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Cuckoo’s Intellectual Heritage

Cuckoo’s Intellectual Heritage

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Published by Jaime A Manzano
The Essay Cuckoo’s Intellectual Heritage analyze the film One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest's influences.
The Essay Cuckoo’s Intellectual Heritage analyze the film One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest's influences.

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Published by: Jaime A Manzano on May 10, 2014
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Cuckoo’s Intellectual Heritage By Jaime A Manzano May 10, 2014 Tucson, AZ “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” directed by Milos Forman, 1975, is a movie adapted from Ken Kesey’s novel, 1962, by the same name. As expected, the film and the novel present variations in content, structure, plot, and in the influences. Usually, films are considered to have lesser literary quality than novels because their lack of originality and the limited space available to recreate the novel’s content. Nonetheless, Forman’s interpretation does not diminish in quality; this film does not pretend to resemble the novel, to the contrary, it reaches its individuality breaking with Kesey paternity and tutelage; Forman’s movie satisfies the audience expectations and stands on its own as a unique literary piece, which is rated as one of the best American films of all times (American Film Institute). Nonetheless, both pieces, the novel and the film, reflect the author or director’s personal experience and the social issues of the moment. The present essay analyzes some of those influences on the film, the way they are stated, and their impact on the plot. The film answers to common social issues illustrated in the novel, such as mental control of institutions, denigration and submission of patients through fear and  punishment. The illustration of this process serves the director as a metaphor to point how the government controls restrain society by using a wide variety of resources such as threats, deception and myths. The government’s control has the purpose to sustain the
status quo
 and the elite’s privileges. The film “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” has different influences. It receives the essential influence from the novel itself: the plot’s structure and overall meaning. Kesey’s novel
immediately transforms into an American classic (Douglas). The movie also inherits through the novel, Kesey’s generational and personal experiences. In the movie is also possible to trace some of the experiences, the author has as a social leader after his novel’s publishing. Other influences the movie receives are Forman’s previous life outside the United States, the film producers’ decisions, and the extra literary information that contextualize the plot. There are two sets of generational influences that Kesey receives: the McCarthyism, 1950-1956, who promoted a fierce ideological censorship against the mass media banning supposedly Soviet collaborators and provoking social fear and instability. The other generational influence is the Beat Generation’s rebelliousness that rejects the materialist foundations of the American culture, and promotes the use of drugs and sexual freedom. Kesey served as a bridge  between the Beat and the Hippie generations. In his college years, Kesey experience with LSD in a CIA’s social experimentation project at a VA Hospital in California. At the beginning Kesey  believes in the honesty of the experiment, but later on, he realizes that it has a hidden agenda focused on social control (Magic Trip). However, he discovers the potentiality of LSD. “KESEY: Anyone who takes LSD will come back with a better appreciation of the spiritual world, the natural world” (Magic Trip). The author considers that the use of drugs opens new  possibilities of being, and frees the spirit. So, hereafter, he starts to promote the use of drugs, until they become illegal. When Kesey works in a mental hospital, he witnesses how it treats  patients submitting and suppressing of the patient’s individuality, based experiments, tortures,  punishment and fear. Both experiences give him the insight he needed to learn how the system works and become the core message of the film. The hospital control upon the patients is subtle as the control establishes on society. It hides under the mask of patient’s welfare. In this regard, Forman says in the documentary “A Decade under the Influence” that the worst evil always tries
to resemble an innocent angel who just wants to help you, like the institutions we create that end up dictating what is right or wrong in our lives. Forman’s personal influences originated in Czechoslovakia when the Nazis invade it during the Second World War; during those days he loses his parents. After the war Forman experiences the ascent of the Communist Party in his country, and the Soviet invasion in 1968, which leads to a higher government control upon society and lack of all sorts of freedoms. Fear is part of Forman’s life those days until he flees to America in 1968 (Robinson). Kesey’s novel is challenging because it’s iconic value as an American classic. Forman is warned about his  possible failure due to the existing cultural differences. He is questioned about his capacity to interpret government control over society reflected in the novel. In relation with it, he replies that “in America what goes on the novel is a fiction, but for me is reality” (Forman). He does not consider his future at stake, because of the movie. Forman knows about social control because he has experienced the Communist Party’s control; for the director the Party is the “Big Nurse.” In Czechoslovakia “everybody wish to break the wire and escape to see the world” (Demme). The “Communist Party as a Big Nurse” tell people when to talk, what to think. In this tenor, Kesey and Forman have a similar optic regarding government’s social control which is the general idea that unifies the elements of the plot’s structure in the film. Forman’s experiences as filmmaker are also manifested. In order to perform the change the novel into a movie its plot is adapted and received a more dynamic structure. It adopts a new narrating voice: in the novel the narrator is Chief Bromden, but he is a secondary character in the film, the camera is the film’s narrator. The director uses soliloquy to contextualize historically the piece and transform suggest a political meaning. Even with the changes, the movie still complies with the central message of the novel.

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