Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Stanley Kubrick's Dark Vision of Criminal Justice
Stanley Kubrick had a supreme gift for portraying the dark side of human nature. In fact, if one were to pay attention to the works that Kubrick wrote as well as directed, one would fairly wonder about the pessimistic nature of Kubrick's views on the matter.
There is wide spread disagreement on which of Kubrick's films is his masterwork. Many argue in favour of A Clockwork Orange.
In the film, Alex DeLarge (Malcom McDowell) and his chums troll the streets of London in search of "ultraviolence". Not realizing that they merely have to wait 30 years for Garnd Theft Auto, Alex spends his time committing vicious home invasions, occasionally retiring for a glass of milk in between.
This is until the day that his friends decide they've tolerated enough of his abuse -- he's only marginally kinder to them than to his victims -- and leave him for the police.
After a brief stay in prison, Alex falls into the hands of a politician who wants to subject Alex to his most recent pet project: it's called the Ludovico Technique, and it promises Alex release from prison after only two weeks of treatment.
The Ludovico is essentially a lobotomy without its intellectually debilitating effects -- even if the effect is emotionally and psychologically debilitating.
Alex finds himself unable to act on feelings of anger, or engage in any kind of violent conduct. He returns home to find that his parents -- who were previously terrified of him -- has rented his room out to a boarder. Unable to muster even a plea for forgiveness from his mother, he simply leaves.
With nowhere to go, he wanders the streets until he begins to encounter his former victims, who take their revenge on Alex, who has been rendered defenseless by the Ludovico treatment.
Eventually, Alex falls into the hands of Mr Alexander (Patrick Magee). Alexander is a political activist who sees in Alex his opportunity to hurt the government. He's also had a previous run-in with Alex -- in the opening minutes of the film, Alex and his friends invade Alexander's home, beat him and his wife, and then rape her.
She later dies.
The Ludovico treatment has given Alexander an interesting means to torture Alex: classical music, previously Alex's favourite, now causes him immense pain. In order to escape his torment, Alex throws himself out a window.
In the end, Alex becomes controversial not because of the means of his release from prison -- he has, at no time, genuinely regretted or repented his crimes -- but rather his suffering following his release. The Ludovico treatment is reversed, and Alex is free to resume his old ways, which he does.
In the final irony of the film, Alex finds that his violent ways no longer thrill him as they used to, and he resigns himself to become a productive member of society, and even have children.
The Ludovico technique represents a utopian approach to the rehabilitation of offenders. And so long as rehabilitation remains the near-sole focus of many criminal justice systems -- such as Canada's -- there may always remain some temptation to embrace such techniques.
Such experiments won't end well -- particularly when the belief that an offender is rehabilitated (even if, realistically, they have not) overwhelms any notion of also punishing the offender.
Alex DeLarge is a (however fictional) textbook case of a criminal for whom punishment is indispensible. Moreover, the society in which anyone such as this lives needs to be protected from such individuals -- Alex is clearly a psychopath.
In A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick presents a dark, dystopian vision of criminal justice. But the defining aspect of many dystopias is that they derive from someone else's view of utopia.
The view that rehabilitation alone is sufficient in dealing with criminals and that they need not be punished, nor does society need to be protected from them, is a utopian vision of crime. Unfortunately, it's a utopian vision that has been allowed to proliferate amongst correctional professionals, and this is something that needs to be changed.
Rehabilitation will, of course, remain a key pillar of criminal justice. But so must deterrence, punishment and protection from offenders.