One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey takes place in the early 1960s in an insane asylum run by Miss Ratched, the Big Nurse, who rules over the patients with an iron fist... and her machines of course, according to Chief Bromden, the narrator of this psychological novel.

She has so much power over them that no one dares to stand up to her, until one day when Randle Patrick McMurphy swaggers into the ward, and things are never the same again as he takes everything the Big Nurse stands for and destroys it right before everyone's eyes.

Was adapted into a critically-acclaimed movie in 1975 starring Jack Nicholson. It was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won five (Best Picture, Actor in Lead Role, Actress in Lead Role, Director, and Screenplay), and was added to the National Film Registry in 1993.

Tropes used in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest include:
  • Adaptational Attractiveness:
    • Inverted. Harding was described as looking like a film star in the book. In the film, he looks like an average man - perhaps even slightly unattractive. This may have to do with his homosexuality being toned down a lot in the movie as he was a stereotypical pretty boy in the book.
    • In the book, Nurse Ratched is frequently mentioned to be overweight (the cause of her large ladybags). Louise Fletcher... isn't.
      • She is also described, in the book, as a handsome woman who was probably quite beautiful when she was in her prime.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The movie cut out a lot of stuff. Still very good.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Harding at first. It's pretty much confirmed when his wife shows up. He admits it, by way of euphemisms, to McMurphy prior to the story's climax.
  • Anti-Hero: McMurphy is type III. He's racist, sexist, loud, rude, and scams the other patients out of their money regularly. Hell, he originally got busted for statutory. But he's the only thing that can get them out of their shells and remind them that they're not a bunch of worthless rabbits.
  • Ascended Extra: In the novel, Taber was a Posthumous Character.
  • Battleaxe Nurse: Miss Ratched, one of the most famous in literature or film.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Through her glass window... Appropriately, the Big Nurse's nickname is an allusion to Big Brother.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: McMurphy.
  • Big Bra to Fill: Nurse Ratched in the book has large breasts, Louise Fletcher doesn't.
  • Bittersweet Ending: McMurphy wins the fight against Ratched, but at the cost of part of his brain, which ultimately forces Chief Bromden to euthanize him by smothering him with a pillow before finally escaping to his ancient tribal lands.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Hydrotherapy Console.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Subverted Trope McMurphy is shown to fake being a vegetable earlier after the shock treatment, but regrettably wasn't faking it later on.
  • Driven to Suicide: Poor Billy Bibbit and old Charles Cheswick.
  • Electric Torture
    • Electro Shock therapy is mainly painless and quick. Now what happens to the person falls into Your Mileage May Vary. Seriously it can cure you of your depression permanently or it can make it worse and wreck your memory.
    • Even more worrying is the effect this book had on medicine. Doctors were shamed out of using EST for decades after the release of Cuckoo's Nest, despite its generally positive results.
  • The Film of the Book: Made in 1975. Kesey didn't like it (mainly due to the massive changes), but it was critically acclaimed and became one of only three films to win all of the "Big Five" Oscars (best picture, screenplay, director, actor, and actress). Kesey's reaction was no doubt also fueled by the fact that he received no money for it.
  • Gag Boobs: Nurse Ratched. The book makes several references to the Big Nurse's "oversized badges of femininity", and McMurphy kids her about them multiple times, knowing that she resents having such a prominent set of breasts.
    • Averted in the movie though.
  • Gentle Giant: Bromden measures at a staggering 6 ft, 8in.(203 cm), but is as timid as the other inmates. Until the lobotomy that is.
  • Go Among Mad People
  • The Hero Dies
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Candy and Sandy.
  • Hospital Hottie: Nurse Pilbow, at least in the film. In the book, the inmates comment that Nurse Ratched would be quite attractive if she weren't so emotionless and intimidating.
  • Insanity Defense: That's what got McMurphy onto the wing in the first place. Deconstructs it a lot, since it becomes clear to McMurphy at several points that he's ended up in a worse spot.
  • Irony: The entire plot is a large-scale example of situational irony. McMurphy cons his way into being committed because he's too lazy to serve out a light sentence on the work farm for statutory rape. The fact that he knows he doesn't belong there makes him chafe with the staff and ends him up not only labelled genuinely insane, but also lobotomized and then dead.
  • The Ishmael: Chief Bromden, in the book.
  • Jail Bait: Why McMurphy was incarcerated to begin with.

