Sound is an element one cannot avoid when analyzing Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The major sound device that holds the greatest dramatic effect is music, the most obvious motif in the film. Not only is music, particularly classical Beethoven, one of Alex’s obsessions, but also is a key part of his narration. To understand this, we must first realize that the entire film is from his perspective. All of his actions are subjective from his point of view. If we consider the music Kubrick’s stylistic choice to compliment the scenes, it may seem to make mockery of and even glorify the grotesque violence. However, when we realize that the music is a part of Alex’s mind, it serves a better purpose to develop his character. This is proven by the fact that he narrates the film in voice over. The classical music accompanies his narration when he is at a “high.” The music is part of his mood. It even drowns out much of the background noise and sound effects, enhancing the subjective dream-like world of his. Not only is this effect accomplished through extra diegetic music, but diegetic music as well. Beethoven’s “9th Symphony” is sung and played by multiple characters. The overall effect the music has it to show how twisted Alex really is. Violence and even rape become in his eyes almost like a theatrical performance or an art, as we quite literally see in his “Singin’ in the Rain” act.
From a more theoretical standpoint, Kubrick uses the music to pose a cultural question. Is the classical music to be equaled with the excess of erotic art and furniture in the film, particularly that of the Cat Lady and the Milk bar? Is there satire in that this is where art and culture are heading? That may be for us to decide. One thing is for certain: art and culture do not save Alex from becoming an evil man. Kubrick commented on the matter in the recent interview we read on the blog, “I think this suggests the failure of culture to have any morally refining effect on society.” Beethoven’s symphony, and thus classical music, has no positive effect on Alex (and it eventually physically harms him). It is entirely neutral towards influencing his behavior.