Alex (A Clockwork Orange)
Alex is a fictional character in Anthony Burgess
Anthony Burgess
John Burgess Wilson  – who published under the pen name Anthony Burgess – was an English author, poet, playwright, composer, linguist, translator and critic. The dystopian satire A Clockwork Orange is Burgess's most famous novel, though he dismissed it as one of his lesser works...

' novel A Clockwork Orange
A Clockwork Orange
A Clockwork Orange is a 1962 dystopian novella by Anthony Burgess. The novel contains an experiment in language: the characters often use an argot called "Nadsat", derived from Russian....

and the film adaptation
A Clockwork Orange (film)
A Clockwork Orange is a 1971 film adaptation of Anthony Burgess's 1962 novel of the same name. It was written, directed and produced by Stanley Kubrick...

, in which he is played by Malcolm McDowell
Malcolm McDowell
Malcolm McDowell is an English actor with a career spanning over forty years.McDowell is principally known for his roles in the controversial films If...., O Lucky Man!, A Clockwork Orange and Caligula...

. In this film adaption, Alex's surname
A surname is a name added to a given name and is part of a personal name. In many cases, a surname is a family name. Many dictionaries define "surname" as a synonym of "family name"...

 is DeLarge, in relation to Alex's reference to himself as "Alexander the Large" in the novel. This, in itself, is an apparent reference to Alexander the Great as well as a sexual pun
The pun, also called paronomasia, is a form of word play which suggests two or more meanings, by exploiting multiple meanings of words, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect. These ambiguities can arise from the intentional use and abuse of homophonic,...

. The American Film Institute
American Film Institute
The American Film Institute is an independent non-profit organization created by the National Endowment for the Arts, which was established in 1967 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act...

 rated Alex the 12th greatest film villain of all time, Empire Magazine selected Alex as the 42nd greatest movie character of all time and Wizard Magazine
Wizard (magazine)
Wizard or Wizard: The Magazine of Comics, Entertainment and Pop Culture was a magazine about comic books, published monthly in the United States by Wizard Entertainment from July 1991 to January 2011...

 rated Alex the 36th greatest villain of all time.

Character overview

Alex is the narrator and protagonist
A protagonist is the main character of a literary, theatrical, cinematic, or musical narrative, around whom the events of the narrative's plot revolve and with whom the audience is intended to most identify...

 of the novel. He is portrayed as a sociopath
Antisocial personality disorder
Antisocial personality disorder is described by the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fourth edition , as an Axis II personality disorder characterized by "...a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood...

 who robs, rape
Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse, which is initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person's consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or with a person who is incapable of valid consent. The...

s, and ultimately murder
Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

s for his own amusement. Intellectually, he knows that this sort of behavior is wrong, saying that "you can't have a society with everybody behaving in my manner of the night." He nevertheless professes to be somewhat puzzled by the motivations of those who wish to reform him and others like him, saying that he would never interfere with their desire to be good; it's just that he "goes to the other shop."

He speaks Nadsat
Nadsat is a fictional register or argot used by the teenagers in Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange. In addition to being a novelist, Burgess was also a linguist and he used this background to depict his characters as speaking a form of Russian-influenced English...

, a teenage slang
Slang is the use of informal words and expressions that are not considered standard in the speaker's language or dialect but are considered more acceptable when used socially. Slang is often to be found in areas of the lexicon that refer to things considered taboo...

 created by author Anthony Burgess. The language is based on English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 and Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

 words, and also borrows from bits of Romany speech, the Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 and schoolboy colloquialism
A colloquialism is a word or phrase that is common in everyday, unconstrained conversation rather than in formal speech, academic writing, or paralinguistics. Dictionaries often display colloquial words and phrases with the abbreviation colloq. as an identifier...

s. He likes milk spiked with various stimulants ("milk plus") or hallucinogens ("synthemesc"). Alex is very fond of classical music, particularly Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of...

, or, as he calls him, "lovely lovely Ludwig Van." While listening to this music, he fantasizes
Fantasy (psychology)
Fantasy in a psychological sense is broadly used to cover two different senses, conscious and unconscious. In the unconscious sense, it is sometimes spelled "phantasy".-Conscious fantasy:...

 about endless rampages of torture
Torture is the act of inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or a confession, or simply as an act of cruelty. Throughout history, torture has often been used as a method of political re-education, interrogation, punishment, and coercion...

 and slaughter.

