Stanley Kubrick’s Priest

Stanley Kubrick doesn’t portray the human condition as only depraved power struggles.  True, nearly every Kubrick film depicts the worst tendencies of human nature.  It is no coincidence that at the dawn of humanity, tribes of proto-humanoids fight for control of a water hole.  What propelled the advancement of humanity was the discovery and exploitation of a weapon, in the case of early humans, an animal’s jawbone.  A Clockwork Orange is essentially about one power group dominating another person or other power group.  Alex’s droogs rape, steal, and commit ultra-violence on individuals.  The prison system exerts power over Alex.  Then Scientists exert power over Alex.  Then, after treatment in a behavior-modification laboratory, Alex’s past victims find him and violently exact revenge on him.  Finally, Alex is aligned with the controlling political powers after he is restored to his rapacious previous personality.

Then there is the voice of the priest.  “Goodness comes from within,” the priest tells Alex.  “Take away free will, and you no longer have a human being.”  And after Alex’s cruel behavior modification, it is the priest again who claims that Alex is as evil as ever, he simply can’t act on his evil will.  A Clockwork Orange came out in 1971, a time in which religion was generally rebelled against in society and was often portrayed in the worst light.  The film Papillon is a case in point.  After Papillion escapes from Devil’s Island, it is a nun who alerts the authorities and sends him back to the prison Island.  In MASH, the pious Frank Burns is also an incompetent surgeon, and even blames the death of one of his patients on God’s will.  Countless other films could be adduced.

Then there is the voice of Kubrick’s priest.  The voice crying for free will in human morality and spiritual development is put in the voice of a priest.  Free-will is the essence of human life, what makes us human, the only basis on which real growth happens.  A psychologist could have made the argument in the film.  A philosopher could have made the argument.  But this truth is uttered by a priest–the representative of God on earth.  The only character who doesn’t exert power over another, is the priest, who utters the words, “Goodness comes from within.”  To me, this shows that Kubrick isn’t entirely devoid of spirituality, despite the admitted predominance of human depravity in his works.

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