Sunday, July 17, 2011

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest: Provisions Of The Normal

When we put our faith in the society and institutions therein to decide the rules of living, we can either believe we are coming at a social agreement or realize that it just leads to greater ambiguities as to where, and much more importantly how, we really draw the line on pertinent issues. This is what the story is all about. We see here all kinds of ambiguities and the processes by which we try to delineate norms and laws. It talks of going through legitimate channels in hopes of negotiating what we want. And yes, individuals who are judged as mentally unstable have the same access to it. After all, isn’t the point of them being in the asylum one of the many products of social ambiguities too?

Two logical assumptions support the existence of asylums- the first being a societal filter to segregate the able-bodied from the incapacitated and the second being a restoration, or in more grieve cases, a reset factory for a deviant individual to be possibly reintegrated to society. Strange, but with regards to the second assumption, it’s as if the focus of Milos Forman’s movie rarely lingers in the asylum’s creed of societal reintegration. Ironically enough, it presents what seems to be a case of a micro-society with its set of well-imposed conformist protocols and a small political community stricken with a dictatorship hiding behind a veil of democratic practices.

Originally based from Ken Kesey’s novel (1962), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) narrates the story of a boisterous man named Randall Patrick McMurphy whose shrewd crazy act lands him in an asylum facility under the rule of Nurse Ratched. In an environment that runs on predetermined, clockwork-precision activities, McMurphy’s find himself in a betting game to go around the rules according to his satisfaction with the ultimate goal of bringing down the nurse from her tyrannical stronghold. Beneath the surface of the plot, we could see an intricately woven context of power (or the abuse of it), social determinism, and concepts such as democracy, efficacy and finally, participation.

On a symbolic level, Nurse Ratched is deemed as the system. With an overarching power to the administration and the patients under her ward, her command goes beyond meetings and medication and trickles down to policy creation and mandates as to how every patient should conduct themselves. Such capacity is familiar to being an absolute power if it weren’t for the fact that a kind of democratic façade is under operation. It’s a façade because of the fear of standing up- or in this case, raising your hand. The overly allocated power at the nurse’s hand is an enough source of intimidation, if not the coercion at times of great need. Clearly, between Nurse Ratched and the patients, there’s a distinct relationship of the oppressor and the oppressed. This is where McMurphy’s character enters like a case of messianic complex. Whether his intention maybe noble or just for his commitment to gambling, he intends to deliver his fellow acute patients from their predicament whether or not they realize that they want to be pulled out from it in the first place.

If we analyze closely, the main problem why patients are too afraid is because of their deterministic nature. Come to think about it, the situation makes sense. These people diagnosed of being unable to thrive in a society are made to accept that they are deviant, that they do not follow or have a grasp to social norms that are given by nature. Once within the asylum, they are brainwashed that the only solution to re-enter society is to be a conformist. Thus, it comes no surprise if they wish to follow to every word of the nurse and much more to fear of going against it. The result is a clear example of how one grants permission to be oppressed and for the oppressor to gain more power. According to Ferguson (1997) as cited by Fischer (2010), “to avoid this [determinism-responsibility] problem, any explanation of how systems of domination are supported by dominators and submitted to by subordinates must avoid being deterministic in a way that implies that both those who benefit and those who are oppressed are not morally responsible for challenging and resisting those systems.”

If his mates are social determinists, McMurphy stands on the extreme opposite side of the spectrum. His character clearly portrays rebellion and nonconformism at every turn. He clashes with the system since day one and challenges to give life to their feeble democratic voting system over policies (though they seldom work) and even to break rules for his mere entertainment. Come to think of it, he is crazy in a way normal, free-minded people could be once they are stripped or denied of their duly accorded rights, even if it’s just voting for the right to witness the World Series.

The thrill of watching the film begins when McMurphy spreads what is known as internal efficacy, that is, ‘the confidence in the ability to influence public affairs’ (Norris, 2005). There are no longer silent meetings where the nurse has to prod them continuously to extract a response. Instead, speeches are done more often (and voluntarily) along side with petitions and critical questioning as to the existence of policies. They finally found there voice and demands change. If parallelized in the bigger society, such changes are barely met without resistance. Especially if there’s a dictator holding on to power. At the start of this change wave, the nurse uses soft power (through intimidation, persuasion and command of office) to keep things in order. By the time it proved to be non-effective, she resorts to hard power (force) as a last resort. This is shown by sending patients such as McMurphy, Chief Bromden and Cheswick to the electro shock therapy after finding their behavior to be ‘disruptive’. And this was seen later on too when lobotomy was performed at McMurphy returning him back to the ward as a certified vegetable for life. Of course one can argue that those things are done for purely ‘therapeutically’ reasons. After all, the asylum is meant to cure them. But when it comes down to empathizing with the experiences of these patients, it seems more harm is done than good. By this time, the scenario begins the way it started when patients couldn’t find their voice again after realizing that there’s no point of fighting with the system.

I’d like to comment too on a certain character that I find to be truly interesting- Chief Bromden. The reason for him being committed to the asylum was not mentioned explicitly. Though implicitly, it might be because of his Indian Chief turned defeatist-drunkard of a father or the World War (or maybe both). Whatever the cause is, in truth he doesn’t deserve to be there the same way that McMurphy entered the premises to escape from work farm. His background story present in the book (though omitted in the movie) gives as another content to talk about. In particular, it’s the story of how the native Indians are displaced of their natural habitat and how, to a wider implication minorities are being undervalued and mistreated by a government who works under the empty slogan of the ‘greater good’. Whether it is turning to a drunkard or being branded as insane, the issue is that these minorities are most likely to suffer ill fate at the mercy of the public majority that does not understand, or intend to understand, the way they live. It is the very reason why Chief Bromden pretended to be deaf all these years. Nobody bothered to listen anyway.

With Chief Bromden’s escape, the conclusion tells us that failure to resolve a social ambiguity may ultimately lead to individualistic pursuits- that our lives above all still is in our own hands. The system is showcased to be hopeless and unyielding. Therefore the only choice left is to break the window, run to the open world, and reclaim freedom through your own means. Who knows, away from repression, there might be better chances of re-negotiating your existence.


Fischer, C. (2010). Consciousness and conscience: feminism, pragmatism, and the potential for radical change. Studies in Social Justice, 4(1), 67-85.

Norris, P. (2005). Political activism: New challenges, new opportunities. Oxford Handbook of Comparative Politics, Oxford University Press

- Liane Candelario

“One flew East
One flew West

And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.”

