One Flew over The Cuckoo's Nest Movie Analysis

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One Film Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, directed by Miloš Forman, brought to the attention of the general unknowing public a lot about the way we treat people in our society. Based off the novel by Ken Kesey, the film stars Jack Nicholson who plays the newest in-patient in a mental hospital in the late 50’s. The film, while evoking some laughter and feelings of fear, is neither comedy nor horror. Through complex characters and the portrayal of harsh realities, the story of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” opened many eyes to the flaws not only within the mental institutions in America but in our society as a whole.

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From the moment Randle McMurphy (Nicholson) arrives in the ward, he causes an uproar and instigates behavior that is discouraged in the hospital. Ironically, where most people would question someone’s sanity, McMurphy’s insanity is questioned. When he sits down in his first group therapy session, the viewer sees a clear juxtaposition of him and the other patients as well as the nursing staff. This comparison emphasizes not only his more sane qualities like cleverness and an overall control of himself, but also his more insane qualities like the pathological need for attention. Almost immediately, McMurphy begins scheming to get under the head nurse, Nurse Ratched’s, skin and break out of the hospital. He forms special bonds with the other inmates and ultimately changes the vibe in the ward from depressing to boisterous.

The costume designing in the film dramatically accentuates the different roles of each character. The patients wear dirty, dingy, identical beige scrub sets. The occasional vital character, such as Chief Bromden or Harding, sometimes wear a unique sweater, subtly setting them apart from the others. The nurses and other staff members wear clean, crisp, stiff white uniforms that show a clear hierarchical dominance over the patient’s dirty looking outfits. Most obvious of all is McMurphy, who almost always stands out wearing either street clothes or bright blue scrubs beneath the beige ones. This drastic singling-out of McMurphy compared to every other character draws attention to the fact that he is quite different from all of them. He is neither as “totally sane” as the nursing staff in all white but he also is not “totally insane” like the other patients in beige.

The movie did well to capture the general plotline of the book but neglected to really express the deeper meaning behind the story. By taking out the fact that the story is told from Chief’s point of view, the tale loses a lot of symbolism and metaphors which contribute to the hardest hitting realities that Kesey was trying to display in the book. The whole idea of the ward and the world in general being run like a machine with each person as a different part is taken out. The “fog” that Chief experiences in the books is nowhere to be found in the movie, although that part drew a lot of attention to the problematic way the patients are medicated. Despite these things, the movie had some strong points. The distinction between the Acutes and the Chronics was displayed well in the movie, with the Acutes typically lucid and enjoying activities and conversations together, while the Chronics linger in the background silently and mindlessly pacing or pushing mops. McMurphy’s personality and “craziness” stands out well in the movie. It is one thing to read exclamations on paper and invent tone of voice inside your head, but it is another to actually physically hear and see the pompousness of the outbursts.

The film, while missing some key overall meaning, does an excellent job of capturing the plot of the story and even creates some new images of certain scenes and characters. The film used innovative tactics of lighting, costume design, and camera angles to portray different themes in the story. I would recommend watching the movie, but preferably after you have already experienced reading the book.

10 September 2019

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