Essay Index

The Free, Spontaneous and Heroic Life:
Dystopian Visions in British Science Fiction Films

It is, perhaps, a cliché that science fiction (sf) is a projection of the current culture, that sf is less about the future than about now. Much sf is by its nature either utopian or dystopian; as I.F Clarke notes, sf stories:

are rooted in the conditions of their time and for that reason they are often an instant imaginative reaction to the most recent demonstration of the potentialities of modern technology.(1)

For much of the history of British cinema, the sf film was a minority interest, for critics, producers and audiences. It was not until the 1950s that British sf film became a popular genre; but with the market for sf films dominated by American productions, the few sf films made in Britain were usually produced by B-movie companies. Little changed during the 1960s, despite the growing popularity of sf's New Wave. Often characterised as the 'sf of inner space', the New Wave authors were:

Conscious, even self-conscious, about science fiction, its symbolism, its immediacy, its responsibilities, and above all its possibilities.(2)

However, little of this New Wave spirit was translated into film. The only film contemporaneous with and in the spirit of the New Wave was The Final Programme (1973), an adaptation of a Michael Moorcock novel which Moorcock himself loathed.(3)

Partly, of course, this lack of engagement with sf was economic; special effects are expensive, and with the market practically sewn up by American productions, it would have been hard to justify the costs involved in producing an sf film solely for the British market. Even so, during this period several small films were produced that had sf premises but little reliance on special effects, such as The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1962) and Village of the Damned (1963). Given the New Wave's concentration on inner-space rather than outer-space, it would not have been hard to find narratives worthy of adaptation that did not rely on special effects. However, one wonders if part of the reason for the aversion to the sf film wasn't rooted in British realist and literary traditions. As Julian Petley notes:

The realist aesthetic is so deeply ingrained in British film culture that it not only renders 'deviant' movies either marginal or completely invisible ... but also imposes a 'realist' framework of interpretation like a stifling blanket over the entire area of British cinema ... [T]he realist pantheon dominates most writing about British cinema, and ... determines what is thought 'worth' circulating ... what films are presented... and so on.(4)

Despite this realist tradition, during the 1970s and 1980s the sf film managed to escape 'the lost continent'. This essay will examine the dystopian visions presented by three of these British SF films: Zardoz (1973), A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Brazil (1985). These films carried on the tradition in British sf literature of dealing with disaster and dystopia. As Clarke reminds us:

... most of the classic statements on the hateful future appear in the United Kingdom. It seems that the descendants of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer, no longer able to accept the idea of progress, have chosen to discharge their feelings of anger and anxiety by working through the entire paradigm of social and political parables.(5)

It is with a 'hateful future' that we begin our examination of the dystopian film. In John Boorman's film Zardoz (1973) the year is 2293, and a group of immortals live in Arcadian enclaves, known as Vortexes, protected from the outside world by force-fields. Beyond the force-fields are the Outlands where humans, known to the immortals as Brutals, live a mean existence. Within the Brutals, there are two classes: the Exterminators, and the rest. Exterminators kill any other humans they find. They do this because their god, Zardoz, tells them to. Eventually, an Exterminator known as Zed enters a Vortex and destroys the Tabernacle, the computer that controls the Vortexes.

There is no doubt that Boorman is attempting an allegory, but the meaning of the film - if there is one - is open to many interpretations. For many film reviewers Zardoz is a pretentious shambles; for example, David Thomson lauds Boorman as 'the most important British director functioning today'(6), but goes on to note that 'Zardoz plunges into myth without creating a satisfactory context ... It is, sad to say ... his silliest film, too earnestly trying to be intelligent.'(7) Others have been kinder. George Perry thought Zardoz 'in many respects as ambitious and thought-provoking as Kubrick’s 2001 in the previous decade.'(8)

The film begins with the disembodied head of an immortal called Arthur Frayn floating slowly closer to the camera, telling us that the film we are about to see is a story invented by him, set in an imaginary future. It is possible to see Frayn as Boorman; but as Frayn notes, Frayn himself is an invention. In a way, this explicates the relationship of the director to the audience. We do not know Boorman, he puts in no appearance, apart from what we see in front of us; we invent a "Boorman the director" from the film. Frayn notes that we, the audience, might too be an invention and asks 'Is God in show-business too?' This introduction questions the relationship between the story, the director and the audience, and it is possible that the film is a reflection of this relationship: Frayn invents Zed, Zed is Zardoz, Zardoz is a god; Boorman is Frayn, is Zardoz, is the god of the universe of this film.