Presented by a children’s nursery rhyme (entitled Vintery, Mintery, Cutery, Corn) is an entire introductory metaphorical concept to Milos Forman’s 1975 film One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There are two elements that fly in oppositional combative directions that are meant to create an obvious conflict. And one, as mentioned, flies over the cuckoo’s nest (the asylum housing ‘cuckoos’) and seemingly becomes an omnipotent eye and ear to the whole mental institution. The film is set in a mental hospital but it is not a film about mental illness. The title hints of insanity but our anti-hero, Randle “RP” McMurphy is not one to be claimed to be a mental patient. What, then, must the film be exactly about?

In Cuckoo’s Nest, we are introduced to Nurse Mildred Ratched who embodies the full denotation of an iron fist and heads a mental ward where the film is generally set (except for a fishing trip sequence). We are also introduced to free-spirited recidivist criminal RP McMurphy who is to be ‘evaluated’ for his previous actions and is the primary cause of his indefinite stay in Ratched’s ward. The film is, simplistically, an allegorical statement to conformism to the Establishment, to the Man, and to the basic status quo. Here, Nurse Ratched personifies the whole Establishment while RP McMurphy obtrudes in his motives and actions his anti-establishment beliefs. Nurse Ratched, palpably enough, is the one flying to the East and RP McMurphy is the one flying to the West. This makes up the primary conflict of the whole film.

One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is considerably one of the greatest and most unforgettable American films of all time. I have seen it listed on almost every Favorites and Greatest lists, both mainstream audiences to film critics alike. It is great because of its simplistic approach and style and yet how it manifests the makings of a perfectly stitched narrative film. It is unforgettable because even after three decades of its conception to the film world, Cuckoo’s Nest tackled issues and themes that most likely still are relevant and contemporary in every sense of its perception and analysis.

Roger Ebert, in his wonderful review of the film, posed a necessary question for discussion: “Is One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest not a great film because it is manipulative, or is it great because it is so superbly manipulative?” Manipulative here is used in the sense of its ‘scheming’ and not of its ‘controlling’ denotation. But is it manipulative just to the audiences, generally? Or manipulative in the underlying analysis of the film’s sometimes faulty but still workable elements? Its popularity does endure the test of time because the mental patients – or rather, for some, volunteers to the mental institution – are used as mere accessories and not as real individuals to be taken in depth. It is as always remembered and sometimes even categorized a comedy because it is comical, whimsical, and unbelievably false. This strengthens the allegorical nature the film as it is to be taken as – it is a parable, and after all, the metaphorical statement is derived from a children’s folk song.

What is also most effective of the film is its keen and precise detail of its mise-en-scene. Take for example McMurphy’s apparel as opposed to the bland dirty-white uniform of his fellow inmates. He dresses himself in a way that still appears to be part of the norm, that he is indeed, not at all a lunatic that should adhere to the system’s instruction of wearing such passé-looking clothes. Nurse Ratched, however, being the head figure of the ward, is dressed in a way that it exudes a militaristic personality – with her nurse’s costume as if it were an imperative military commanding officer’s uniform, her nurse hat and her usual entrancing black cape. Also, as if acting like a separate accessory to her complete uniform is the silent nurse who acts like her ‘side-kick’ or in a better sense, her executive officer, her second-in-command. These elements -- alongside the wholly locked-up (even from their own personal dorm rooms!) and dull interiors of the mental asylum, the patients’ and volunteers’ uniforms, the glass door separation from nurses to their tending men – all elicit a kind of claustrophobic set-up that seems to choke every air of humanity of its all seemingly sane cuckoos. RP McMurphy is the only contrast to this order, in his dominatingly black apparel (his bonnet, his jackets, and his pants) and is the one claiming anarchic freedom, bringing to his fellow inmates a taste of this freedom as well.

The cinematography and the editing of every shot and reaction shot of the film is also too keen and precise that it exhibits the necessary emotions that it tries to give out all too well. At every morning group discussion, each of the inmates is always given a close-up shot introducing every reactionary emotion they give out to in varying degrees that strengthen the innate trait of every character. Take for example, Charles Cheswick who is overpowered by the inner child in his mind, always cries to get what he wants and stomps his way into tantrums. The stuttering and frightful Bobby Bibbit, however, is usually unspeakable even when the discussion upends into a ruckus. In the fishing trip sequence, McMurphy introduces each of the inmates as doctors and they react, partially in common sense (which as they are not so common at all they suddenly had have), all too humanly as if they did not have any psychological problems at all and were normal people enjoying a bogus all-doctor fishing trip. The close-ups help, especially with McMurphy, Nurse Ratched, and Chief Bromden, because they all present a distinct contrast to every person’s motivation and intrinstic nature. McMurphy usually wrinkles his forehead and puts on an annoyed eyeing-everyone face. Chief Bromden, who fakes his deaf-mute condition, is seen as passive but whenever he looks at McMurphy does he only summon a mischievous smirk. Nurse Ratched’s face-time induces a stern and steely woman who does not want to veer away from schedule, organization, and formality. This effectively brings out the embodiment of every representational elements of the film: McMurphy is anti-establishment, Nurse Ratched is the Establishment, and Chief Bromden is caught up in between two forces that he remains the passive deemed-as-dumb Indian.

Being a social commentary on conformist governments and societies, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’s attributing to this issue ends in what remains to be present in our modern set-up today. McMurphy has such a startling effect on his fellow inmates – always suggesting that they aren’t what they think they are at all, that the man on the street is worse off than them actually – that he isn’t much of an anti-hero at all. What remains a mystery is that despairing line that divided his will to stay for a while (until he finds out that is committed indefinitely) and act as leader-teacher to his fellow inmates and the will to escape, as he is sick of the place, sick of the rules, sick of the Establishment which is, Nurse Ratched. In the end, we find out what he chooses and what remains again, a mystery, is why he chooses to see for himself Bibbit’s bloody suicide spot rather than freeing himself from the closed and claustrophobic system. However, it is not a mystery as to why the film’s narrative chose for McMurphy to stay as they decide to uphold optimism on the Chief’s escape (which sets off a parallel – parallel in the filmic sense of the word – on McMurphy’s failed attempt and Chief’s successful one). The lifting of the hydrotherapy console symbolizes the difficulty – or even, the impossibility -- for escape from the asylum and how, in the earlier part of the film, McMurphy fails to lift it and says: “But I tried, goddamit. At least I did that.” This, however, again brings up another thread of discussion as to what exactly did McMurphy try? He tried to let his boys think in the way of his thinking – live free, even if it meant to die trying. He tried to reform the organizational and carefully worked-out instructions of the Establishment that only aimed to better their living condition in their small institution. He tried to have his boys experience a taste of the real outside world as if to introduce their reintegration to the wider view of society, that it wasn’t at all too difficult as they would think it would be. And at last, he tried to escape as if to say that his job is already done but the locked-up walls of the mental hospital devours his wish as if to say his job isn’t over yet, isn’t fully accomplished at all.

