One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
What if an alien in the future stumbled upon One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Welcome to Earthling Cinema, where we examine the last remaining artifacts of a once-proud culture and try to understand what human lives were like before their planet was destroyed. I’m your host, Garyx Wormuloid.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Michael Berryman
Directed by: Milos Forman
Written by: Ben Steiner
Analysis & Directed by: Jared Bauer
Starring: Mark Schroeder (https://twitter.com/mark_schroeder)
Edited by: Ryan Hailey
Original Music by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Opening Animation by: Danny Rapaport
Producer & Additional Artwork by: Jacob S. Salamon
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Through Alien Eyes
Greetings, and welcome to Earthling Cinema. I am your host, Garyx Wormuloid. This week’s artifact is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or One Flew Over the for short. The film stars the inimitable Jack Nicholson, who is best remembered as the mascot for the Los Angeles Lakers
When One Flew Over the begins, Randle P. McMurphy has just been admitted to a mental institution, which is like a hotel for your brain. He befriends the other residents of his ward, and starts up a classic rivalry with the domineering Nurse Ratched. Before long, McMurphy steals a hospital bus and takes his friends on a fishing boat to go fishing for fish. Later, after an impromptu brawl, Nurse Ratched gives him shock therapy. Earth women, am I right? I don’t know if I’m right.
McMurphy has had enough, so he decides to escape. Naturally, he throws a party, subscribing to the human credo that alcohol fixes everything. Turns out he’s a pretty great wingman [shot of him putting Billy and Candy in a room together]. But he parties too hard and falls asleep, which puts a damper on the whole escape thing.
Nurse Ratched arrives in the morning and notices a few things are out of place [shot of ward looking like shit]. She threatens to tattle on Billy, so he freaks out and kills himself. McMurphy is none too pleased about this, and tries to hug Nurse Ratched’s neck to death. For this, he gets a lobotomy, which is where they replace part of your brain with corned beef hash.
In the end, the Chief gives McMurphy the old Kevourkian treatment and then shamelessly plagiarizes his escape plan. At its core, One Flew Over the is about the struggle between chaos and order. There’s no freedom without a little chaos, yet to maintain order, there must be oppression. In this shot, McMurphy sees a baby horse running along the edge of a chain link fence — freedom vs. man-made social order. Little-known fact: that horse would go on to star is several more movies, including Seabiscuit, Hidalgo, Wall Street 2.
McMurphy upsets the established routine of the ward, asking for schedule changes and inspiring resistance during therapy sessions. He teaches his fellow denizens to have fun [shots of basketball, gambling] and encourages them to embrace their disgusting human desires [Babbitt with the girl]. McMurphy convinces them that not only are they sane, but they are men, as evidenced by their desire to watch the World Series. As he tells Martini during the card game, the residents of the ward are “real people”.
In contrast, Nurse Ratched is an authoritarian. The first time we see her she is framed by a gate, signifying imprisonment. Whereas McMurphy flies by the seat of his pants, Nurse Ratched is always stoic, and nobody likes a stoic [pause, stare down the camera]. The only time she shows any emotion is when McMurphy has to literally choke it out of her, and that emotion is “ouch.”
Order is imposed on the patients with an almost religious or cult- like rigor. When the patients are given their medicine, one of them receives it on his tongue like communion. McMurphy rejects the communion when he spits the pills out, choosing instead to forge his own destiny, one where he doesn’t have the icky taste of medicine in his mouth. Maybe next time she’ll choose Flintstones.
McMurphy soon discovers that he’s trapped behind not just physical walls, but mental ones as well [McMurphy miming masturbation]. Routine is imprisonment. While many of the mental patients were self- admitted because they felt unfit to function in society, their strict schedule makes them dependent, ensuring that they’ll stay that way. Meanwhile, my strict schedule ensures that I’m never home in time to see my kids, so maybe it’s not all bad.
The sink, an old hydrotherapy console, represents the establishment’s hold over the patients; the oppressive structure labels them as “crazy” and nullifies their will to freedom. McMurphy attempts to use it as a means of liberation, but can’t do it because he’s not tall enough to be strong. Later, when the Chief tries to lift the console, he is successful because McMurphy has made him feel “as big as a mountain,” and also because he is as big as a mountain.
At the end, order has been re- established. The ward is clean, people are taking their medicine again, and Nurse Ratched is wearing a cute new accessory [neck brace]. However, Harding and the other guys still gamble, both as a small gesture of rebellion, and because otherwise cards are just boring.
It seems McMurphy’s influence has not completely disappeared. When the Chief kills MacMurphy, he sets him free, immortalizing him as a symbol of freedom that will forever inspire the patients. He also sets the audience free by ending the movie.
For Earthling Cinema, I’m Garyx Wormuloid. To get a lobotomy of your very own, click the subscribe button.