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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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."