However, beyond this playing with the nature of the story and the storyteller, Zardoz is obviously meant as a dystopian vision; the characters Friend and Frayn constantly tell us how horrible it is to be immortal in a Shaker-like hippie community. There is no doubt that one of Boorman's targets is science and rationality. It is scientists who have provided immortality, the security of the Vortex, and the power of The Tabernacle. Having done this in a world 'after the darkness' - presumably a reference to some cataclysmic event - they have shut themselves and other intellectuals away from the rest of humanity. In the Vortex, the immortals apply themselves to rudimentary farming and manufacture, but mostly to pursuits of the mind, attempting to answer all of the great questions of the universe, and even building a spacecraft that has enabled them to visit other stars. The only thing that can destroy the Vortex, it appears, is science itself. For Zed, it transpires, is the creation of the immortal Arthur Frayn, who through cross-breeding and mutation has attempted to create an Ubermensch that can destroy their world. Frayn boasts of his creation of the creature that will finally enable the immortals to become mortals once again. Zed points out, however, that he isn't the creation of Frayn, he is ultimately the creation of Nature, and that he has 'looked into the face of the one who put the plan into Frayn's mind.'

Whoever, or whatever, created Zed, there are distinct messianic overtones. He has the gift of death, 'he can die himself, or he can mete it out', and is called 'the one', 'the liberator', by the Vortex's healer. When the scientist May examines him, she finds he's a mutant, with an enlarged brain, and total recall; she says:

you must know you are mentally and physically superior to me ... you could be anything, you could do anything ... we must destroy you.

The immortals cannot destroy the Tabernacle, but Zed, the bringer of death, can. To do this, he finds and, somehow, enters a crystal that is part of The Tabernacle. Inside, he fires his gun - seemingly at random - and destroys the Tabernacle. Zed sees himself reflected in the crystal's facets, and then an Exterminator, wearing a mask. Zed shoots the Exterminator; it is revealed that the Exterminator that Zed has killed is himself. The next scene is of Zed sat, slumped across the table on which he had found the crystal. May and Friend find him, and thinking he is dead, carry him away. Consuella enters and kisses his forehead. Zed immediately comes back to life. It is tempting to see parallels with Christianity and other myths in which one who is dead comes back to life. And there is no doubt that, after his resurrection, Zed's powers have grown enormously; he appears to be able to make time run backwards, and is able to offer protection to those immortals who are now his followers: 'Stay close to me,' he says, 'within my aura.'

The reflecting facets within the crystal are but one example of what appears to be a visual theme throughout the film - a motif that centres around 'seeing' and 'reflection'. When Zed first arrives at the Vortex, he explores the farm building and discovers a room - evidently Frayn's - where he finds one of the Tabernacle crystals. When he picks it up, it immediately starts communicating with other Vortexes and displaying holograms. Zed turns the crystal to look at it, and the image of an eye appears on his forehead (echoing again his messianic qualities, for when the Third Eye of Shiva opens, the world will be destroyed). After exploring the buildings of the vortex, Zed goes to the lake to get a drink, and we see May walking towards him with the ripples of the lake superimposed over her, as if she had come up from the water herself. As they talk by the lake, the water behind Zed is glassily still, enabling the scenery to be perfectly reflected in the lake, and causing the lake to visually disappear. There are reflecting surfaces everywhere - when Zed is first examined by May, he is taken to a mirrored structure. When Friend becomes a renegade by rebelling against entering 'second level meditation' with the rest of the immortals, he collapses and dies on a table with a mirrored top. Death is but a short trip for the immortals, who are reincarnated. When Friend is reincarnated, however, his punishment for being a renegade is to be made an old man; but the side of his face that had lain on the mirror remains young. In possibly the best visual sequence of the film, Zed is given intense learning by May. Films of paintings, music scores, mathematical equations, and so on, are projected onto naked bodies, giving a strange sense of fluidity and movement, in particular to the artwork. Is there a point to this obsession with seeing, and reflections? It is, possibly, a visual metaphor for what we have been told Zed is doing to the community. Zed is a reflection of the community's desires: 'the monster is a reflection of what is in us' says one immortal. Consuella says: 'In hunting you I have become you. I have destroyed what I set out to defend.' We can also see this obsession as a metaphor for seeing, for looking at the screen, for reflection on what film provides.

