Film Post: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

For this project, I chose the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, which coincidentally is one of my favorite films as well (it’s available for free on the Internet Archive).

McMurphy is portrayed as a charismatic criminal who faked insanity to avoid prison. McMurphy seems to think that the institution is a free ride where he won’t be subjected to what he was trying to escape from prison, labor. He quickly begins to intermingle with the other patients, who all have different reasons for being there. Some other patients brought themselves to the institution, some may have been committed, or in the case of McMurphy, they were transferred from the prison system. Most of them don’t actually seem mentally ill. What do we consider “insane?” One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest makes us question the criteria involved. 

The institution itself seems alright. The orderlies seem fairly kind to the patients, but it doesn’t seem like specialized care for each character is really a thing. They are all medicated, with unknown pills. ” “It’s just medicine, it’s good for you.”

The patients seem fairly free within the institution and spend a lot of their time at their own devices. However, Nurse Ratched disrupts the flow quite frequently. She is cruel and restrictive to her patients and strays away from any intensive treatment beyond medication, and humiliation. Her goal is control, not treatment. This is demonstrated throughout, especially since her patients that are shown don’t seem that “insane.”

One example is Chief Bromden, who the staff think is “deaf and dumb.” McMurphy was able to get through to him and speak to him. If a career criminal can do this, but not “trained” psychiatric staff, there’s a bit of a problem. 

This film exposed the conditions of mental institutions in a way that appealed to the common person. Not everybody wants to research institutions, especially before the age of the internet. One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest demonstrated how inadequate institutions were, especially at the hands of untrained and repressive staff who care little for the human aspects of mental healthcare. Nurse Ratched is symbolic of mental healthcare as a whole at the time, insisting on medication and dominating patients rather than treating them.