Power, Pyramids, and Pecking Orders in A Clockwork Orange

Kubrick’s recurring motif has ancient origins and eternal significance.

There are many recurring motifs in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, adapted from the novel by Anthony Burgess – classical music, youth slang, sexual aggression – but in the realm of the visual, one of the more powerful and perhaps more subtle is the way the director incorporates a pyramid structure into his scenes and uses it to represent the various pecking orders – family, friends, the social order of youth, society at large – of which our “hero” Alex is a part.

The pyramid is a historical power structure. There’s only room for one at the top of them, and beneath that zenith everything else slopes away, metaphorically genuflecting to the peak’s prominence. Every government in civilization is based on a pyramid structure with a leader, ruler or figurehead at the top and a cascading legion of subordinates beneath them. Religions are built the same way, if you think about it: there’s no higher zenith than heaven.

Being that A Clockwork Orange is inherently about power – Alex starts the film with it, augments it with rape and violence then loses it by the same means – it makes sense Kubrick would want to frame his film in a structure of power, and pyramids were the route he went. Nearly every scene and certainly every pivotal one is framed or staged to evoke a pyramid, and the various connotations of these are discussed in a typically-thorough and erudite video from Rob Ager’s Collative Learning channel on YouTube. Ager starts with an analysis of the pyramid’s significance historically and thematically, then delves into where and how Kubrick deploys them throughout the film.

In my opinion, you can never stop learning about or exploring the films of Stanley Kubrick. Like any great work of art they were meant to be admired time and again, they were meant to conjure devotion from certain viewers. If you’re one of those viewers, you need this video. Ager’s a bit of a Clockwork specialist, too, so this is only the tip of the pyramid of his expertise. After you finish this, check out a couple other essays he’s made on the film here, here, and here.