If Zed is the Exterminator who can bring death to the immortals, is there any reason why he should? The ecology of the Outlands, where the Brutals are prevented from overpopulating the world by the Exterminators, has been created by Frayn as an artistic exercise. There is little indication that the immortals of the Vortex are overly concerned with what is happening in the Outlands. The only justification for Zed's creation is the disquiet of Frayn himself, and the character Friend, who both seem to disapprove of immortality. In fact, Friend seems the very model of a deep ecologist, saying he wants death 'For everybody. An end to the human race who's plagued this pretty planet for far too long.' Given this, Zardoz can be seen partly as a manifestation of the popular concerns with ecology and the environment. The ecological movement had grown with the hippie movement. Concern with planetary ecology had slowly moved from the hippies to become more widespread. Around the time of the production of Zardoz, there had been the gloomy prognostications of popular books with titles such as The Limits to Growth and Blueprint for Survival. As John Gribbin notes:

During the middle and late 1960s, concern about the way the world might be going began to move out of the arena of academic debate amongst specialists, and became a topic of almost everyday interest to millions of people. Concern about mankind's disruption of the natural balance of 'the environment' brought the term 'ecology' into widespread use.(9)

The bête noir of the ecological movement has been the rise of science and technology, and the consequences for the planet of an increasingly technologically-oriented economy. Given this, it is perhaps telling that the primitive and brutal Zed - who has been specifically developed by Nature to smash the Vortex and The Tabernacle - discovered all he knew in a library. It was through the library that Zed says he 'lost his innocence'. Similarly, the action that had finally motivated Zed to destroy the Vortex had been the god Zardoz asking the Exterminators to help re-introduce agriculture to the Outlands in an attempt to maintain food supplies to the Vortex. The leisure time required to indulge in 'academic' pursuits is often assumed to have begun with the Agricultural Revolution. It is, perhaps, unsurprising then that Zed's takes on a mission to destroy the last repositories of scientific knowledge. Indeed, is possible to see Zardoz as an answer to Boorman's previous film, Deliverance (1972), in which four Atlanta businessmen canoe down a river seeking to be at one with nature, but instead find themselves increasingly entangled in a battle with both nature and the inhabitants who more fully inhabit nature than they. As Thomson notes, in Deliverance, 'the wishful return to nature of four city men canoeing down an Appalachian river beautifully relates Thoreau and the world of ecological Cassandras.'(10) Zardoz shows, perhaps, that only way to return to a more natural existence is not by struggling against Nature, but by allowing Nature back into the whirling vortex of our world.

If Zardoz is a parable set in an extraordinary world inhabited by extraordinary people - immortals, Brutals, all-powerful mutants - the world of Brazil (1985) is much closer to the world we recognise, a dystopia recognisable as an exaggerated projection of current and past social trends, inhabited by people as ordinary as us.

By night Sam Lowry dreams; he dreams of flying, and he dreams of a woman. He fights to protect her, and flies to impress her, wheeling and diving and looping. The dream of flight is a dream of freedom. From what does Sam wish escape? It is, presumably, from the monotony of life in the sterile rigidity of the bureaucratic hell lovingly depicted in Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Yet Sam's life within this bureaucracy seems cosy enough; he is a favourite of his boss and seems to enjoy his job. From whence comes this desire to escape? Despite one working title for Brazil (1985) being 1984½(11), linking it with George Orwell's 1984, there is little evidence of any kind of political tyranny against which Sam rebels.

