This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
, a place of rebellion exhibited by a energetic, flamboyant, wise-guy anti-hero against the Establishment, institutional authority and status-quo attitudes (personified by the patients' supervisory nurse). Expressing his basic human rights and impulses, the protagonist protests against heavy-handed rules about watching the World Series, and illegally stages both a fishing trip and a drinking party in the ward - leading to his own paralyzing lobotomy. The film's title was derived from a familiar, tongue-twisting children's folk song. The one that flies over the cuckoo's nest [the mental hospital filled with "cuckoo" patients] is the giant, 'deaf-mute' Chief. An energetic, swaggering, wisecracking, non-conformist, rebellious patient/prisoner Randle Patrick "Mac" McMurphy, 38 years old, is escorted into the ward where he meets some of the bizarre, memorable patients/inmates (most of whom are voluntarily committed):
• • •
a silent, dignified, huge and towering Indian giant "Chief" Bromden, aka "Broom" - a "deaf and dumb Indian" "as big as a god-damn tree trunk" - with a father blinded after many years of alcoholism a pathetic, incessantly stuttering, paranoid boychild, thirty-year old Billy Bibbit - shy, virginal, impressionable, and deathly afraid of his mother an insecure neurotic Charlie Cheswick lacking self-confidence
McMurphy is assigned to a ward supervised by a consistent, bureaucratic authoritarian named Nurse Mildred Ratched and soon senses he must battle her, antagonized by her emasculating, slightly sadistic, and domineering attitude in a chaotic group therapy session. While the non-restricted patients board a field trip bus during a restorative outdoor exercise period, he teaches those left behind, including the Chief, an "old Indian game" - basketball, in a fenced-in court. "It's called, uh, put the ball in the hole." With card-shark skill, he introduces card games and black jack gambling (betting cigarettes) to the dull monotonous routine of the inmates. First with subtle mind games, he rebels against correct behavior and the rules of the hospital laid down by the self-righteous and cooly-controlled Nurse, unwilling to yield to her power over his life-affirming spirit and cunning manhood. The patients are organized and controlled through a rigid set of authoritarian rules and regulations that McMurphy questions. The contest of wills with the Nurse is played out as a struggle to win the other inmates over to his way of thinking and behaving by establishing a political majority, to lead various group insurrections, and to emphasize how they have been denied their freedom of will. In a group therapy meeting, McMurphy begs Nurse Ratched to rearrange the "carefully worked out schedule" so that the inmates can watch the opener of the World Series baseball game on TV. To intimidate his liberating challenge to the leadership of the ward and to cause no disruption to the ward's precise schedule, she refuses: "Some men on the ward take a long, long time to get used to the schedule. Change it now and they might find it very disturbing." The Nurse proposes a vote to decide the matter, knowing that authority is on her side against the slavish, malleable, drugged-out patients. Only three votes support the request and he can't believe it: "What is the matter with you guys? Come on! Be good Americans." In a dramatic, riveting, and memorable scene, McMurphy strains and struggles valiantly to pick up a tremendous marble wash station, gritting his teeth - but he cannot lift it. As he strides from the room, he turns toward the patients, refusing to acknowledge defeat, maintaining by his example that it is better to try and fail than to meekly accept an unsatisfactory status. During the next therapy session, Nurse Ratched determinedly presses Billy with questions about emotional disturbances resulting from a domineering mother. By controlling the patients, she serves her own ego needs rather than the therapeutic needs of the patients. There is another vote about watching the second game of the World Series. McMurphy encourages his usually compliant and spiritless fellow patients. Nine votes are counted in the therapy group and McMurphy senses victory in this round over her. But Nurse Ratched refuses to have the other inmates won over to him and changes the rules to defeat the proposal. When the Chief slowly raises his hand, McMurphy is elated, but the steely-willed Nurse rejects the vote of 10 to 8 and forbids them to watch television. She claims that the vote when the meeting adjourned was 9 to 9. In the most well-remembered sequence in the film, McMurphy pretends to be enjoying the second World Series baseball game on TV in a contest of wills with the Nurse. He inventively re-creates the excitement of the game. His excitement proves infectious the other patients join him and look up at the dark television screen that reflects their faces - they almost believe that the game is real. In another evaluation session with Dr. Spivey, the doctor offers his diagnosis of McMurphy's mental health state: "I don't see any evidence of mental illness. I think that you've been trying to put us on all this time." To prove a point about the fine line between normality and abnormality, McMurphy demonstrates some stereotypical "crazy" behaviors; "Is that crazy enough for you? You want me to take a s--t on the floor?" In one of the film's funniest sequences, he hijacks the field trip bus and escapes with his fellow inmates for a wild fishing field trip. On the way, he picks up a prostitute friend named Candy. McMurphy flaunts his disobedience
