One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

About a half gallon, give or take. For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest can be found here.

What is the movie about?

Pleading insanity to get out of labor duties while in prison, Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is admitted to a mental hospital where he finds kindred spirits with many of the inpatients, but his rabble-rousing ways get him in serious trouble with Head Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher).

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a 1962 novel by American author Ken Kesey (1935-2001). The novel was adapted for the movie by screenwriters Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman. The movie won the 1976 Academy Award for Best Motion Picture.

What does the title mean?

It is a line from the book. When Chief Bromden (Will Sampson) receives electroshock therapy, he says a line from a nursery rhyme as part of his pained babble: " flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo's nest." The full verse is "Wire, briar, limber-lock, Three geese in a flock, One flew east, one flew west, And one flew over the cuckoo's nest." This scene is not in the movie. "Cuckoo" is slang for "insane", so "cuckoo's nest" refers to the asylum.

How does the movie end?

After receiving a frontal lobotomy, McMurphy is in a catatonic state. Realizing that McMurphy can no longer escape with him, Chief Bromden sets him free from the asylum by suffocating him with a pillow. Bromden then picks up the water fountain that McMurphy tried to throw out the window earlier in the film. Bromden throws the fountain out of the window and escapes from the hospital.

The movie follows the book decently close, however scenes like how McMurphy got the tub room available as a second day room, how the men leave for the fishing trip (along with who goes), and how McMurphy and Chief end up in the Disturbed ward are either omitted or changed completely. The most notable difference is that, in the book, the story is told from the point-of-view of Chief Bromden, not from that of Randle McMurphy.

McMurphy was angry that Harding, who'd been on the ward since before McMurphy arrived, probably had some idea of what McMurphy's continued antagonizing of Ratched would mean. Remember that Mac said he'd figure out a way to drive Ratched so crazy that she'd lose her temper? Mac's behavior from then on was solely focused on finding ways to defy Ratched's authority. The overarching theme here is that Mac is meant to be a liberating force for the men on the ward, who live a dreary day-to-day existence under Ratched's tyrannical rules.

What Mac is unaware of is that when he was brought to the hospital and started acting so rambunctiously in defiance of Ratched's rules, she recommended to the hospital board that Mac's status be changed to "Chronic". In the novel, the narrator, Chief Bromden, explains that there are essentially 2 types of patients on the ward: Acutes who are only mildly affected by their mental condition; Chronics, who are more severe in their behavior & who, at least in the time period the story takes place in, the 1960s, unable to function in society. Billy Bibbit and Harding are both Acutes -- there is a belief by the hospital administration that they can be cured & returned to society. Bancini is a Chronic, he seems unable to function outside of shaking and saying "I'm TIRED" all the time. Bromden is considered a Chronic because he never talks and the hospital staff believe he is deaf and dumb, which he really isn't.

A few moments after McMurphy confronts Harding about how much he "had to lose" Harding tells him that he's a "voluntary" patient: he's at the hospital of his own volition because he wants to be cured of whatever mental problems he has and he believes Ratched and the other staff can do this for him. Billy Bibbit is also voluntary but is mainly a patient at his mother's insistence -- sometime in the recent past he'd had a breakdown because he'd asked a young woman to marry him & she likely rebuffed, perhaps abusively. Both men, being voluntary, can leave the ward any time they wish & go back to their former lives. Ratched, however, is so controlling that she keeps them believing that they can't leave until she allows it.

McMurphy accepted his transfer to the hospital from prison, believing that life in a ward like this one would be easier compared to prison. However, he'd never figured that he'd be pitted against Nurse Ratched. Also, McMurphy also believes that when his prison sentence was finished, that he'd be let go from the hospital. There's a short scene right after Mac's team's victory at the basketball game where they're all swimming. One of the ward orderlies, Washington, who already doesn't like Mac & has little respect for the patients, pokes him with a pool hook. Mac says he'll see Washington "on the outside" & Washington tells him that he'll be let go when the hospital staff deems it appropriate. The moment is a revelation for Mac, who now understands what kind of situation he's in.

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