Indeed, a film version of 1984 had been released in 1984, the date that Gilliam had intended for the release of Brazil. Both the story-line and the mise-en-scène of 1984 and Brazil contain striking similarities. In both, a worker rebels against the great bureaucratic machine of the state. In both, the tentative rebellion comes to a premature and unsuccessful end. The technology of 1984 is very much a projection of that of 1948 - which, many critics agree, is the actual political setting of 1984 - while the fashions and technology of Brazil locate it anywhere between the 1930s and 1950s. Furthermore, Gilliam dislocates Brazil from a specific moment in time by announcing at the beginning of the film a specific instant at which the action starts - 8:49 - but by setting the date as "Somewhere in the 20th Century". The use of "somewhere" rather than "some when" also dislocates the sense of place. The action in Brazil could be happening in 1930s London, 1940s New York, or, given a retro-line in fashion, 1990s Brazil. The use of time to introduce the film is also another link to 1984, the first words of which are 'It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.'(12)

In 1984, however, we are certain of what Winston Smith is rebelling against; the duplicities of doublethink, Big Brother, the oppression of totalitarianism: 'the boot stamping on the human face - forever.' In Brazil, there is no sense of such oppression; just a sense of mindless bureaucracy. A bureaucracy that has, perhaps, run wild. But there is no sense that Sam Lowry is struggling against a totalitarian or fascist state; indeed, he does not initially seem that concerned with a struggle against bureaucracy. Sam works in the Records Department of the Ministry of Information (MOI). His mother is manipulative and has friends in high places, through whom she is trying to get Sam a job in the more prestigious Information Retrieval Department of the MOI. Sam refuses to work there, preferring his easy life as the bright boy in Records, and the favourite of his superior, Mr. Kurtzmann. However, the chance sighting of a woman, Jill, who is the exact image of the woman in his dreams, leads to Sam taking a job in Information Retrieval, as he believes this is the only way to find out more about her. Thinking that she is a terrorist, Sam sees this as a way to be the rebel of his dreams, leave the system, and lead a new life with Jill. Unfortunately, Sam's plan is thwarted. Jill is killed, and Sam ends up being tortured by his best friend. Eventually, left comatose by his torture, Sam's dream of an idyllic life in the country with Jill (another echo of 1984, begging comparison with Winston Smith's "Gold Country Kingdom"), is reduced to just that, a dream.

Our first glimpse of the Records Department shows it as a whirling machine of efficient bureaucracy. In one long take, Gilliam moves the camera down the corridor of the office, observing workers intent on computer screens, following others as they rush from desk to desk, dispensing paperwork. The shot ends with Mr. Kurtzmann looking over the bustle of activity before him. Or at least, at the pretense of activity; for when Kurtzmann enters his office, and closes the door, the work slows down and the workers start watching movies on their computer screens. This shot establishes a dominant theme of the film; bureaucracy, a mindless human machine in which each worker has his or her allotted job, and yet escape from bureaucracy, the numerous small ways in which workers subvert the bureaucratic machine. By showing the computers and machinery the workers use, Gilliam also directs our attention to the technology in use; although baroque and Heath-Robinsonesque in design, there is no doubt that the world of Brazil is as suffused with technological devices are our own. Indeed, the lighting of Brazil emulates that of another cult sf movie of the 1980s, Blade Runner, the mise-en-scène of which was to have a dramatic effect on the look of sf films over the rest of the decade. Like Blade Runner, Brazil imagines a world where technology simply pervades the everyday world. Whereas in films such as 2001, or Things to Come, technology is fabulous and shiny; in Brazil it is ordinary, it goes wrong, it breaks down. This reflects and anticipates the changes occurring in the 1980s, the decade which saw the rapid growth of information technology in business and industry, and the digital revolution that led to new technologies in the home, such as CD players, home computers and video recorders.