and convinces the charter boat harbor manager that the men are a group of doctors. Although the group is jubilant during the liberating trip, the boat actually spins in circles on the open water when Cheswick takes the wheel. The inmates come back with a full catch of fish and smiles on their faces - their holiday away from the hospital has done them more good than a therapy session. They are greeted at dockside by the police and Dr. Spivey. In a meeting in Dr. Spivey's office, the institution's doctors agree that McMurphy is "dangerous" and possibly a threat to society, but probably not insane. Nurse Ratched wants to keep McMurphy in the hospital, not to "help him" but because she is determined to control him and break him. McMurphy asks Nurse Ratched and the other patients about his indeterminate length of stay and realizes that most of the patients are voluntary and self-committed, and have the freedom to leave at any time if they choose. The inmates are not crazy at all - merely helpless misfits in the outside world, and accepting of their fate in the walls of the institution. To all of the inmates, he tells them that they are no more insane than the Nurse or any of the asylum wardens. Inspired by McMurphy's instigating, "challenging observations," the patients begin to use their minds and express their feelings, questioning the authoritarian Nurse and the system that keeps them locked up. However, the therapy session degenerates when the patients end up fighting with each other over cigarettes. McMurphy smashes his fist through the glass panels of the Nurses' Station and seizes a carton of cigarettes. When a guard tries to restrain him, they get into a vicious wrestling match and fist-fight. The Chief enters the struggle to help even the odds. As punishment, Cheswick, McMurphy, and Chief Bromden are shackled and sent upstairs to the 'Disturbed' ward to receive electro-shock treatments. There while waiting on a bench, McMurphy realizes, to his surprise that Bromden has faked being deaf and dumb to close himself off from a hypocritical society. They plan an escape together. Later after his treatment, McMurphy walks zombie-like into a therapy session in progress on the ward, and the inmates respond affectionately to his return as he sparks them back to life. He jokes to Billy about the effectiveness of shock treatments. McMurphy's last bold victory overextends his reach, when he plans a pre-escape party with alcohol and prostitutes. After bribing the night watchman with booze, he smuggles two girlfriends, Candy and Rose into the ward for a wild drinking party. The patients enjoy themselves, the entire ward is quickly destroyed. McMurphy has an opportunity to leave, but hesitates when young Billy Bibbit expresses disappointment his departure - and then wishes a last-minute "date" with Candy. McMurphy persuades Candy to sleep with Billy so that he can experience life's fruits and lose his virginity. The next morning, the ward orderlies find the place in a shambles. McMurphy has drunkenly fallen asleep on the floor. Nurse Pilbow discovers Billy Bibbit in bed with Candy in one of the rooms. The patients applaud his conquest when he joins them in the ward, smiling from ear to ear. But Billy is forced to "explain everything," and made to feel guilty about experiencing and enjoying sex. Threatening to inform his mother about his behavior, thereby emasculating him, the repressive Nurse knows how to exploit Billy's weaknesses and torment him. There are disastrous results - Billy begins stammering again and feels so guilty and self-hating that he commits suicide by slitting his own throat. McMurphy is unable to make a quick break for it through the window in time but might have escaped to freedom during the confusion. But he goes beserk beyond control when he learns of Billy's death, feeling personally responsible for his new-found friend. When the Nurse authoritatively instructs everyone to "calm down" and "go on with our daily routine," he attempts to strangle her for having cruelly contributed to Billy's suicide. In retaliation, McMurphy is restrained and led away. Rumors spread that he has escaped, or that he has been brought upstairs and is "as meek as a lamb." In the middle of the night, McMurphy is returned to the ward lobotomized, glassy-eyed, catatonic, totally passive, and obediently captive. In the film's conclusion, inmate Chief Bromden realizes that "Mac" has had surgery on his brain. [A frontal lobotomy is the surgical severance of nerve fibers connecting the frontal lobes to the thalamus, commonly practiced in the 1930s-1950s on mentally-disordered patients.] He knows that McMurphy has lost his vital vigor and will never be able to escape with him to Canada. He hugs his friend and then ends his misery to free him from the bondage of his existence in an act of mercy killing. Bromden smothers and suffocates McMurphy with a pillow. Then, with his tremendous strength and inspired by McMurphy's liberating example, proving that a single person can still overcome oppressive conditions, he picks up the marble wash station from the tub room and smashes through the window with it. He escapes from the cuckoo's nest, flying away to the outer worl. The other inmates remain incarcerated in the locked ward of the hospital after everything that has transpired.