In these interlacing themes of lunacy paired with a conformist system guised in a flawed democracy, to what extent does it become a full mirroring of a larger scale of the social order? It must be then that it serves as an entire metaphor, an entire representation to a wider society, a wider institution. “Forman himself noted that the asylum was a metaphor for the Soviet Union and the desire to escape.” RP McMurphy’s character is drenched with all these desires to escape for his anarchic motivations. He does what he pleases but he dwells in a closed system. This, now, results in a chaotic turn of events that lead to his tragic end. The film has beautifully weaved a man’s tale that tells not exactly of a greater moral victory and certainly not of hopelessness and pessimism of our society’s current status, but the idea of the acceptance of one’s fate – in the sense that fate does not choose where one leads but in the better perspective that one chooses where he leads his fate to.


Ebert, Roger. (2003, February 2). One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). Retrieved from

Dirks, Tim. Filmsite Movie Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). Retrieved from

- Hil PetersenVargas


Fiona Arevalo said...
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Fiona Arevalo said...
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Fiona Arevalo said...

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, had won grand slam in the Academy awards, the first film to seize the Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay since It Happened One Night in 1934. Hence, to say that this is a brilliant film is an understatement. From the many positive and praise-filled reviews that it had received over the past decades, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is beyond doubt one of the greatest American films ever produced.

The film was released in 1975, right after the Vietnam War. It reflects the situation the veterans found themselves at returning from a war that no one supported. They shared the feelings of isolation and abandonment with the patients of the asylum. For a time, these veterans had also been outcasts of the American society.

One observable theme of the film, as already mentioned in the two write-ups, is the loss of personal freedom. This had been constantly exhibited in the film with recurring patterns of barriers, locks, barbed wire fences, chain-linked cross windows and shackles. The walls of the ward are all the same color, there is only one door out, goodies are locked away and an intercom dictates routine. The patients cannot see directly what lies outside, what lies for them outside, since their view of it had been blocked. Their isolation from their surroundings further isolates them from themselves and worsens their condition. And throughout the film, the subjects’ faces are shot behind bars and wire mesh to emphasize their captivity.

Conformity and social determinism are the major threats to freedom as presented in this film. The mental asylum served as a microcosm of an authoritarian state with Nurse Ratched as the power-hungry and all-knowing tyrant. As head nurse, it is of her duty to promote the welfare of her patients, but it is not their betterment that she was after for but control. With her desire to keep absolute power, she sacrifices the mental health and sanity of her patients. She keeps them docile, heavily medicated, isolated, childlike and dependent.
In this manner, she’s able to dictate and control all their actions and inflict great fear toward her authority. The glass of the nurse’s station symbolizes the barrier between the patients and power, the gap between the outcasts and the accepted. This is the very boundary which the patients are forbidden to cross. It emphasizes the subordination of the patients to the authorities of the asylum—the nurses and orderlies.

This assumed authority was challenged when Randle Patrick McMurphy came into the picture. McMurphy questions the routine, the rules, the system and the very institution itself. Unlike the others, he resists the perplexed system—“I don't like the idea of taking something if I don't know what it is." He is obviously not mentally-ill, but his objection to the conformist society and to the blind authority makes him as much a threat like the worst kind of sociopath.

Victoria Tiangco said...

“Which one of you nuts has any guts?” –Randle McMurphy

Set in a mental institution, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a film about the rebellion of Randle McMurphy against norms and the tyrannical rule of the Big Nurse Ratched over the mentally challenged patients. The drastic mood swings, fits of personality disorders added to the manipulation of the institution to crack up the “lunatics”, make us question our notion of sanity. Instead of correcting the “mental disorder” of the patients, the Big Nurse uses therapy sessions and dead set on schedules to further emasculate and subdue them fit in the norms of insanity.

But what does it really mean to be insane? The exterior and interior definitions of this concept vary depending on the society who constructed its meaning. There is neither a single universal idea of insanity nor an accepted criterion of the evaluation of its condition. It is the majority and the powerful who sets the rules of normalcy. However, these rules are not always right and are often based on the “agreement” of the larger society, in this film, the mental institution. The individuality of the patients and their non-conformist behaviours locked them up in a prison, only to be made an ideal “cuckoo.”

Who is the powerful and bigger class to impose the rules governing our everyday lives? And why is there a pressure for us to conform? As social beings, we desire to connect with people and feel accepted by the society at large. Since our childhood, we are sensitized to obey and behave properly to avoid the stares and judgements from others. However, what is wrong with non-conformity? McMurphy embraced his oddity and went against the dictates of Nurse Ratched. He stood up for what he wanted and for what he believed in. The fishing trip would not be possible if not for the transgressing of the boundaries of the institution. What limits the potential of these inmates is the institution itself enclosing them in walls of insanity. Billy Bobbit, after having sex with McMurphy’s friend, was able to overcome his stutter and fear until the Big Nurse threatened him of persecution from his overbearing mother.

It is not only the powerful and the wealthy who can influence society and its norms. We are also part of the fabric weaving the society who can challenge its normalcy and question the malpractices of its institutions. The beauty of the film is that it exactly shows how a single person, McMurphy, can spark an uprising from his inmates against the tyrannical rule of the Big Nurse. Only by challenging the status quo can we bring about changes in the system, once deemed to be fixed and concrete as the hydrotherapy console. However, lifting the unyielding console has its consequences. Defying the institution of power armed with force can turn a once lively man who loves to fornicate and aggress into a lifeless and impotent inmate.

What happened to McMurphy can be compared to the freedom fighters and radical activists who struggle for their rights by protests and disobedience to the government. As these people gain significant influence in their struggles, many have disappeared, tortured and murdered by the very institution sworn to serve and protect its people. Same goes with the asylum and its aim of rehabilitating its patients for the possible reintegration to the society. In actuality, it is the Big Nurse who killed Billy Bobbit and Randle McMurphy after being programmed to subjugation in his brain surgery.

McMurphy was later liberated by Chief Bromden from the prison of conformity when he was able to lift the console and hurl it to the window for sweet freedom.

It takes guts to be able to take on the challenge of reforming the society and standing up tall to the institution that bears down its control upon its people.
-Victoria Tiangco

royalprincerpineda said...

