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Film / One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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"Jesus, I mean, you guys do nothin' but complain about how you can't stand it in this place here, and then you haven't got the guts just to walk out? I mean, what do you think you are, for Christ's sake, crazy or somethin'? Well, you're not!"'

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a 1975 movie co-produced by Michael Douglas, directed by Miloš Forman, and starring Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher. It is loosely based on the 1962 novel by Ken Kesey.

It takes place in an insane asylum run by Nurse Ratched (Fletcher), who rules over the patients with an iron fist. She has so much power over them that no one dares to stand up to her, until one day when Randle Patrick McMurphy (Nicholson) swaggers into the ward, and things are never the same again.

It is one of only three films to sweep the "Big Five" major Academy Awards—Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay. (The others are It Happened One Night and Silence of the Lambs).


The film contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness:
    • 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.
    • Inverted with Harding, who is described in the novel as looking like a film star. In the film, he looks like an average (or perhaps even slightly unattractive) middle-aged man. 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.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Relatively speaking, the Nurse Ratched presented in the film is a lot less sociopathic than the one in the book. While she retains the domineering and tyrannical behavior, she seems a lot less violent than her book self. Book!Nurse Ratched is introduced as already having lobotomized and submitted to brutal shock therapy several patients before the story even begins, and has cowed every one of her co-workers into submission. In the film no such facts are alluded to.
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  • Adaptational Sexuality: In the novel, Harding was as heavily implied to be gay as was possible in 1960s literature, depicted as effeminate and forced into the asylum for unnamed sexual acts, and getting a long speech about the ridiculousness of the society that condemned him. In the movie, the other inmates tease him by implying that he is homosexual, but he's far from effeminate and is said to have a wife. If he is meant to be gay in the film, he's likely deep in the closet.
  • Adaptational Wimp: In the book Harding, while pompous and perhaps overly verbose, was still quite clever and insightful, coming up with excellent ideas and giving some very cutting lectures about the situation of the hospital and McMurphy. In the film he's more of a straightforward Butt-Monkey.
  • Aesop Amnesia: 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.
  • Alliterative Name: Billy Bibbit, Charles Cheswick
  • Ambiguous Disorder: It is not explicitly stated what mental conditions any of the inmates have.
  • Anti-Hero: McMurphy is a sleazy, violent, and sometimes downright insane convict. He's still not as bad as Nurse Ratched.
  • Ascended Extra: In the book, Taber was a past patient mentioned a few times by Chief. In the film adaptation, he is a main character on the ward while McMurphy is there.
  • Battleaxe Nurse: Nurse Ratched.
  • Bedlam House
  • Big Bad: Nurse Ratched.
  • Big Bra to Fill: The novel makes several references to Nurse Ratched's "oversized badges of femininity", and McMurphy kids her about them multiple times. The filmmakers prioritized accuracy of personality over accuracy of physical appearance.
  • Blithe Spirit: McMurphy challenges Nurse Ratched's unfair rule over the hospital and its sheepish patients, teaching them how to take back their individuality and bend or break the often arbitrary rules they live under. Other than the Chief, it's debatable how much good this does them in the end, though.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: McMurphy.
  • Bury Your Disabled: Near the end of the film, a victim of a lobotomy is Mercy Killed by his friend.
  • Butt-Monkey: Harding.
  • 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.
  • Creator Cameo: Producer Saul Zaentz appears as a man at the inmates' bus outing.
  • Demoted to Extra: Doctor Spivey has a lot fewer scenes in the adaptation, and his whole character arc is removed wholesale. In the novel he spearheads the reformation of the hospital after Ratched is gone.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: The death of Billy inspires McMurphy to attack Nurse Ratched, and the lobotomy of McMurphy inspires the Chief to escape, and one assumes the others escaped through the hole in the window as well, though that isn't shown.
  • Driven to Suicide: Billy Bibbit.
  • Electric Torture: Nurse Ratched uses electroshock therapy this way, giving it to patients who don't actually need it, and without anesthesia.
  • Emotional Regression: Billy, one of the patients, is chronically shy and soft-spoken, an emasculated young man with an intense fear of his mother and an unrelenting stutter. With the help of McMurphy, he manages to have sex for the first time, losing his virginity and gaining the confidence of a man. However, they were supposed to escape from the mental hospital and ended up falling asleep. When Nurse Ratched returns, she calls him out and attempts to shame him. He says in perfect and unhesitant English that he's proud of himself and isn't having any of it. Then she says she's going to tell his mother...
