representation of the other as they evoke completely different emotions, convey different messages and are created through the lenses of different artists. End Sidebar.)
The book; the original, the version publishers in the United States refused to release prior to 1986; ends with the slow-ripening but classic moment of metanoia. This is the moment at which one’s protagonist realizes that everything he thought he knew was wrong – an epiphany sociopaths and narcissists, caught in a total everlasting psychotic state, continually fail to reach.
The anti-hero of “A Clockwork Orange“; Alex, reaches metanoia in the 21st chapter, the final chapter. This state seems to appear naturally. Not, as you would think as an outcome of the trials and tribulations he encountered during and following his detainment and “treatment”.
Alex, the main character and narrator, is early on presented as a true sociopath. He expresses a complete lack of remorse, is intelligent and vengeful, often fantasizes and acts on his whims to hurt and humiliate others he views as “beneath” him. This sense of superiority soon turns his “droogs” or members of a small gang he leads to turn against him, ultimately resulting in his capture and imprisonment.
While incarcerated he is blamed for the murder of another inmate and is given an option, instead of further punishment, he may undergo a new “treatment”, after which he would be “cured”. This treatment is in fact an intense form of aversion therapy where Alex is injected with a drug that makes him violently ill then forced to watch hours and hours of gruesome violent reel, all set to the tune of his beloved Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
Following the completion of his “treatment”, Alex is released back into society, a now cured, violence averse man. A series of events follow in which Alex encounters those he had spurned as well as his former gangmates, now policemen, who beat him and leave him for dead.
In an ironic twist of events he seeks the help and safety in the very cottage the final act which lead to his incarceration had taken place. The gentleman of the house lets him in, not recognizing the same chap that had brutalized him and raped and murdered his wife.
After a chat, the gentleman learns that Alex has been at the mercy of a government regime he vehemently opposes. He also learns of the “cure” Alex has received, along with its regretful side effect that causes our former hooligan to experience the same violent illness and malaise when he hears Beethoven’s Fifth, as he would if he were to think about violence. Soon, the gentleman comes to realize Alex is the same young man who caused his beloved wife’s death. Spiteful and rage overwhelm the widow and he blasts the musical trigger that sends Alex into a fit of insanity that drives him to attempt suicide.
Following this ironic yet gruesome scene, Alex wakes up in the hospital with the realization he is, by his own definition, cured. Immediately he begins fantasizing about committing violent and sexually deviant acts. Yes, our dear lad has returned to his psychopathic state and permitted to re-enter society.
He is a bit older, definitely a bit wiser. Still, Alex immediately sets out to reconnect with the “old gang” only to find they have moved on. They have real jobs, have real responsibility, lead grown-up lives. Still determined to continue his deviant ways Alex slowly finds that he too, this once sexual predator, a dominant leader of a new group of “hooligans”, is in a new stage in life.
Suddenly, all his deviant behaviors of yore, those that once were the sole effort of his being felt, dull. The drive to act on narcissism, portray sociopathic behavior; to get women to fuck him with his charm before raping them and tossing them to the street, the urge run amok in self entitled glory, seems, well, uninteresting. They no longer appealed to him. They no longer were fulfilling. Alex begins to dream of a wife and son who, he fondly accepts as a truth, will inevitably grow to be a delinquent just as his father had been years ago.
Mr. Burgess writes, in his final chapter, the chapter originally omitted in its distribution in the United States (talk about controversial editing to promote one governments own ideology) that maturity is the root of this change. That the character of Alex reached the coveted state of metanoia.
Reflecting on this concept, comparing it to the pathology of the two personality disorders previously discussed; there is a clear divergence of ideas.
What does this imply? Was the author, a non student of psychiatry (though brilliant non the less) wrong in his assessment? That people can just grow out of “it” when the symptoms described in the DSM-IV clearly state these behaviors only truly reveal themselves AFTER adolescence? Or perhaps, Alex was never a true sociopath or narcissist at all. Maybe he was simply a misguided youth caught up in the midst of teenage “experimentation”, living the “rebellious” nature of teen hood.
Was Alex, that fateful night that led to his imprisonment, a result of testing the boundaries of adolescent rebellion? Was his truly mistaken murder an unwanted and unplanned result of his purposeful and planned rape; simply a consequence of pushing his curious self-important stage just a bit too far?
Perhaps. He would not be the first inherently “good” person, one with the capacity to feel compassion hidden deep within. One who at first, in his youthful sociopathic state had little to no impulse control. One who once, unable to maintain friendships, goes on to form new associations and re-acquaints with his old “droogs”.
Were he and his actions merely a product of the era he was raised in? His true self emerging like an annual flower once the seasons changed and Alex’s actual self allowed to bloom into a normal loving man.
Or has some literature on sociopathy projects, his unapologetic, self-serving state has waned with age?
I do not know. I cannot guess to what Anthony Burgess’s views on personality disorders were, or even if they were considered illnesses in the 1930′s when the book was penned (though I can easily find this out – stay tuned for this update!).
What I deduce from “A Clockwork Orange’s” take and resolution of the behaviors the main character is that he shares many similarities as well as differences with sociopathy and narcissism. To be honest, I must re-read the novel again to comment much further.
All I can say is this; it has become clear to me that detecting these devious, malicious, incurable disorders in people (which occur predominantly men by the way), is tricky business! I have witnessed bits and pieces of both in people I have known or been acquainted with.
I have encountered those who line for line met the criteria for personality disorder. I knew, in my gut, they were lacking a sense of right and wrong and would not, could not empathize if they tried, that would deceive the first and every chance they got. Detecting these traits were not consciously made assessments. It was something I felt deep within, detected by an instinctual bolt of lightning almost immediately after meeting. This urge of being drawn to them coupled with a hint of fear, a sense that something was not quite right. That feeling was there. The knowing that there was something off, something to be wary of, that they should not be trusted with my heart, my life, heck not even with my pet bird.
Conversely, I have seen once “youthful deviants” evolve into completely trustworthy men. Men, who displayed ALL the signs they were not to be trusted, that they were soulless self-indulgent maniacs (which at the time one could argue they were) that could never change, yet strangely, never evoked the same “stay away” response. People, who, when the smoke cleared and they finally “grew-up”, became the men I knew they could be, good loving men. So, all bets are off.
Be careful. I say it once more and that is all one can do, until it is too late.
~ the audacious amateur blogger
**Visit the “FEATURED” page for a compilation of all personality disorder related posts!