Novel and film biography

At the beginning of the novel, Alex is 15 years old and already a veteran juvenile delinquent
Juvenile delinquency
Juvenile delinquency is participation in illegal behavior by minors who fall under a statutory age limit. Most legal systems prescribe specific procedures for dealing with juveniles, such as juvenile detention centers. There are a multitude of different theories on the causes of crime, most if not...

. In the film, to minimize controversy, Alex is portrayed as somewhat older, around 17 or 18 (McDowell himself was 28 when he portrayed Alex). He lives with his parents in a bleak, heavily-vandalized Municipal Flatblock
Tower block
A tower block, high-rise, apartment tower, office tower, apartment block, or block of flats, is a tall building or structure used as a residential and/or office building...

 in an unnamed English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 city in the near-future.

He is the leader of a gang of "Droogs": Pete, Georgie, and Dim. Although the youngest of the foursome, he is clearly the most intelligent and fearless, and the one who comes up with most of the ideas. Georgie, who resents his high-handedness, sets him up to be caught at the site of one of the gang's crimes, and Alex is sent to prison
A prison is a place in which people are physically confined and, usually, deprived of a range of personal freedoms. Imprisonment or incarceration is a legal penalty that may be imposed by the state for the commission of a crime...

 for murder.

Alex is sentenced to "14 years in Staja 84F," the word "Staja" being the abbreviation for "State Jail". He ignores the convict code of ethics
Ethics, also known as moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that is, concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, etc.Major branches of ethics include:...

 by betraying a fellow prisoner's escape plans to the prison chaplain
Traditionally, a chaplain is a minister in a specialized setting such as a priest, pastor, rabbi, or imam or lay representative of a religion attached to a secular institution such as a hospital, prison, military unit, police department, university, or private chapel...

, knowing that he will report it to the warden. He curries the chaplain's favor by reading the Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 (using it to fantasize about being one of the crueler Roman emperors
Roman Emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

, or one of the soldiers who tortured Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

). He is selected for the "Ludovico Treatment
Ludovico technique
The Ludovico technique is a fictional aversion therapy from the novel A Clockwork Orange administered by Dr. Brodsky with the approval of the UK Minister of the Interior. It involved forcing a patient to watch, through the use of specula to hold the eyes open, violent images for long periods of...

", justified in the novel by his stomping an obnoxious fellow prisoner to death in their cell.

The treatment, a form of aversion therapy
Aversion therapy
Aversion therapy is a form of psychological treatment in which the patient is exposed to a stimulus while simultaneously being subjected to some form of discomfort...

, involves injecting him with a drug that makes him violently ill, and then showing him films of rape and violence — which will result in him becoming sick at the thought of hurting anyone. While being forced to watch footage from a Nazi concentration camp
Nazi concentration camps
Nazi Germany maintained concentration camps throughout the territories it controlled. The first Nazi concentration camps set up in Germany were greatly expanded after the Reichstag fire of 1933, and were intended to hold political prisoners and opponents of the regime...

, Alex notices the soundtrack
A soundtrack can be recorded music accompanying and synchronized to the images of a motion picture, book, television program or video game; a commercially released soundtrack album of music as featured in the soundtrack of a film or TV show; or the physical area of a film that contains the...

; classical music. While in the novel, this soundtrack incidentally makes Alex, in a sense, "allergic" to all music, the film concentrates solely on Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
Symphony No. 9 (Beethoven)
The Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, is the final complete symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven. Completed in 1824, the symphony is one of the best known works of the Western classical repertoire, and has been adapted for use as the European Anthem...

, which was the symphony in particular that was playing, coincidentally also his favorite. Since he now associates Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with violence, he similarly gets sick when listening to it.

After the Ludovico treatment, Alex's sentence is commuted to time served and he is released. However, he soon finds that the treatment worked too well: He can't defend himself even when necessary. Upon returning home, he is rejected by his parents, who have rented out his room and turned over his belongings to the police pursuant to a new law compensating victims. In the novel version, he is then nearly beaten to death by a librarian whom his gang had previously victimized (a homeless man in the film). When two policemen break it up, they turn out to be none other than Dim, his former associate, and Billy Boy, a former adversary and gang leader whom Alex had bested in the past, who brutalize him further and leave him to die.

