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Literature: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew East
One flew West
And one flew over the cuckoo's nest

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey takes place in the early 1960s in an insane asylum run by Miss Ratched, the Big Nurse, who rules over the patients with an iron fist... and her machines of course, according to Chief Bromden, the narrator of this psychological novel.

She has so much power over them that no one dares to stand up to her, until one day when Randle Patrick McMurphy swaggers into the ward, and things are never the same again as he takes everything the Big Nurse stands for and destroys it right before everyone's eyes.

Was adapted into a critically-acclaimed 1975 movie co-produced by Michael Douglas, directed by Miloš Forman, and starring Jack Nicholson as McMurphy. It became only the second movie to sweep the major Academy Awards—Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay—and remains one of only three, along with It Happened One Night and The Silence of the Lambs.

Provides examples of:

  • Ability Over Appearance : Jack Nicholson looks nothing like the character as described in the book, but was cast because of his acting ability.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness:
    • Inverted. Harding was described as looking like a film star in the book. In the film, he looks like an average man - perhaps even slightly unattractive. This may have to do with his homosexuality being toned down a lot in the movie as he was a stereotypical pretty boy in the book.
    • In the book, Nurse Ratched is frequently mentioned to be overweight (the cause of her large ladybags). Louise Fletcher... isn't. She is also described, in the book, as a handsome woman who was probably quite beautiful when she was in her prime.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The movie cut out a lot of stuff. Still very good.
  • Aesop Amnesia / Status Quo Is God: Tear Jerker example. McMurphy challenges Nurse Ratched's authority and unfair rules at every turn and becomes something of a hero to the sheepish patients, leading them to explore and regain their own lost individuality...at least until McMurphy attacks Ratched in order to avenge her driving Billy to suicide and is moved to another part of the hospital and lobotomized. The Chief clearly doesn't forget what McMurphy taught him, but all the other patients seem to, and when the film ends, they're all back to behaving as they did before McMurphy arrived. This doesn't happen in the book.
  • Affectionate Parody: For the longest time, The Simpsons was rather fond of parodying this, leading to a rather severe case of Pop Culture Osmosis.
  • Alliterative Name: Billy Bibbit, Charles Cheswick
  • Ambiguously Gay: Harding at first. It's confirmed when his wife shows up. He admits it, by way of euphemisms, to McMurphy prior to the story's climax.
  • Anti-Hero: McMurphy is type IV. He's racist, sexist, loud, rude, and scams the other patients out of their money regularly. He originally got busted for statutory. But he's the only thing that can get them out of their shells and remind them that they're not a bunch of worthless rabbits. Eventually he genuinely cares about them inspite of himself.
  • Ascended Extra: In the novel, Taber was a Posthumous Character.
  • Battleaxe Nurse: Miss Ratched, one of the most famous in literature or film.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Through her glass window... Appropriately, the Big Nurse's nickname is an allusion to Big Brother. Chief believes that The Combine is the actual Big Brother, while the nurse is just it's high-ranking officer.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: McMurphy.
  • Big Bra to Fill: Nurse Ratched in the book has large breasts, Louise Fletcher doesn't.
  • Bittersweet Ending: McMurphy wins the fight against Ratched, but at the cost of part of his brain, which ultimately forces Chief Bromden to euthanize him by smothering him with a pillow before finally escaping to his ancient tribal lands.
  • Blithe Spirit: Mc Murphy. He's definitely a flawed guy, but still teaches the patients not to fear Nurse Ratched or her arbitrary rules.
  • Butt Monkey: Harding and Mr. Turkle, the night orderly.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Hydrotherapy Console.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Subverted Trope McMurphy is shown to fake being a vegetable earlier after the shock treatment, but regrettably wasn't faking it later on.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Harding. He surpasses deadpan so well that it's hard to tell that's what he's doing at first, but after the fishing trip it becomes much more clear.
  • Driven to Suicide: Poor Billy Bibbit and old Charles Cheswick.
  • Electric Torture: In real life, electroshock therapy is mainly painless and quick but with varying results. For a short time after the treatment, the patient may have trouble forming new memories, but the vast majority of patients feel better and are able to use a wider range of treatments. In the past the shock could damage the body through the reaction to the shock, but modern electroconvulsive therapy is done with a muscle relaxant and a short-acting anesthetic, making it mostly painless. In this book, however, it's... well, Electric Torture, and that portrayal had a worrying amount of impact on medicine. Doctors were shamed out of using EST for decades after the release of Cuckoo's Nest, despite its generally positive results.