Part 1

The film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, made me aware of the living conditions in a mental hospital and the context of being treated as a mental patient unfit to be integrated in the society.

The movie started with an unusually mischievous person named R. P. McMurphy, who was sent to the mental hospital for evaluation. He had previously committed several crimes, such as statutory rape and some forms of violence. Though I perceived him as a crazy character, the movie hinted that he would do something different inside the mental institution. It seemed to me that the lighting when the camera hits McMurphy is a bit more vivid as compared to the rest of the setting, which was predominantly white and gray and gave me an impression of a gloomy feeling inside an asylum. We may consider this contrasting lighting a foreshadowing device.

And indeed, all his antics were launched as he stayed with his fellow inmates. He introduced all his hedonistic activities inside the asylum—he played gambling with the delusional, he drank alcoholic beverages with the paranoid and childish; he let the inexperienced have sex; he played basketball with the deaf and uncomprehending; he escaped and went fishing with the hesitant and fearful. He did all these, as if they regarded themselves as normal human beings in a society. He showed his inmates that they were no crazy people, capable of doing what ‘normal’ people can do. Anyway, who defined them as ‘mentally ill’ in the first place—is it the mental institution that implanted it in their entirety, or is it the society that labeled them as deviants? Ms. Candelario pointed out that one of the societal problems is the distinction between deviants and non-deviants.

On the other hand, Nurse Ratched is in-charge of the ward where McMurphy and the rest of the inmates were staying. She imposed a daily routine that’s boring; she confronted the patients with her intimidating presence; she decided for the inmates what is best for them. She may be referred to as a lady with an iron fist—unyielding and undaunted, who always thought that her decisions will be fit for everybody else in the ward. I recall a lesson in my PolSc 192, which tackled about the Greek city-states and society. In ancient Greece, the city-state defined what is best for its citizens, and this can be likened to the movie’s power relations—Nurse Ratched may symbolize the city-state, and the patients as the citizens.

royalprincerpineda said...

Part 2

McMurphy was the epitome of anarchism in the movie—he broke the rules; he defied the system; and this he also wanted the other inmates to go after. Ms. Candelario is right in saying that McMurphy is messianic because he was the icon of the call for change in their micro-society (in the asylum). Meanwhile, Nurse Ratched can be paralleled to a dictator (or a Greek city-state, as I aforementioned), who had the absolute power inside the ward, and capable of using both hard and soft power to control her subordinates (the patients). Despite certain instances of negotiation for change, McMurphy failed to loosen up the tight system enforced by Nurse Ratched, and it even cost his own wellbeing, as he was subjected to lobotomy.

However, McMurphy’s efforts were not totally in vain. At least, he inspired someone in the asylum to rethink about his own existence and to go beyond the system. Chief Bromden is the one I’m talking about. Pretending to be deaf and mute for all the time he spent with the inmates, he was seen by the others as dumb and good-for-nothing. Motivated by McMurphy’s example, he finally found himself ‘as big as a mountain’ and ready to escape the choking system inside the mental hospital. Although one may argue that he just waited for the right time to escape as the authorities focused too much on McMurphy while he remained silent in between the conflicting parties, I still consider Chief as a ‘roundabout character’—transformed by circumstances into a new character toward the end of the story.

Chief Bromden had escaped from the asylum after lifting up the massive fixture and throwing it onto the window. Earlier, McMurphy attempted to do it, but failed. It may be interpreted that the border between two worlds—of freedom and of repression—had been crossed by someone who gathered enough will and convinced himself that there is still hope outside the system, that he would attempt to renegotiate his existence outside the four walls of the institution. I agree that it is an individualistic pursuit, since he was the only one who escaped. One question in my mind, though, remains: How about the rest of the inmates? Would they still want to be under the tyranny of Nurse Ratched, or would they follow suit and renegotiate their existence in the society? The movie does not answer it; it was left to all of us to think about. The provisions of being ‘normal’ might need to be reexamined.

-Roldan P. Pineda

Margaret Gallardo said...

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

So goes the line Jack Nicholson’s character, Randall Patrick McMurphy, utters in the middle of the movie. This line is widely contested as it has different meanings to and for different people. One interpretation could be “that an ambitious person is more successful than a person not trying to achieve anything.” (“Idiom: a rolling”) Mac was, indeed, an ambitious person because he wanted to escape the asylum which other patients have deemed impossible. This interpretation is most evident in the scene where Mac tries to lift the water fountain but fails to do so. As he leaves the room, he mutters four words that seemed to make an impact on the other patients but most especially to Chief: At least I tried.

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

This line could also refer to a person who is unable to settle in any job or lifestyle and is therefore characterized as unreliable and unproductive. Wandering from place to place, he is unable to establish any ties and/or relationships. The same can be said about Mac. Prior to his stay in the asylum, he has spent considerable time behind bars. He was recently sentenced to a prison farm for criminal assault against an underage girl. Since the girl was only fifteen, it was considered statutory rape. To escape the consequences of his actions, he agrees to be brought to an asylum for what they call an evaluation. In the asylum, he pretends to be mentally unstable to escape his responsibilities in the outside world. Here, he meets a variety of people with individual problems. From the talkative Martini to the stuttering Billy to the American Indian who pretends to be mute, each patient has their issues and Mac finds ways to deal with them. In doing so, he has shown them the other side of the coin. He questions the fact that they are voluntarily confined in the asylum when the people “outside” are crazier.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is the second English language film for Czech-born filmmaker Milos Forman. Although it was produced in the mid-1970s, the issues addressed in the film remain relevant. The film is based on Ken Kesey's 1962 best-selling novel of the same title. The musical score was nothing short of brilliant. To say Jack Nitzsche did a wonderful job would be an understatement.

Margaret Gallardo said...

The film’s façade deals with the struggle for power between Mac and Nurse Ratched. However, when one looks deeper into the situation, one may discover that autocracy is taking place; where one person tries to squash an individual or group of individuals. Nurse Ratched being the former, Mac and the other patients being the latter. “On a less concrete level, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is about an issue that was prominent in the 1970s (and has re-asserted itself with some force in the 2000s): the struggle of the individual against the establishment.” (Berardinelli, 2006) In the asylum, everybody had to act in accordance with the prevailing standards, attitudes, and practices or else they would be punished. Conformity is evident not just in the scenes but also, and most especially, in the uniforms of both the staff and the patients. Garbed in an all white ensemble, Nurse Ratched is characterized as someone who is not inherently malevolent as she believes what she is doing is for the common good. What is the common good? Is it starting and ending a day in clockwork precision leaving no room for allowance?

