A comparison between Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange; Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate; and George Orwell’s 1984 in relation to mind control and human conditioning.
January 10. 13
The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse – Edmund Burke
Muammar Gaddafi, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler all have one vital thing in common; these men all had an overwhelming greed for power and control. It was through fear and subtle conditioning that they won their power, and it was at the height of their power that the societies they had oppressed rebelled. Just as Edmund Burke says “the greater the power the more dangerous the abuse”, it was their abuse of power that led to their demise. This idea of how achieving complete power over society and the individuals therein through conditioning cannot last forever, and will inevitable lead to a rebellion and retaliation is explored by the novels 1984 by George Orwell and A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, as well Jonathan Demme’s film The Manchurian Candidate. Both A Clockwork Orange and The Manchurian Candidate develop this theme through the use of an unlikely anti-hero (who is also the spokesperson for the authority attempting to gain control), the individual struggle to maintain the most basic control (while the authority counters their every effort), and the juxtaposing symbols (that mirror how society is violating the natural order).
In Burgess’ novel the protagonist, Alex, is a typical delinquent; he breaks any and all rules without any concern for the repercussions. Naturally, the reader comes to dislike him. Unexpectedly though, Burgess makes the reader feel Pathos for Alex, as he becomes a test subject for the government’s new Ludovico Technique. In an attempt to rid the streets of teenagers like Alex, they select him – being the worst of them all – to become their spokesman of sorts. The doctors involved in his “treatment” go to extreme lengths to rid him of any qualities they have deemed unacceptable in a perfect society. The beginnings of their treatment seems to mimic the basis of Skinner’s operant conditioning, although they take things many steps farther than he could, “Skinner employed punishment in one early experiment and was so disturbed that he never used it again”, whereas the doctors in A Clockwork Orange do anything they feel necessary (Freedman). The doctors turn his every action against him, and cause him seemingly endless mental anguish, eventually conditioning him to conform to essentially anything they decide. The plan of the government backfires as soon as they release him. Once society has seen what the government has done, they vehemently reject the idea. After this, society’s view of Alex changes drastically; he switches from a fearsome troublemaker to a fragile victim: “Another victim…A victim of the modern age” (Burgess 113).
This idea of society and the individuals therein rejecting the controversial plans of their government is also prevalent in the film The Manchurian Candidate. In an attempt to gain all the governmental power, Sergeant Raymond Prentiss Shaw has his mind controlled by high authorities. Due to his own ideology, without being under anyone’s control, Sergeant Shaw would be an ideal presidential candidate, but he would be an independent one, “I believe in freedom…”(The Manchurian Candidate). The people of power in the film believe that in order to achieve a perfect utopia, they must govern everything. When presented with the idea that his thoughts may not be his own, Sergeant Shaw is in disbelief, and thus begins the viewer’s idea of him as a protagonist. Similarly to Alex in A Clockwork Orange he begins an internal struggle to overcome the conditioning and mind control that has been imposed on him. At the end of the film, he successfully overpowers the control that was being held over him, and rebels against...