However, the 1980s were also the era of Thatcherism, and seeing Brazil as a response to Thatcherism is problematic. It is tempting to place Brazil as an anti-Thatcher film; for example, Peter Wollen states:

Independent filmmakers of the eighties reacted strongly against the effects of Thatcherism. They responded to the imposition of market criteria in every sector of society, to political authoritarianism, to the “two nations” project of Thatcherism, and to the leading role of the City, in films [such] as … Terry Gilliam’s Brazil…(13)

Yet as Arthur Marwick notes, there was no one filmic reaction to Thatcherism:

It cannot be said that … films [of the early 1980s] conform to one particular ideology, certainly not that of Thatcherism. Indeed, the recurring element of nostalgia, particularly for the war, and the immediate post-war years, may have represented a wish to recreate the era when consensus was at its noblest ... Almost all the films relate to something seen as specifically British.(14)

Perhaps contentiously, this is how I see Brazil. In its mise-en-scène, it harks back to the period from the 1930s to the 1950s, an era of growing social welfare and concomitant bureaucratisation. Linda Ruth Williams notes that bureaucracies are Gilliam's particular bête noir,(15) and frustration at bureaucracy was a staple of sketches in Monty Python's Flying Circus during the 1970s. Indeed, the 1970s represented the final accounting with bureaucracy; Christopher Booker rages:

nothing in the twentieth century has more characterized our cultural disintegration than two inevitable consequences. On the one hand, as with ever more desperation we have sought salvation through ‘welfarism’ and technology, has been the proliferation of a vast, dead structure of bureaucracy, and bureaucratic ways of thought. On the other has been the natural reaction of poor bewildered human beings who cease to see any structure at all in the universe, and take refuge in all the neurotic chaos of rebellion, protest, ‘individualism’ run riot and escape from all forms.(16)

Brazil does seem to embody a filmic reaction to the bureaucratisation of society as characterised in Booker's polemic. Brazil shows us a bureaucratised world and the reaction of certain individuals within that world to escape it. The actions of Sam Lowry are directed at escape from bureaucracy, not the overthrow of some political party. Indeed we do not know if the bureaucracy of Brazil is in the service of the left, the right, of fascism or totalitarianism. Given that Gilliam is an American director, this is perhaps to be expected; as I F Clarke notes:

The English tale of the future has produced the most convincing prophecies of political oppression, and the Americans have written more widely and with greater effectiveness about the repressive potentialities of the mechanized society. These appear as nightmare fantasies of the computers and the robots that nullify the American dream of the free, spontaneous and heroic life … The impulse in this fiction - both technological and ideational - is profoundly American; [American writers] focus their satires on the ways in which technological developments can destroy prized relationships in society.(17)

In light of Clarke's comment, it is useful to compare Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971). Like Gilliam, Kubrick was an American director working in Britain. The source of his film is Anthony Burgess's 1962 novel of the same name. Both the novel and the film make oblique 'prophecies of political oppression'. However, with the Ludovico Method, a technique used as the ultimate social control, we can see perhaps the 'nightmare fantasies of the computers and the robots that nullify the American dream of the free, spontaneous and heroic life'.

A Clockwork Orange relates the story of Alex, the school-boy narrator of the novel. Alex is the leader of a gang whose night-life is an endless round of violence, rape, robbery, and car-jacking. The subsequent death of his last victim condemns Alex to 14 years imprisonment for murder. This is commuted once he undergoes the Ludovico Method, a system of behavioural therapy that associates sex and violence with feelings of nausea and disgust. After two weeks of this treatment, he is released back into the world, but later attempts suicide. He survives, but the news of his suicide attempt, and the role of the Ludovico Method in it, leads to a backlash against the government. While he has been unconscious in hospital, the government has his conditioning reversed. At the end of the film we see Alex imagining himself having sex with a woman in front of a cheering crowd; he then says in voice-over: 'I was cured all right.'

In general, the film follows the book quite closely, even using the slang that Burgess created for his teenagers. At the heart of Burgess's novel is the question of moral choice; as Blake Morrison says:

Alex must be able to choose to be good; he must be an orange, capable of growth and sweetness, not a wound up clockwork toy.(18)

On this question, the dialogue of the characters in the film accurately reflects the dialogue in the book.