In my opinion, the film does not really focus on insanity but, rather, on being a free spirit in a closed system. This closed system refers to the government restricting certain acts, events and people to exist. In the film, Nurse Ratched is the government. Her power is not restricted to medication and counseling but on creating, implementing and enforcing rules which she seemingly came up with to maintain order. She makes the rules and her word is the law.

One of the scenes show Nurse Ratched asking for her cap. An inmate brings it forward and she discovers, to her horror, that it has been stepped on and dirtied. “Because a nurse's cap had to be earned, it was highly coveted and bestowed upon its wearer the status of an educated, self-supporting woman outside of the hospital and a well-trained, respected, and dedicated professional within.” (Stokowski) The event that transpired could have meant that the inmates have found reason to believe her ways were not always the best. This was, in a sense, the pinnacle of the uprising. Take for example the scene where Mac wanted a vote to see the World Series on television. Her unfair practices have and still echo the practices of the government at present. Toward the end of the film, Billy stands up to Nurse Ratched and his stuttering has momentarily stopped. He is voicing his sentiments regardless of the fact that he could be instantly punished. Once again, the majority has proved to be a powerful driving force.

The film’s ending is, unsurprisingly, the strongest and most touching scene. It is accurate to say that freedom has been attained both by Chief and McMurphy-- albeit in different ways. The title of the film could refer to Chief as he escaped and “flew out of” the prison. Prison taken literally and figuratively. Figuratively in the sense that he starts speaking again and in doing so, releases himself from the prison that he has placed himself in. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest is an allegory of the government and the system in which we live in. Forty years after its initial release, the film is still as real and striking as ever.


Berardinelli, J. (2006). One flew over the cuckoo's nest. Retrieved from

Idiom: a rolling stone gathers no moss. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Stokowski, L.A. (n.d.). Whatever happened to the cap?. Retrieved from

Rosie said...

It wasn’t curiosity that killed this cat.

It was a combination of alcohol, provocation, and a good dose of anti-authoritarianism that eventually led to the demise of RP McMurphy, one-time statutory rapist and rebel-with-a-cause. The best thing about One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is that it keeps you thinking long after the credits have stopped rolling.

The distinction and relationship between McMurphy and Chief is the one aspect I want to explore further. McMurphy was a rather boisterous man, very sure of himself and liked being the center of attention. In the movie, this was emphasized by his clothes that stand out, denims and caps in stark contrast to the dirty whites of the other patients. Not surprising as he was the only one in the ward who didn’t believe that he was mentally ill. Chief, on the other hand, was timid and uncertain, and managed to stay invisible, a marvelous feat as he was “thick as a tree trunk and tall as a mountain.” Pretending to be deaf and dumb allowed him to live in his own world even when their lives were completely controlled by the asylum. The most important perk was that he was exempted from the embarrassing group therapy sessions of Nurse Ratched. When Chief revealed to McMurphy that he was not, in fact, deaf and dumb, McMurphy realized he has found the perfect partner to escape with.

Throughout the movie, McMurphy was rocking the boat, questioning authority, defying orders, trying to change the schedule, and in the process he made the other patients realize that they still have minds of their own. He was quick to see that it was not really their sicknesses but their fear of Nurse Ratched that was hindering their progress. To him, the solution was simple: take them out into the world and let them see that they’re just as crazy as the any other person.

Rosie said...

Chief had a very different tactic: he bided his time until the real opportunity for escape presented itself. He would not have had the courage to face his past and his fears had he not met McMurphy, and it is clear that he owed him that. In the end, however, McMurphy who was outspoken and determined to make a difference for everybody was the one lobotomized and Chief was the only one who was able to escape. What does this imply?

I suppose that it may as well be this: Rock the boat too much and you will end up like McMurphy, because there will always be a Nurse Ratched and a “room upstairs.” But if you’re smart you will bide your time, and you will be able to escape. Yes Chief was not able to save anybody else, he did not even come close to changing the other patients’ lives like McMurphy had, but he escaped, brain intact. There is a tradeoff between becoming the hero and saving yourself, and you need to be prepared for the consequences of your choice. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, to me, is a cautionary tale, one that carries with it immense social implications delivered with such an effortless clarity that one hardly wonders why it garnered so many laurels.

Bulawi said...
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Bulawi said...

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Miloš Forman is a harrowing film centered on the life inside a mental asylum. It tells the story of RP McMurphy as he tries to live his life inside the said institution. Inside, he meets a somewhat lively group of “mentally ill” patients under the watchful eyes of the matron, Nurse Mildred Ratched. The film shows Mac’s struggle inside the asylum as he tries to inject something new to the torturous routine of those living inside. This however was cut short by the intervention of the higher-ups which led to his brain being mutilated as to stop his non-conformist pursuits. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest bagged a lot of awards including the Academy Award for Best Picture, Screenplay and Director. The film has received a number of favorable reviews and is even considered as one of the greatest American films of all time.

The display of power, mentioned in the first blog post and one of the recurring themes in the film, is explicitly portrayed in the character of Nurse Ratched. The matron displays soft power by pressure and intimidation, and hard power through the use of force. The effects of her actions are somewhat immediate as she gets her patients to talk and Billy crumples to the ground at the mention of Ratched telling on his mother, in one instance, and most obviously when unruly patients such as Mac are assaulted by the guards. It is still, however, worthy to note that within the institution ruled by an individual in the character of the head Nurse, patients such as Mac can also display some sort of power, albeit discreetly at first then slowly growing as is shown as the patients begin to change their ways. They now willingly voice out their thoughts and are willing to stand behind Mac as he tries to institute a sort of reforms. Mac even managed to smuggle his friends out, “borrow” a boat and subsequently disguise them as a group of doctors out for a common fishing trip. However, his exercise of hard power with his attempted murder of the matron eventually leads to his defeat at the hands of Nurse Ratched and the institution through the procedure of lobotomy. This however, is not a dead end in itself as his ambitions were carried out by Chief as he successfully managed to escape.

The film also carries with it its own brand of symbolism. An example of these symbols would be the games that the patients engage themselves in. Whether it is a card game, like blackjack, or a more physical game as in a basketball match, to a more distant one like the World Series, games serve as a link of the patients to the world outside. It serves as an image that, however different and excluded they are from society and feel, they still yearn for, or even part, of the world outside that shunned them as is established by the concept of them taking part in all these games. They even managed to beat the wardens in a game of basketball, although it was a dirty one as the goaltending violations of Chief were not called.

Bulawi said...