Disoriented with pain, Alex stumbles to the nearest house, pleading for help. The owner, a paraplegic
Paraplegia is an impairment in motor or sensory function of the lower extremities. The word comes from Ionic Greek: παραπληγίη "half-striking". It is usually the result of spinal cord injury or a congenital condition such as spina bifida that affects the neural elements of the spinal canal...

 writer whom the government calls a "subversive", recognizes Alex from the newspapers and wants to help him. Alex recognizes the writer as well: as a man whom he and his friends had once beaten nearly to death (hence his paralysis
Paralysis is loss of muscle function for one or more muscles. Paralysis can be accompanied by a loss of feeling in the affected area if there is sensory damage as well as motor. A study conducted by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, suggests that about 1 in 50 people have been diagnosed...

) and forced to watch as they gang-raped his wife (who later died of injuries brought on by the assault
Sexual assault
Sexual assault is an assault of a sexual nature on another person, or any sexual act committed without consent. Although sexual assaults most frequently are by a man on a woman, it may involve any combination of two or more men, women and children....

). The writer doesn't make the connection at first and treats him well, but eventually realizes his guest's true identity; in the film this occurs when the writer overhears Alex in the bath singing the song "Singin' in the Rain
Singin' in the Rain (song)
"Singin' In the Rain" is a song with lyrics by Arthur Freed and music by Nacio Herb Brown, published in 1929. However, it is unclear exactly when the song was written with some claiming that the song was written and performed as early as 1927. The song was listed as Number 3 on AFI's 100 Years.....

", which he had been singing during the attack. In the novel, the writer realizes who he is dealing with when Alex says "I thought you didn't have a phone," remembering his wife's excuse for not letting Alex and his gang into the house.

Seeking revenge, the writer drugs Alex, locks him in a room, and forces him to listen to the Ninth Symphony, the effects of which Alex had mentioned in conversation. Wracked with pain, Alex tries to commit suicide
Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death. Suicide is often committed out of despair or attributed to some underlying mental disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, or drug abuse...

 by jumping out the window — only to awake in a hospital, where the effects of the treatment are wearing off. His parents arrive to welcome him back home, and the Minister of the Interior, smarting from the bad publicity Alex's case has brought, offers him a government job. In the film and the early United States editions of the book, Alex becomes his old ultraviolent self again, thinking sarcastically: "I was cured all right", seconds before his brain buckles due to the neural surgery he recalls as recurrent dreams.

The final chapter of the British edition of A Clockwork Orange shows Alex, at the age of 18, in his government job at the National Record Library, growing out of his sociopathy and daydreaming about starting a family.


The character of Alex has gained considerable notoriety among filmgoers and can often be found on lists of greatest villains. Alex DeLarge, as played by McDowell, was named the 12th greatest movie villain of all time in the American Film Institute
American Film Institute
The American Film Institute is an independent non-profit organization created by the National Endowment for the Arts, which was established in 1967 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act...

's 100 Years... 100 Heroes & Villains
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains is a list of the 100 greatest screen characters chosen by American Film Institute in June 2003. It is part of the AFI 100 Years… series. The series was first presented in a CBS special hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger...

The character was named the 36th greatest villain in the Wizard Magazine #177 feature "100 Greatest Villains of All Time".

McDowell's performance has been widely acclaimed by critics. He was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama and his failure to receive a Best Actor
Academy Award for Best Actor
Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role is one of the Academy Awards of Merit presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize an actor who has delivered an outstanding performance while working within the film industry...

 nomination at the Academy Awards
Academy Awards
An Academy Award, also known as an Oscar, is an accolade bestowed by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize excellence of professionals in the film industry, including directors, actors, and writers...

 is now seen as a major snub. In 2008, his performance was ranked #100 on Premiere Magazines
Premiere (magazine)
Premiere was an American and New York City-based film magazine published by Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., published between the years 1987 and 2007. The original version of the magazine, Première , was started in France in 1976 and is still being published there.-History:The magazine originally...

"100 Greatest Performances of All Time."
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