Book vs. Movie: A Clockwork Orange

You guys couldn’t get enough of me, eh? Just kidding—I’m already annoying myself. Once a week I’ll be bringing you the gnarliest knockdown, drag-out fights between books and their adapted movies. Which director created an EPIC FAIL instead of a film?

Which writer was totally shown-up by his own work? This week, it’s Burgess v. Kubrick, and it’s gonna get ugly! P.S. Spoilers ahead.

Basically, to love me is to love A Clockwork Orange. I consider the 1962 novella and its 1972 adaptation to be both my favorite book and favorite film. The way Anthony Burgess writes, with his strange made-up language Nadsat, a Russian-influenced version of English, is both captivating and perplexing. Even more so, Stanley Kubrick’s translations of the written word into visuals have become iconic, and is revered by film buffs the world over. And that’s not even getting into the music. The synthesized version of the Funeral March of Queen Mary II is playing in my head as I write this. No, really. You should just go listen to the whole soundtrack on YouTube right now. I’ll wait.

Both versions of A Clockwork Orange start at the Korova Milk Bar, where we are introduced to our main character and humble narrator, Alex DeLarge. A teenage delinquent in dystopian London, Alex and his three comrades—referred to as “droogs”—terrorize the city and its inhabitants by beating, raping, stealing, and murdering. While Kubrick’s adaptation closely follows the novella, even using entire chunks of text as Alex’s voiceover in the film, many key points are completely left out. And this, my dear readers, is why I’m bringing you the final smack down. LET’S GET READY TO RUMMMMBLEEEEEEEE.


  • In the movie, we see Alex meet two mature teenage girls in a record store. He takes them back to his apartment and the three seemingly have teasing consensual sex with him. However, in the novel, Alex meets two ten year old girls at the record store, takes them home, gets them incredibly drunk on scotch, gives himself an injection of an unnamed drug, and rapes and beats both of them. Though Kubrick surely toned it down to avoid mass disapproval, Burgess describes the scene in his book so well that it neither shows what Alex did nor is it flat-out said. Alex’s actions are hinted at so subtly that they do not jolt the reader, but it does the job of showing us exactly how sociopathic and soulless Alex actually is. Because of this omission and the fact that Alex’s true terribleness is not wholly defined elsewhere, his turn to goodness is not as effective as it could be. +1 Burgess

  • And on the point of goodness, that brings me to a completely different issue: the omitted chapter in the American version of the book. When Burgess’s novella was published in the United States, his New York publisher scraped the last chapter, which obviously changed the ending and tone of the book dramatically. Kubrick chose to follow the American version and also leave out the last chapter, so that the end of the film hints at Alex being incurable and returning to his old ways. In fact, in the book we do see Alex return to his old ways. He begins a new gang, and one night while taking a rest from causing havoc with his new droogs, he realizes that he’s just not into it anymore. He’s grown out of it. He sees himself settling down and starting a family. He runs into one of his old droogs, Georgie, who has also outgrown the mischief and is settling down with a nice young woman. I feel that both endings are strong in their own right. While Kubrick’s is punchier and thought provoking, Burgess crafts a more complete ending that leaves little to be questioned. Either way, the final chapter is worth reading, wherever your loyalties lie. +1 Burgess

  • In both the book and the movie, Alex is sent to prison after he kills an old woman in her house and is caught by the police thanks to his droogs’ betrayal. Burgess portrays the old woman as the typical cat lady living in an old, Victorian-esque home. It’s not incredibly interesting, and Alex kills her by symbolically beating her with a Beethoven bust. In the film, Kubrick’s old lady is a yoga-loving cat lady with multitudes of sexual art decorating her home, and Alex kills her by bashing in her head with a giant penis sculpture. By not following the book in this particular scene, Kubrick added a layer of meaning for the representation of gender within both works. Plus, I love any old lady who has a giant penis sculpture in her house. +1 Kubrick


So, there you have it! Burgess is our winner. Though he did once say that he wished the movie had never been made and that he had never written the book. So, I guess out of respect for the winner, no one wins? Stay tuned for next week’s book vs. movie!


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