Another would be that of alcohol and of Candy which could signify everything that they have lost upon entering the asylum or simply, the pleasures of life experienced by most of those that comply to society’s norms. Inasmuch as most of the patients that partied that night were staying in the asylum voluntarily, the way they behaved implies their desire to go out and live again outside the institution that separated them from society. This is displayed in the way the patients behaved on the night of Mac’s planned escape in the presence of liquor and girls, the whole lot of them were under the influence and Billy had intercourse with Candy. Even as the patients knew what awaits them come the morning, they didn’t give up the chance to enjoy the night the way they used to before their lives inside the asylum.

Still, the heavy portrayal of conformism played throughout the film makes us realize the daunting task of Mac as he tries to stand up against the system and give a new outlook to the patients inside. Though he fails in his own end task of escaping, he instils in one of the old patients his “ability” to go against the norms even in a particular institution that aims to “cure” these patients and even prods one to subsequently escape.



therese said...

Part 1

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is easily a film that challenges how we define what is normal. Jack Nicholson's Randall McMurphy, with all his boisterous expressions and his defiant nature, does not obviously suffer any mental or psychological illness. And yet, as the plot unfolds we catch glimpses of an insanity that is not a (mal)function of the brain, but rather, the expressions of a twisted mind. We watch him, with some amusement, as he attempts to teach (supposedly) deaf-mute Chief Bromden basketball, or as he gambles with characters like Cheswick or Billy Bibbit or Mr. Harding. We witness how he leads his mates to a fishing trip, or how he recreates a World Series match for himself and the other patients when they were denied watching it on TV. Considering all the riot he provokes in his stay in the mental institution, McMurphy isn't what we would call normal, by the usual standards.

One of the things that struck me the most in this film, however, was that these standards are set through a numbers game. Cheswick, Taber, Harding and all these other patients and volunteers to the mental institution were there not just because they enjoyed staying there, but because the rest of society has deemed it necessary for them to be there. They, too, broke the social standards of what is normal. And yet seeing them interact with McMurphy, who wasn't insane the way they were, the film somewhat brings to the audience a consciousness or a sense of these characters' normalcy. Indeed Cuckoo's Nest artfully and subtly raises questions on which the audience cannot but ponder: what justifies the standards for normality? Are norms really justified simply because they have been sanctioned by the majority?

In this way the film is an inquiry on the politics of the majority. In the film, as in real life, what the majority deems right becomes right, and to be normal is to conform to these standards which the majority draw. The film powerfully brings to attention, however, that in such a numbers game, there will always be those who lose, and lose unfairly so, more often than not. I say unfair because we can only get so much from numbers, gather so much from votes. Beyond the figures, such politics might neglect what the numbers represent - and, more importantly, what the numbers don't. After all, a political decision affects not only those who are for it, but everyone, even those against it, and in that regard, banking on the numbers alone is limiting.

therese said...
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therese said...

Part 2

The set up is made even more complicated by Nurse Mildred Ratched, who embodies the system itself. It was particularly interesting to note the difference between the perspectives of Nurse Ratched and McMurphy, and how the difference in perspectives brought about different actions and interactions with the other patients. Nurse Ratched, the picture of the constant and the immovable, acted like she was running a prison rather than what was supposed to be a rehabilitating facility, and in effect had everyone under what seemed to be a dictatorship (despite the democratic façade). Indeed they were all too afraid to go beyond the boundaries Nurse Ratched has set. McMurphy, on the other hand, was empowering in that he treated the mental patients like they were as normal as he was, and presented the possibility of reforming the system by questioning rules and encouraging his mates to do the same.

This brings me to my other point. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is not just about what is normal as defined by the guidelines or social norms which we ourselves have set, and by which we live. Rather, it is also about how we live with what is normal in terms of that sense of acceptance of existing conditions - that is, the status quo. In this regard, more than a statement on conformism, Cuckoo’s Nest is a story of resistance as embodied by McMurphy, who has been up in arms against the system from the very beginning.

In the first place, he was in a mental institution because he was resisting the established justice system, specifically his sentence in the work farm. Yet as the story unfolds, Randall finds himself even more trapped by Nurse Ratched’s repressive and oppressive policies inside the mental institution, and in contrast to the others who have lived their lives in the institution long enough to neglect that something was wrong, McMurphy grows more agitated and frustrated by the day. Fundamental to this was the simple act of questioning the status quo – why were things the way they were? Why couldn’t they change their schedule? Why couldn’t they tone down the music? Indeed if we look at how critical McMurphy has been of the policies, we would realize that he wasn’t really just a deviant who had nothing better to do than spend time at a mental hospital and annoy the head nurse. He wasn’t performing mere acts of non-conformity for the heck of it; he acted so because he opposed the system and by all means wanted to change it.

In a way, he failed. He died in the end, not having wrought much difference in the system and liberating none but the Indian chief. And he failed mostly because he acted alone, more often than not. Everyone else watched him with a mixture of apprehension and amazement, but not one dared to take action as he did.

Still the film was not entirely pessimistic. The most compelling point the film raises is not that the act failed, but that he tried. And that, at the end of the day, when this man who was supposed to be deaf and dumb finally finds, more than his voice, that inner strength and courage to move mountains, we come to realize that it was the trying that has made so much difference.

-Therese Buergo

Franco said...

“Nurse Ratched: Aren't you ashamed?
Billy: No, I'm not.
[Applause from friends]
Nurse Ratched: You know Billy, what worries me is how your mother is going to take this.
Billy: Um, um, well, y-y-y-you d-d-d-don't have to t-t-t-tell her, Miss Ratched.
Nurse Ratched: I don't have to tell her? Your mother and I are old friends. You know that.
Billy: P-p-p-please d-d-don't tell my m-m-m-mother.”

This terroristic approach of Ratched, more of a dictator, less of nurse, amongst several other manifestations of emasculation on the literal level: the feared strict hospital supervisor is a woman, Billy Bibbit’s mental instability is rooted from his mother, Harding’s issues on a cheating wife. Call it emasculation, feminism, momism, or plainly dictatorship, it won’t really matter much when this underlying theme power-propelled the “One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest” to winning the major awards of the 48th Academy Awards, the Golden Globe Awards and the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA).

This critical and allegorical film presents a mental institution is presented as a metaphor for the oppressive society of the late 1950s. And the “wretched” nurse Ratched was portrayed as a the head of dictatorship: an autocratic form of government in which the government is ruled by an individual, the dictator (Friedrich, 1965). Everything in the film shouts dictatorship: the absolute rule by leadership of a head nurse unrestricted by law, constitutions, or other social and political factors within the hospital premises (representaing the state); a “regime” controlled by the head nurse, a singe person, can also take away much of its patients’ (or peoples') freedom – such as the deprivation of cigarettes or television for the patients’ consumption.

