Tonight, some folks and I were discussing our favorite parts of songs and our favorite scenes from movies. One of my favorite scenes in the history of film comes from A Clockwork Orange. In reaction to a demonstration of the government’s new criminal re-educational program, where the state instills in criminals a revulsion to violence and sexuality through repeated association based torture, a prison chaplain exclaims,
Choice. The boy has no real choice, has he? Self-interest, the fear of physical pain drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.
The response from the Minister of the Interior is one of the greatest moments in cinema:
Padre, these are subtleties. We’re not concerned with motives, with the higher ethics. We are concerned only with cutting down crime and with relieving the ghastly congestion in our prisons. He will be your true Christian, ready to turn the other cheek, ready to be crucified rather than crucify, sick to the very heart at the thought even of killing a fly! Reclamation! Joy before the angels of God! The point is that it works.
As usual, the power of the moment comes from its placement in the film, but it is remarkable. It is a simple, stark, and, in my opinion, accurate portrayal of modern managerial man. Nothing is sacred or off limits; everything has been flattened down to the metaphysical and moral level of a machine. Nature is to be mastered, but before it is mastered, it must be desecrated. To rule godlessly, one must first kill God, and to kill God (for us, that is), one must erase his divine image in man, rendering him no more than a machine. Moreover, it is all done for the sake of efficiency and the common good.