  • Faux Affably Evil: Nurse Ratched is a calm, polite talking girl, who has a lot of love and respect from her henchmen, authority, and co-workers. But the hero Randle McMurphy and other patients know and see her as truly a cold, really evil, and sadistic bitch, who likes to manipulate and loves to control her patients and gives them lobotomies and electric shock torture if anyone opposes her. According to the DVD extras, at one point it got so bad that Louise Fletcher herself stripped to her underwear on set to "prove she wasn't a monster".
  • 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.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Randle Patrick McMurphy, R.P.M., is in constant, often circular (metaphorical) motion.
  • Go Among Mad People: McMurphy feigned insanity and got himself sent to the asylum thinking it would be an easy way out from his prison sentence. He was dead wrong.
  • The Hero Dies: McMurphy himself at the end.
  • Hospital Hottie: Nurse Pilbow and Nurse Ratched.
  • Insanity Defense: McMurphy claims he's insane to get transferred to the institution to serve out the rest of his sentence in cushy surroundings, and is more than a little alarmed when he realizes that 'the rest of his sentence' is no longer the few months he thought it was, but when the doctors decide that he's no longer a threat to himself or others — which, considering he's pissed off the evil Nurse Ratched, could mean an indefinite stay.
  • Jail Bait: Why McMurphy was incarcerated to begin with. As he explains to Spivey:
    McMurphy: She was fifteen years old goin' on thirty-five, Doc, and she told me she was eighteen. She was very willing, you know what I mean? I practically had to take to sewin' my pants shut.
  • 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 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: Jack Nicholson as McMurphy and Christopher Lloyd as Taber.
  • Leave the Camera Running: Done on McMurphy for a full minute at the end of the party.
  • Lobotomy: After McMurphy attacks Ratched, he is lobotomized and left in a vegetative state. Bromden mercy kills him.
  • Mercy Kill: After McMurphy gets a lobotomy, Bromden decides to put him out of his misery by suffocating him with a pillow.
  • Meaningful Name: Bromden, related to bromide, a tranquilizer.
  • Mondegreen: After McMurphy attempts (and fails) to lift the hydrotherapy console in the tub room, he tells the others, "I tried, didn't I? Goddammit." Some audience members heard this as, "I tried and I died. Dammit.", as some metaphorical way of expressing himself.
  • Named by the Adaptation: In the novel, Nurse Ratched's first name is never revealed. In the film, when the hospital committee meets to discuss McMurphy's behavior, Dr. Spivey calls her "Mildred". Also, when McMurphy returns from electroconvulsive therapy and sits down at the group therapy session, he calls her "Mildred".
  • Obfuscating Disability: Chief Bromden IS insane, but he's not a deaf mute.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Adopted by McMurphy to get transferred to the hospital from the work farm he was originally sentenced to. It soon enough becomes clear that he's actually put himself in a worse spot.
  • One-Book Author: Nurse Pilbow is played by Mimi Sarkisian. This is her only movie, but she was also in the play.
  • Orderlies Are Creeps: The orderlies are little more than sadistic thugs, gleefully man-handling the patients who go against Nurse Ratched.
  • Order Versus Chaos: With chaos portrayed as good.
  • Porky Pig Pronunciation: Billy.
  • The Quiet One: Bromden. Until later.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Dr. Spivey. Unfortunately, he has no real power.
  • Sadist: Nurse Ratched is a coldly vindictive Control Freak who uses her position to bully, intimidate, torture and lobotomize the patients in her care. She accepts no challenge to her authority. She is perfectly capable of intentionally driving her patients to suicide out of petty revenge.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Although he has to be persuaded by others into doing it, having sex is what gives Billy Bibbit the confidence to stand up to Nurse Ratched, and gets rid of his stutter into the bargain.
  • Sex Is Liberation: Billy.
  • Snub by Omission: This excerpt from the fishing trip:
    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.
  • The Sociopath: What McMurphy pretends to be to get committed. Unfortunately for him, Nurse Ratched actually is one.
  • Softspoken Sadist: Nurse Ratched.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Charles Cheswick drowns in a swimming pool in the novel, but survives the movie. According to Word of God, Cheswick was spared to make Billy Bibbit's death all the more shocking.
  • Speech Impediment: Billy's stutter.
  • Stupidity-Inducing Attack: A medical lobotomy is used for this purpose, to get rid of a particularly troublesome patient.
  • Stutter Stop: Billy loses his stutter after McMurphy arranges a rite of manhood for him. It doesn't take Nurse Ratched long to break him back down into a stuttering mess, though.
  • Totally 18: This is part of the reason why McMurphy is locked up; he had sex with an underage girl he says he thought was eighteen.
  • Troll: McMurphy's main strategy in his war with the tyrannical Nurse Ratched is being one.
  • The Voiceless:
    • The deaf-mute Chief Bromden who eventually reveals to McMurphy that he's faking it.
    • Despite an impressive amount of screentime, Nurse Pilbow utters maybe just a couple of syllables throughout the entire movie and her entire purpose is to perform Nurse Ratched's orders. Also, the camera tends to zoom onto her face for a Reaction Shot whenever the patients start displaying extraordinary behavior.
  • Vorpal Pillow: Chief Bromden sets McMurphy free from the asylum by suffocating him with a pillow.
  • Wham Line: Mac passes supposedly deaf/mute Bromden a stick of chewing gum and Bromden says, "Thank you."
  • 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 first-person narration in the book is completely lost in a visual medium like film.


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