  • The Film of the Book: Made in 1975. Kesey didn't like it (mainly due to the massive changes), but it was critically acclaimed and became one of only three films to win all of the "Big Five" Oscars (best picture, screenplay, director, actor, and actress). Kesey's reaction was no doubt also fueled by the fact that he received no money for it.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Chief Bromden acts as the narrator for the book.
  • Gag Boobs: Nurse Ratched. The book makes several references to the Big Nurse's "oversized badges of femininity", and McMurphy kids her about them multiple times, knowing that she resents having such a prominent set of breasts.
  • Gentle Giant: Bromden measures at a staggering 6 ft, 8in.(203 cm), but is as timid as the other inmates. Until he apparently finishes MacMurphy's "training program".
  • The Hero Dies: McMurphy himself at the end.
  • Hate Sink: Nurse Ratched. According to the DVD extras at one point it got so bad that the actress herself stripped naked on set to "prove she wasn't a monster"
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Candy and Sandy.
  • Hospital Hottie: Nurse Pilbow, at least in the film. In the book, the inmates comment that Nurse Ratched would be quite attractive if she weren't so emotionless and intimidating.
  • Insanity Defense: That's what got McMurphy onto the wing in the first place. Deconstructs it a lot, since it becomes clear to McMurphy at several points that he's ended up in a worse spot.
  • Irony: The entire plot is a large-scale example of situational irony. McMurphy cons his way into being committed because he's too lazy to serve out a light sentence on the work farm for statutory rape. The fact that Murphy knows he doesn't belong there makes him chafe with the staff and ends him up not only labelled genuinely insane, but also he was lobotomized... and then DEAD.
  • Jail Bait: Why McMurphy was incarcerated to begin with.
    McMurphy: She was fifteen years old going on thirty-five, Doc, and she told me she was eighteen.
  • Jaywalking Will Ruin Your Life: McMurphy got into this whole jail to mental hospital to lobotomy and ultimately to death situation because he committed statutory rape on a fifteen year old girl. At the time of the book's publication (1962) and the time of the film's release (1975) statutory rape of the kind involving an adult and a teenager was considered to be less of an issue than it is considered to be today.
  • Karmic Trickster: Deconstructed with McMurphy, since he lacks the usual Karmic Protection.
  • Large Ham: Movie-wise, Jack Nicholson and Christopher Lloyd, of course.
  • Last Name Basis: Compare: The patients all call each other by the last names, while the Big Nurse has them on a first-name basis.
  • Lobotomy:
    • The patient who was an angry lunatic before he undergoes the procedure becomes an empty shell after his lobotomy. His eyes are described as being like burnt-out lightbulbs.
    • After McMurphy attacks Ratched, he is lobotomized and left in a vegetative state. Bromden mercy kills him.
  • Leave the Camera Running on McMurphy for a full minute at the end of the party.
  • Mad Bomber: Scanlon. We're never told whether or not he has ever acted on his urges, but he is the only Acute patient other than McMurphy who is committed involuntarily.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Nurse Ratched calls McMurphy "McMurry" as a power play. McMurphy lets her know (without stating it straight out) that he knows it's intentional.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin:
    • In the novel (though not the film) McMurphy claims to have lost his at the age of TEN. Though he may be lying to impress the others.
    • As for Billy, it's implied, though never outright stated, that he was a virgin until he slept with Candy.
  • Messianic Archetype: McMurphy. Lampshaded when he and 12 other guys all go fishing. In the book, Harding compares the EST victim to Jesus on the cross. McMurphy is also friends with a prostitute called Mary. Bromden describes McMurphy as a "giant sent from the sky to save us." Billy Bibbit commits suicide after betraying him.
  • Mercy Kill: After McMurphy gets a lobotomy, Bromden decides to put him out of his misery by suffocating him with a pillow.
  • Mind-Control Conspiracy: Chief Bromden vs. the Combine.
  • Mind Screw: Sometimes Bromden will go off on bizarre tangents that can make things very difficult to follow if you aren't paying attention.
  • Missing the Good Stuff: McMurphy is very unhappy about being prevented by Nurse Ratched from watching the World Series on television. Subverted when he entertains himself and the other inmates by "announcing" an imaginary game while staring at the darkened TV screen.
  • My Beloved Smother: Billy Bibbit is terrified of his mother, though we don't know why as we don't even hear from her or see her.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: This excerpt from the fishing trip of the movie adaptation:
    McMurphy: This is Dr. Cheswick, Dr. Taber, Dr. Frederickson, Dr. Scanlon, the famous Dr. Scanlon, Mr. Harding, Dr. Bibbit, Dr. Martini, and Dr. Sefelt...Oh, I'm Dr. McMurphy, R. P. McMurphy.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Chief Bromden
  • Order Versus Chaos, with chaos portrayed as good.
  • Perspective Flip: The Movie is the book told from McMurphy's point of view.
  • Porky Pig Pronunciation: Billy.
  • The Quiet One: Bromden. Until later.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Dr. Spivey. Unfortunately, he has no real power.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Contrast the closeted homosexual Harding (who fears showing signs of weakness) with the straight, boisterous McMurphy who isn't afraid to express his softer side once in a while.
  • Scary Black Men: The three aides, Warren, Washington, and Williams, are horribly abusive to the patients. Warren at least has the excuse of having seen his mother raped by whites as a child.
  • The Sixties
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, Spock Speak: Our garrulous friend, Harding.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • Kesey worked at the Oregon State Hospital's mental ward (then and still notorious for its poor quality) as an orderly and stated that the Big Nurse is based off an amalgamation of several nurses he had worked with.
    • He talked a fellow orderly into secretly giving him electroshock treatment as part of the research, and did a lot of acid. His hallucinations provided the basis of Bromden's schizophrenic narration.
    • When Chief Bromden speaks just after McMurphy offers him a piece of gum, this is a reference to a real incident when a catatonic schizophrenic who had been silent for 19 years finally spoke after he was reinforced with chewing gum.
    • When Harding describes the origins of electroconvulsive therapy, the bit about two psychiatrists visiting a slaughterhouse is not made up: those were Cerletti and Bini, who visited an abattoir in 1938 and got the idea that an epileptic fit could be induced by electricity. The idea that inducing seizures could have therapeutic effects, however, was proposed a few years earlier. Harding's Brief Accent Imitation of them, however, as Germans, is false. As is evident by their names, they were Italian.
  • The Sociopath: What McMurphy pretends to be to get committed.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Charles Cheswick in the movie, the novel has him drown in a swimming pool. According to Word of God, Cheswick was spared to make Billy Bibbit's death all the more shocking.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Bromden.
  • Speech Impediment: Billy.
  • Totally Eighteen: This is part of the reason why McMurphy is locked in a mental institution; he had sex with an underage girl whom he thought was seventeen.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Bromden is schizophrenic, and often hallucinates Literal Metaphors and ties things into an overarching Mind-Control Conspiracy.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Poozle."
  • Visual Pun: McMurphy's boxers, depicting white whales, which was given to him by a literary student because he "was a symbol."
  • Wham Line: The book being from Bromden's perspective and the movie from Mac's provides us with two contrasting reveals, both of which are provided by a single line: in the movie, Mac passes supposedly deaf/mute Bromden a stick of chewing gum and Bromden says, "Thank you." The book's Wham Line is possibly less impactful on the story, as it is more illustrative of a character than something that fundamentally changes our perception of them, but it still comes as a shock: we know Bromden is faking being deaf/mute right from the start. What we don't know until roughly the halfway point is that Mac has him figured out quite early on: Chief reacts when Mac warns him about the black aide coming to which Mac responded with a snicker and "they told me you was deaf."
  • White Male Lead: While the original novel is narrated by Bromden, a Native American, the film makes McMurphy into the lead. Justified because the main conflict involves McMurphy and Nurse Ratched, and Chief Bromden's 1st-person narration in the book is completely lost in a visual medium like film.


ChinatownAFI's 100 Years... 100 MoviesThe Grapes of Wrath
The Maltese FalconAFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies ( 10 th Anniversary Edition)Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
One Day in the Life of Ivan DenisovichLit FicOn Heroes and Tombs
MatineeThe SixtiesA Serious Man
On the WaterfrontRoger Ebert Great Movies ListOne Froggy Evening
Night MovesFilms of the 1970sOne of Our Dinosaurs is Missing
On the BeachCreator/United ArtistsOne, Two, Three
On My HonorSchool Study MediaOranges Are Not the Only Fruit
BadlandsUsefulNotes/National Film RegistryBlade Runner
The Towering InfernoAcademy AwardBarry Lyndon

alternative title(s): ptitleel2m82z7; One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest; One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest
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