Kubrick's film is, as usual, visually sumptuous, and with nearly everything filmed in a pin-point sharp, deep focus, nothing in the mise-en-scène goes unseen. As Alex might say, A Clockwork Orange is a real horror-show treat for the glazzies, Oh my brothers. The film contains many of Kubrick's visual motifs, particularly the shots of long corridors, which we either peer along from a fixed distance as the action moves towards us, or travel along with an actor. Although Kubrick has remained faithful to Burgess's novel, even given the inevitable compression that a film usually imposes, it is in the mise-en-scène that we notice Kubrick's own authorial voice. In particular, it is through the mise-en-scène that Kubrick lays a particular emphasis on sex that is missing from the book. For example, the first scene shows Alex and his gang (his droogs) drinking milk plus (milk containing drugs) in The Korova Milkbar. At first we are tightly focussed on Alex's slightly spaced-out face, but the camera pulls back to reveal his droogs sitting beside him, and then recedes further so that the field of view encompasses the milkbar. We can then see that the tables of the milkbar, even the milk dispensers themselves, are lifelike, life-size models of naked women, posed so as to create a functional object such as a table. This immediately puts sex at the centre of the film, in a way that the book does not. That's not to say that Burgess's novel doesn't talk about sex; indeed rape is a constant threat throughout the book. And when Alex does pick up two girls at a record shop, even though they are only ten years old, he takes them back his house for sex; where, despite their age, they have to:

submit to the strange and weird desires of Alexander the Large which, what with the Ninth and the hypo jab, were choodessny and zammechat and very demanding, O my brothers. But they were both very very drunken and could hardly feel much.(19)

In the film, these girls are instead women, although the simple ice-lollies that the girls lick in the novel are in the film replaced with ice-lollies in the shape of phalluses. Similarly, in the novel when Alex and his droogs come across Billieboy's gang, Billyboy and his droogs are just getting ready to 'perform something on a weepy young devotchka they had there, not more than ten.'(20) In the film, the girl is instead a young woman. We see her naked, struggling, and carried to a mattress in preparation for rape before Alex and his droogs appear looking for a bit of the old ultra-violence, enabling the woman to escape.

Of course, even had Kubrick been allowed to use under-age actors, it would probably have been commercial suicide to film sexual offences involving minors; that would have probably been a step too far. Because, despite all the violence, nudity, rape and drug-taking, A Clockwork Orange was passed by the censors uncut, a decision which, according to James Chapman, 'provoked much controversy.'(21) When Lord Harlech viewed the film with other members of the BBFC, and had to leave before the film's conclusion, he left with the impression that cuts would have to be made.(22) And Tom Dewe Matthews quotes James Ferman as saying that he would 'cut "deeply" into the film's two major rape scenes if Kubrick submits A Clockwork Orange for video certificate in the foreseeable future.'(23) However, though, as Matthews states, 'A Clockwork Orange is the most sexually violent film ever made for the commercial cinema'(24), to an extent the censors' hands had been tied with their previous granting of an X-certificate (although following cuts) to such films as Ken Russell's The Devils (1971) and The Music Lovers (1971).(25) Unsurprisingly, there was, as Chapman states:

an orchestrated chorus of disapproval from the popular press and from the anti-permissive lobby exemplified by the Festival of Light and the National Viewers and Listeners' Association ... A press campaign was orchestrated against the film, and there were several hysterical though unsubstantiated reports that it had led young people to commit copy-cat acts of violence.(26)

The critical reaction to the film was mixed, but the film was nominated for three Oscars and won the Best Foreign Film award at the 1972 Venice Film Festival. Despite this partial acclaim, the continuing controversy around the film caused Kubrick to withdraw the film from exhibition in Britain after its initial run; it has only recently, following Kubrick's death, been available on video.

There is no doubt that Burgess's novel reflected the apparent increase in juvenile violence of the 1960s; as Morrison says:

Burgess had been struck by the development of coffee bars, pop music and teenage gangs. In particular, there was rivalry between Mods and Rockers, whose violent bank Holiday clashes - in Brighton and in Hastings - he was in a good position to observe.(27)

This was also a time of engagement with the problem of juvenile delinquency in the social sciences, which produced books such as T. R. Fyvel's The Insecure Offenders and Peter Willmot's Adolescent Boys of East London. It is possible to see Alex as one of Willmot's adolescent boys:

... much of what [they] are doing, is, in strictly rational terms, pointless and senseless - much of the behaviour is an expression of bubbling exuberance, of animal high spirits.(28)

The concern with juvenile delinquency and violence - particularly violence associated with football and the growth of the cult of the skinhead - continued into the 1970s, making Kubrick's film as topical in 1971 as Burgess's novel had been in the early 1960s.