The mental institution then becomes a metaphor for the oppressive nature of a particular society. As the "man versus the establishment" expands into “man versus the system”. By making us think of how thin the line is that separates insanity from sanity, we also realize how governments—given immense powers by constitutions—also have a very thin line differentiating protection from terrotistic control. This also leads to realizing how individuals are “forced to conform” to avoid being singled-out in a harsh and control-hungry society.

Through the metaphors on the film, viewers feel reminiscent of the famous dictators in history. For Asia: Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il of North Korea, have used the titles Great Leader and Dear Leader respectively; Libyan Muammar al-Gaddafi, the de facto head of state, used the titles "Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" and "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution"; Filipino Ferdinand Marcos, who attempted to create a New Philippines (Bagong Pilipinas) through severel years of violent martial law. And from the rest of the world: Führer ("leader" or "guide") Adolf Hitler, dictator of Germany for 12 years; Duce (from Latin dux meaning "guide") Benito Mussolini, dictator of Italy for 18 years; El Caudillo de España ("the Chieftain of Spain") Generalíssimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde, Jefe de Estado (Chief of State) and "Chief of Government" (Prime Minister).


Friedrich, Carl J.; Brzezinski, Zbigniew K. (1965). Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy (2nd ed. ed.). Praeger.

Ginx Petterson said...

Miloš Forman’s award-winning 1975 film, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, zooms in on negotiation—particularly, in this case, negotiations with, as Mr. Vargas calls it, the Establishment. The need for negotiation arises due to the need for normality, the agreed compromise. On one hand, you have the system, the Establishment, which asks for conformity, while on the other hand, you have individuals with their own motives and causes. When these two don’t quite meet, then there’s the rub. This is most apparent with Randle Patrick McMurphy’s character. He is the challenge to the rules, the non-conformist, the one sticking it to the Man. The Man being Nurse Ratched. McMurphy, though very outspoken (although many will probably think that that is an understatement) isn’t incapable of conforming. I think that he could if he wanted to. As a matter of fact, he knows the rules quite well, because one needs to know the rules in order to break them (or go around them). But it is apparent in the film that he didn’t like the rules. He didn’t like Nurse Ratched. “She ain’t honest… She likes a rigged game, if you know what I mean.” McMurphy’s antics, though, weren’t his counter bargains to the negotiations between him and the system. They were intentional deeds meant to cast his inmates into a sort of liminality that he hoped would free them from themselves.

Unlike McMurphy, the inmates really may have had good reason to be in the asylum. How did the acutes (the patients who may still be cured) in the asylum negotiate their own against the Establishment’s rules on conformity? They held their psychological problems up like a flag of victory. This was their response to the Nurse Ratched tyranny. This was their strategy to appease the system.
Yet how effective was this compliance? Learning how to conform in a mental institution under Nurse Ratched does not cure the mentally ill to be able to join society again. Society isn’t as oppressive as Nurse Ratched was. Different institutions have different rules. But then again, maybe they aren’t that different. That is one of the many questions that the film poses. How close to home are its metaphors? Is the system really as oppressive as the film portrays it? For the likes of McMurphy, is it even worth trying to question or going against the system?

McMurphy lives with no regrets. His willingness to try and try, no matter how uncertain the outcome may be is testament to that. Yes, he had “anarchic motivations”, as Mr. Vargas says, but he was not selfish. He is not the ideal role model (what with his gambling streak), but he certainly had something undeniably appealing, which he even wanted to share with his inmates. He had nothing to lose. That’s the kind of freedom that even the voluntarily committed did not have. And that’s the kind of freedom that made him stay when it came down to either escaping or looking out for Bibbit (or whatever of Bibbit was left behind). This characteristic of McMurphy, I believe, is what allowed him to negotiate not just with the system, but allowed him to negotiate what “normal” was. Normal is supposed to be the compromise of the system and yourself. Conforming does not necessarily make you normal. Conforming only makes you lose yourself.

Juan Carlo Tejano said...


In response to Ms. Candelario’s entry:

Ms. Candelario’s proposed parallelism between the mental institution and the state has to be given credit. In many ways and most especially at the moment of the clever dynamics between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy during voting for whether or not to watch the World Series game, we see how the institution resembles closely an illiberal democracy. The nearly absolute and state-like power of the nurse manifests itself in the “rigging” of votes by the nurse in controlling quite arbitrarily when voting starts and when voting ends. However, a point must be raised: Was there not also cheating and perhaps even forcing from McMurphy’s side when he deliberately and purposively attempted to influence everyone in the institution to vote in favor of watching the game? Given such an instance, the parallelism between the nurse’s power and state power falls apart: We see now not an abuse of power from only one side but an intricate design of power play dynamics between two sides and between each side and the rest of the institution’s population.

In any case, I still see the proposed parallelism as problematic for one major reason: It misses the main point of the narrative. The narrative, as I see it, does not point to the dynamics of state power exercised actively and formally over society but to the dynamics of socially constructed cultural and ideational hegemony exercised subtly, informally, and psychologically by the social norm over human beings. This is why, I think, a mental institution was used for the film. The characteristics of this total institution may indeed depict the powerful force inflicted by state over society, but as I see it the characteristics of this total institution were used only to portray in a more morbid and more violent sense the hegemonic power of standards and norms within society. Through this lens, we do not see Nurse Ratched as the state but as the source of political hegemony.

- Juan Carlo Tejano

Juan Carlo Tejano said...


