The theme of this story “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” according to Daniel Woods is “Power is the predominant theme of Ken Kesey’s ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’: who holds power, who doesn’t, who wants it, who loses it, how it is used to intimidate and manipulate and for what purposes, and, most especially, how it is disrupted and subverted, challenged, denied and assumed”. No, it is not McMurphy who flew over the Cuckoo’s nest, or Harding, or Taber. It wasn’t Martini or Cheswick, or Bibbit, Chief Bromden or Bancini.
The journey of crazies that flew over the Cuckoo’s nest was in the asylum, but they were not patients. The mad people in this scenario were paid to be mad. Nurse Ratched, Dr. John Spivey and other staff, like Washington, were salaried each day to come into the asylum and impose dreadful doses of mental (and sometimes physical) hurt on the so-called “nuts” whose lives consisted of white hallways and white floors. McMurphy lost his life because he saw the reality in the asylum, the Cuckoo’s nest. He lost his life because he had not yet been in long enough to grow resistant to the brutal treatment that he received.
He lost his life because he figured out who the real nuts were and, unlike the other inmates, McMurphy still knew enough of fairness to comprehend and want to remove the dreadful unfairness being done to the powerless patients inside the asylum. Randall McMurphy is ushered through the hospital doors by two attendants dressed in white. Among the white walls and floors, McMurphy, wearing scuffed blue jeans, a black leather jacket and a black tight cap, represents a figurative interference of the exterior world entering this sterilized, bitter hospital.
Upon entering the ward that is too become his final resting place, he jokes with the current patients, wears a deceitful smile and a deck of cards is rolled up in his sleeve. Immediately he questions the rule of the institution to require all the patients to take medicinal pills, regardless of their sickness or disease. In just these opening scenes of the movie, director Milos Forman has foreshadowed Randall McMurphy’s future: McMurphy enters the asylum wearing black, the color of death, and right away he shows disobedience against authority by questioning the medication, an indication of his disobedient role for the period of the movie.
McMurphy’s first anxious meet with the clinical system is Nurse Ratched. She is bitter, hardhearted, and really neutral in the lives of the patients. She is worried only with maintaining her unquestionable power and authority over the men in the ward. Forman, in the film however, does not make many attempts to float Nurse Ratched’s concealed femininity to the surface. Forman does not want to mess the minds of the spectators (with Nurse Ratched’s suppressed woman ness) and danger marginalizing the significance of the fight of the patients, which is the center of the movie.
Randall delicately develops relationships with the other patients and encourages them to think for themselves. In one act, he asks the other men in the treatment sitting to choose for watching the World Series instead of the regular TV programming. He rises up in the middle of the session and asks “Which one of you nuts has got any guts? ” He is asking the others to join him in his deliberative effort to undermine Nurse Ratched’s authority. Forman presents this film and plot to us in a direct and simple manner.
The camera will zoom in on a personality without trying to conceal the detail of its being there. As a viewer you can feel the camera moving forward and zooming in and are persuaded to incline into the screen yourself. As this film represents a microcosm of the injustices of the real world, Forman zooms in on characters during critical scenes of the movie to highlight the character’s message. The simple group of the cameras from one character to another repeatedly supports this statement. The location of the hospital is simple (white, white, white) and does not sidetrack the reader from the actual plot.
If anything the simpleness of the ward adds to the audiences’ sympathy for the patients and for McMurphy’s brave attempts to resist the inflexible organization. Forman forces his audience to tolerate and accept the severity of the asylum as if they themselves were in the ward. The movie deviates sternly from the book in its matter of viewpoint. In the book, Chief Bromden, a deaf and dumb Indian, is the narrator and the story is told through his eyes. An omniscient camera that seems to follow the patients however narrates the movie.
There is no outside force influencing how the events are interpreted. This unbiased point of view is how Forman wished it to be; he is known for his ability to accentuate realism within a film . In representing the asylum so openly and realistically, Forman opens himself up to criticism in misinterpreting the books theme. Whereas Kesey reported that he would direct the film so that when the audience left, they wouldn’t be able to find the exit, Forman wanted to create characters that the audience might feel are practically scary, not deceitfully hideous.
Forman’s film is easy to watch as stated in the New York Times “But the brilliance of the film is precisely that is subtle, empathetic realism outlives such vicissitudes”. There is no more plot than need be to successfully represent the struggle of the patients against their oppressive clinical system. I believe that for the idea of filming, Forman needed to generate this strong association between Ratched and Randall. He only had 133 minutes to show the asylum’s intolerant oppressiveness and this hero-villain relationship is one that the audience can easily narrate to.
Nurse Ratched can be easily recognized as a bad character and McMurphy as the gallant rogue that challenges her authority. The movie was so successful that “In February 1976, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest was rewarded by the academy with nine Oscar nominations”. (Entertainment Weekly). When McMurphy returns from getting his second dose of electroshock therapy and a lobotomy, as punishment for his attempt to strangle Nurse Ratched to death, he is barely human. Two doctors tuck him into bed because he is too weak to do it himself. The arrangement has beaten Randall McMurphy at the game of life.
He lies like a vegetable in bed, unaware to the outside world. He is not able to rebel against the doctors. He cannot lead the patients in a rebellion. Chief Bromden sees that McMurphy’s future has been stolen, along with his manhood, and suffocates him to death with a pillow. McMurphy lies dead in bed. In dying this way, his recollection is sealed among his fellow patients. He can die as a sort of martyr for the men in the little microcosm of a world inside the hospital walls. In one sense, McMurphy was crazy. It was optimistic and crazy to think that he could change such a system.