Kubrick's film does not include the novel's final chapter. When the novel was first published in America, the final chapter was omitted. The final chapter sees Alex softening, feeling 'very bored and a bit hopeless,' carrying around a picture of a baby, meeting one of his old droogs who has a girlfriend and a job. Alex finds himself envisioning a future in which he is married, carrying on a normal life. He recognises, though, that if he were to have a son, his son would act as he did when young, and his grandson too, and 'so it would itty on to like the end of the world, round and round and round.'(29)

Alex's softening reflects Willmott's findings among his East End adolescents:

... there are two distinct cycles in juvenile law-breaking. The first is theft, mainly petty; after the peak at about 14, some boys go on stealing, though most even of these stop by about 19 or 20… The second cycle is in the offences [of] hooliganism or disorder ... This cycle starts later and reaches its peak at about 17…. this second stage ... is predominantly of the disorderly, 'defiant' or violent kind.(30)

Why did Kubrick omit the text of the final chapter? When the novel was first published in America, the final chapter was omitted, a suggestion made by his American publisher. Burgess, in need of the advance, and feeling that his financial security rested on getting his name known in America, did not argue.(31) According to Baxter, Kubrick only heard about the original ending after working on the film for four months.(32) Interestingly, this seems to imply that Kubrick could have included Burgess's original ending, as the film was being created using a semi-improvisational method; there was no completed script to work from. But Kubrick also felt the ending was not in keeping with the rest of the book, and so ignored it.(33) Indeed, Ciment quotes Kubrick as saying that the final chapter 'is, as far as I am concerned, unconvincing and inconsistent with the style and intent of the book. .. I certainly never gave any serious consideration to using it'.(34) This indicates that Kubrick's vision was different to that of Burgess. The original ending suggests that redemption is possible without the influence of the state. Violence, Burgess implies, is a phase that all adolescent boys go through but leave behind. Kubrick's film suggests that Alex will continue his violence into the foreseeable future; and given the option of intervening to take this choice away, or allowing Alex the choice to continue his previous life, the film's message is clear; better to allow the freedom of choice. We can never be sure, however, whether Alex ever chooses a different life; the question of choice is therefore compromised. Without the final redemption of Alex, the film becomes much more bleak and nihilistic. Given the choice, Alex only seems to have one option – to continue his life of ultra-violence: 'I was cured all right'.

While all three films are different in tone and expression, and engage with different themes, all present dystopian visions. These dystopias, while obliquely referring to the political, are more concerned with the consequences of science or rationality for the individual or group. In the films of Gilliam, Kubrick and Boorman, as for other dystopian authors and film-makers:

There can be no doubt that [these] penitential worlds … castigate the deadly sins of the late twentieth century - lust, envy, fratricidal hatred, the extravagant exploitation of nature, the brutal suppression of human liberty ... The authors … toil through the desperate category of anxieties, afflictions and terrors in order to persuade the reader that society must reform - must find new ways of living - before it is too late.(35)

For every utopian film showing science as a triumph of human progress, for every Things to Come or 2001: A Space Odyssey, there is a bleaker, darker, dystopian film, reminding us that Prometheus truly is unbound, that the genie is out of the bottle, and that without our constant vigilance, ignorance or malice will entail unforeseen consequences.