Even within the community of psychologists, there is no consensus as to what constitutes normal behavior or mentality. Clinical psychologists may be able to identify some universal abnormalities in behavior but they are also well aware that these “abnormalities” are not permanently carved in stone and may be in the future scientifically proven to be no longer abnormalities. In simple terms, the autism of today may be the genius of tomorrow or vice versa – the genius of today may be the autism of tomorrow. Indeed, even Albert Einstein was considered far beyond his time by his cohorts and some succeeding generations but studies today show that Einstein may have had slight manifestations of autism. In fact, sociologists have brilliantly pointed out that there is nothing natural about sickness or illness. There is nothing universal about the definition of “good health.” Indeed, in this hegemonic world of norms and tyranny by the powerful, the health condition of the powerless is seen as “bad health” while the health condition of the ruling class or group is seen as “good health.” Once an illness has been contracted by all members of the group in power, the illness no longer remains an illness but a normal condition of human health (Macionis, 2005). Ergo, normal behavior is merely a social construct, propagated by the powers that be in society. Yet, as Ms. Candelario enlighteningly points out, the propagation of the “normal” cannot be blamed on the powerful alone but also on the powerless, the subjects, because they as well have a hand in the social construction of what is normal by mere acceptance of it as the truth. To disregard, to ignore, or to not be aware of the social construction of what is normal is to propagate what is normal. As Paulo Freire beautifully said: “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”

From this we see therefore what the powerful in US society has dictated to be abnormal: Virginity and the inability to communicate with the opposite sex, being “overly intellectual,” being “stupid,” being promiscuous and violent, and even being Indian. Chief’s case, as in Ms. Candelario’s entry, becomes instructive here. How beautiful it was for Chief to have been included in the narrative! Through him, we see how culturally, ideationally, politically, and even epistemologically hegemonic and violent the Western powers have become. Displaced from their own native land, the American Indians serve as a clear example of how brutal and morbid the definition of what is normal has become. The American Indians were forced by the “normal” standards of Western society to wear clothes, to act like Westerners, and to believe in the same things as the Westerners believed in. In the end, the Western powers have become ideationally and culturally the standard. All others are exceptions to the standard, anomalies in the system, “abnormal.”

Thus, seen less than as an active force, the mental institution is a symbol of how powerful the dictates of social norms can become. Those deviant to these norms are seen as retarded and unworthy of interacting with the rest of society and are thus sent to a total institution to be isolated or, worse, to be rehabilitated and quieted into normalness.

- Juan Carlo Tejano

faysah said...
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faysah said...
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faysah said...

Both entries centers on social determinism as a common theme of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The rigidity of institutions and structures that are imposed on individuals has been emphasized by both entries. These entries, as well as other reviews, imply that the movie has been interpreted as a critique of society’s domineering institutions. Bureaucratic and highly formalized procedures which are said to be products of rational thinking are put into question. But while the dominant opinion of the film may have put institutions under a negative light, I would opine that the movie presents both sides of two extreme opposite ends. One shows how societal control is used to suppress those who “transgress” the system as embodied by Nurse Mildred Ratched and the mental institution, while R.P. McMurphy features a scenario where rules are blatantly defied.

Since viewers identify more with McMurphy and his fellow patients, let me start on their side. They represent a group which cannot integrate with society so they either felt compelled to enter an institution or were admitted by other members of society. This kind of set up points to what Michel Foucault calls a “disciplinary society.” Since these individuals have failed to comply with the standards of a regular society, they are then subjected to disciplinary control. Since the objective of the mental institution is to rehabilitate these individuals so they can re-integrate with society, it can be said that the institution is performing a kind of social engineering in order to manufacture compliance with the existing norms that society has approved. Foucault points out that officials and nurses in the institution exercise power over the patients merely by observing them (Foucault, 2006). By enforcing a rigid regimen and outlining the lives of their patients, the institution becomes a tool of society to enforce their standards on so-called deviants. Foucault also criticizes the so-called neutrality of psychiatry because they are disguised tools for perpetuating the conventions of the dominant class. Thus, the situation in the mental institution represents a microcosm of society where a majority exercises a controlling power over a handful of individuals, particularly McMurphy who refuses to be cowed to conform while people like Billy, Cheswick, Taber, Harding, and Bromden who are seen as anti-socials because they cannot meet the criteria of “well-functioning” members of society. They are considered deviants because there is an assumption that society has a high value consensus regarding its norms (Thio, 1995). But as shown by Chief Bromden’s ability to rip off what seemed to be an immovable structure, it infers that institutions, norms, and culture need not be rigid and static. It may give the audience comfort that agency, at least in the case of Chief Bromden, has triumphed over a structure that demands unquestioning conformity.

faysah said...

Part 2:

However, before we get too entrenched on anti-establishment ideals and reject the mainstream outright, it is imperative to give the other end a chance to be subjected to a closer analysis. While most criticisms were directed at Nurse Mildred Ratched who has been touted as a symbol for bureaucrats who are common targets for public disparagement, I would say that despite Louise Fletcher’s impeccable acting, the film did not really bring out the malicious nature of the original character in Ken Kesey’s novel where the said nurse willfully uses her powers to control the patients for her own personal interests. In the film version, Nurse Ratched merely reminded me of civil servant or soldier who are just carrying out the jobs assigned to them by the state. Rules are established for a reason. This is the premise of social contract theorists such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. The absence of an authoritative structure, whether it is absolute like the Leviathan, or one with a fiduciary nature, would lead to pandemonium because of the innate egotism of human nature. McMurphy’s last night of drunken orgy with his fellow patients is hardly a promising vision for a liberal society. The state, along with institutions, exists to prevent a scenario of anarchy where everyone’s right to self-preservation is lost. If people in authority can abuse their powers, what is to stop citizens from abusing their own powers that are determined through numbers (majority vote)? Hence, Fletcher’s performance merely reminded me of Max Weber’s ideal-rational bureaucracy where rules are not flexible and where there is a logical explanation for all the processes within the system. While it may be argued that society’s relentless demands for conformity to their pre-set standards is what drove these individuals to the mental institution, it was their final choice which placed them under the institution. This shows that agency has already played a role from the start instead of the relentless structure that was previously thought to have dominated the entire system.

Finally, one final theme worth mentioning is the cryptic portrayal of democracy as a main political thought in the United States of America that has been in vogue for the last century. One of the most significant things to note is that democracy entails a lot of requisites before it can be consolidated. A mere counting of votes will not yield a prudent policy if the people involved do not fully understand what is it they are deciding on as shown by the scene where McMurphy tries to get his fellow patients to watch the World Series and Nurse Ratched insists on counting the other patients who are not even aware of what is going on. If democracy is embodied in mere numbers, then it is nothing but populism. It is also a tyranny of the majority as noted by Alexander de Tocqueville. On the other hand, Nurse Ratched has a valid point when she insists that the time for voting is over. After all, electoral systems are supposed to have parameters. If McMurphy can bend the rules for his own sake, wouldn’t he be also inclined to abuse this power? To sum up this piece commentary on democracy, I would like to emphasize that freedom under a democracy should still be freedom under the rule of law. Otherwise, it merely becomes the license to do as anyone pleases which is tantamount to an anarchical system of chaos.

Foucault, Michel. 2006. History of Madness. New York: Routledge.

Thio, Alex. 1995. Deviant Behavior. New York: HarperCollins College Publishers.

F. Abdullah