Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The Korova Milk Bar
The Korova Milk Bar, where Alex and his gang gather, offers a dual image of innocence and transgression. A mother’s milk symbolizes comfort and nurturing. Like mother’s milk, the milk in the Korova Milk Bar flows from women—that is, female mannequins, whose bodies are as white as the milk itself. Far from being symbols of innocent motherhood, the mannequins are positioned in provocative sexual poses. They are also plastic, cold, and unresponsive, and drugs taint the milk that flows from them. Some of these drugs bring divine visions, but the drugs that Alex and his friends take heighten their inclination for “ultraviolence.” The Korova Milk Bar reflects Alex’s own nature, which is childlike and shockingly brutal at the same time. A sexual act lies behind motherhood itself, and the Korova Milk Bar suggests that at humanity’s core lie impulses both of nurturance and aggression, innocence and transgression.
Sex and the Body in Art
In A Clockwork Orange, artwork expresses sexual desire, but it also strips desire of human intimacy and individuality. Instead of sex and love cohabiting in representations of the human body, the body in art becomes simply a source of titillation. The film presents a series of such images. Women, in particular, are represented as being less than human, as mannequins, cartoons, and paintings. The first images are those of the female mannequins in the Korova Milk Bar, set in their sexually provocative poses. Because they lack color and individual features, they suggest cold impersonality. Sexual images of women also hang on the walls of Alex’s parents’ home. For the most part, these paintings are drab, like Alex’s parents, and resemble paintings one might purchase at a flea market. Their one striking feature is the women’s impressive cleavage. Like the mannequins, these images, too, are at once both sexual and impersonal. The paintings and sculpture in the cat lady’s home are modern and overtly sexual. Some are sadistic, with parts of the paintings depicting bondage and dismembered body parts. Like the cat lady herself, the paintings are bold and confrontational, but, like all the other artistic representations of the human body, they are also flat and impersonal.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
Alex loves Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony more than any other piece of music, which is ironic because Beethoven meant to express the heights of human goodness rather than depravity. Through the four movements of the symphony, Beethoven traces humanity’s ascent. The symphony starts by depicting the plight of offenders in the lowest rungs of hell. In the second movement, humans find happiness in everyday pleasures. In the third movement, they turn to religion. In the fourth movement, the finale, Beethoven aimed to express a vision of humanity that had traveled spiritually from the depths of despair to the heights of fulfillment and glory. What Beethoven hoped the symphony would communicate, however, is quite different from what Alex hears.
In A Clockwork Orange, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony punctuates the heights and depths of emotion Alex experiences, just as Beethoven hoped the symphony would express the heights and depths of human experience. The symphony literally drives Alex to his lowest point, when he jumps from Mr. Alexander’s window trying to escape the sickness Ludovico’s Technique has made him feel whenever he hears it. In turn, he knows he is cured of the effects of Ludovico’s Technique when the minister of the interior plays the symphony for him and he no longer feels sick. Unlike Beethoven’s vision, for Alex, the glory of the final movement represents simply his own personal glory.