1 I. F. Clarke, The Pattern of Expectation, (London: Jonathan Cape, 1979), p.292
2 Colin Greenland, The Entropy Exhibition, (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983), p.10
3 I.Q. Hunter, 'Introduction', in British Science Fiction Cinema, ed. by I. Q. Hunter, (London: Routledge, 1999), p.11
4 Julian Petley, 'The Lost Continent', in All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema, ed. by Charles Barr, (London: BFI, 1986), pp.98-120 (p.100)
5 Clarke, p.279
6 David Thomson, Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema, rev. edn., (London: Secker and Warburg, 1980), p.59
7 Ibid., p.60
8 George Perry, The Great British Picture Show, (London: Granada, 1974; repr. 1975), p.277
9 John Gribbin, Future Worlds, (London: Sphere, 1979), p.9
10 Thomson, p.59
11 Noted in Linda Ruth Williams, 'Dream Girls and Mechanic Panic: Dystopia and its Others in Brazil and 1984', in Hunter, p.153-168 (p.153)
12 George Orwell, 1984, (London: Penguin, 1954; repr. 1975), p.5
13 Peter Wollen, 'The Last New Wave: Modernism in the British Films of the Thatcher Era', in British Cinema and Thatcherism, ed. by Lester Friedman, (London: UCL Press, 1993), pp.35-51 (p.35)
14 Arthur Marwick, Culture in Britain Since 1945, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991), p.153
15 Linda Ruth Williams, p.154
16 Christopher Booker, The Seventies, (London: Penguin, 1980), p.303
17 Clarke, p 275
18 Blake Morrison, 'Introduction', in A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, (London: Penguin, 1972; repr. 2000), pp.i-xxiv (p.xxiii)
19 Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, (London: Penguin, 1972; repr. 2000), p.36
20 Ibid., p.36
21 James Chapman, '"A Bit of the Old Ultra-violence": A Clockwork Orange', in Hunter, pp.128-137 (p.134)
22 James C. Robertson, The Hidden Cinema – British Film Censorship in Action, 1913-1975, (London: Routledge, 1993), p.147
23 Tom Dewe Matthews, Censored, (London: Chatto and Windus, 1994), p.210
24 Ibid., p.210
25 Robertson, p.148
26 Chapman, p.135
27 Morrison, p.xv
28 Peter Willmot, Adolescent Boys of East London, rev. edn., (London: Penguin, 1969), p.154
29 Burgess, pp.139-140
30 Willmot, p.161
31 Blake Morrison, 'Introduction', in Burgess, pp. i-xxiv (p.xvii).
32 John Baxter, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography, (London: HarperCollins, 1998), p. 257.
33 Ibid.
34 Michel Ciment, Kubrick, trans. Gilbert Adair, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984), p. 157.
35 Clarke, p.282


Barr, Charles (Ed.), All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema, (London: BFI, 1986)
Baxter, John, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography, (London: HarperCollins, 1998)
Booker, Christopher, The Seventies, (London: Penguin, 1980)
Burgess, Anthony, A Clockwork Orange, (London: Penguin, 1972; repr. 2000)
Ciment, Michel, Kubrick, trans. Gilbert Adair, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984)
Clarke, I. F., The Pattern of Expectation, (London: Jonathan Cape, 1979)
Dewe Matthews, Tom, Censored, (London: Chatto and Windus, 1994)
Friedman, Lester, (Ed.), British Cinema and Thatcherism, (London: UCL Press, 1993)
Greenland, Colin, The Entropy Exhibition, (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983)
Hunter, I. Q., (Ed.), British Science Fiction Cinema, (London: Routledge, 1999)
Gribbin, John, Future Worlds, (London: Sphere, 1979)
Marwick, Arthur, Culture in Britain Since 1945, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991)
Orwell, George, 1984, (London: Penguin, 1954; repr. 1975)
Perry, George, The Great British Picture Show, (London: Granada, 1974; repr. 1975)
Robertson, James C., The Hidden Cinema – British Film Censorship in Action, 1913-1975, (London: Routledge, 1993)
Thomson, David, Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema, rev. edn., (London: Secker and Warburg, 1980)
Wilmot, Peter, Adolescent Boys of East London, rev. edn., (London: Penguin, 1969)


Brazil, Dir. Terry Gilliam. Brazil Productions, 1985.
Clockwork Orange, A, Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Polaris/Warner Bros, 1971.
Zardoz, Dir. Jon Boorman. John Boorman/20th Century Fox, 1973.