McMurphy: She was fifteen years old going on thirty-five, Doc, and she told me she was eighteen.

  • Karmic Trickster: McMurphy again, though without the usual Karmic Protection
  • Last-Name Basis: Compare: The patients all call each other by the last names, while the Big Nurse has them on a first-name basis.
  • Leave the Camera Running on McMurphy for a full minute at the end of the party.
  • Mad Bomber: Scanlon. We're never told whether or not he has ever acted on his urges, but he is the only Acute patient other than McMurphy who is committed involuntarily.
  • Major Misdemeanor: McMurphy got into this whole jail to mental hospital to lobotomy and ultimately to death situation because he committed statutory rape on a fifteen year old girl. At the time of the book's publication (1962) and the time of the film's release (1975) statutory rape of the kind involving an adult and a teenager was considered to be less of an issue than it is considered to be today.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: In the novel (though not the film) McMurphy claims to have lost his at the age of TEN. Though he may be lying to impress the others. As for Billy, it's implied, though never outright stated, that he was a virgin until he slept with Candy.
  • Messianic Archetype: McMurphy. Lampshaded when he and 12 other guys all go fishing. In the book, Harding compares the EST victim to Jesus on the cross. McMurphy is also friends with a prostitute called Mary. Bromden describes McMurphy as a "giant sent from the sky to save us." Billy Bibbit commits suicide after betraying him.
  • Mercy Kill: After McMurphy gets a lobotomy, Bromden decides to put him out of his misery by suffocating him with a pillow.
  • Mind Control Conspiracy: Chief Bromden vs. the Combine.
  • Mind Screw: Sometimes Bromden will go off on bizarre tangents that can make things very difficult to follow if you aren't paying attention.
  • My Beloved Smother: Billy Bibbit is terrified of his mother, though we don't know why as we don't hear from her or see her.
  • My Name Is Not Durwood: Nurse Ratched calls McMurphy "McMurry" as a power play. McMurphy lets her know (without stating it straight out) that he knows it's intentional.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Chief Bromden
  • Order Versus Chaos, with chaos portrayed as good.
  • Perspective Flip: The Movie is basically the book told from McMurphy's point of view.
  • Porky Pig Pronunciation: Billy.
  • The Quiet One: Bromden. Until later.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Dr. Spivey. Unfortunately, he has no real power.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Contrast the closeted homosexual Harding (who fears showing signs of weakness) with the straight, boisterous McMurphy who isn't afraid to express his softer side once in a while.
  • ScaryBlackMen: The three aides, Warren, Washington, and Williams, are horribly abusive to the patients. Warren at least has the excuse of seeing his mother raped as a child by whites.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, Spock Speak: Our garrulous friend, Harding
  • Shown Their Work:
    • Kesey worked at the Oregon State Hospital's mental ward (then and still notorious for its poor quality) as an orderly and even stated that the Big Nurse is based off an amalgamation of several nurses he worked with.
    • He talked a fellow orderly into secretly giving him electroshock as part of the research, and did a lot of acid. His hallucinations provided the basis of Bromden's schizophrenic narration.
    • When Chief Bromden speaks just after McMurphy offers him a piece of gum, this is a reference to a real incident when a catatonic schizophrenic who had been silent for 19 years finally spoke after he was reinforced with chewing gum.
    • When Harding describes the origins of electroconvulsive therapy, the bit about two psychiatrists visiting a slaughterhouse is not made up: those were Cerletti and Bini, who visited an abattoir in 1938 and got the idea that an epileptic fit could be induced by electricity. The idea that inducing seizures could have therapeutic effects, however, was proposed a few years earlier. Harding's Brief Accent Imitation of them, however, as Germans, is false. As is evident by their names, they were Italian.
  • The Sixties
  • The Sociopath: What McMurphy pretends to be to get committed.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Charles Cheswick in the movie. According to Word of God, Cheswick was spared to make Billy Bibbit's death all the more shocking.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Bromden.
  • Speech Impediment: Billy.
  • Totally Eighteen: This is part of the reason why MacMurphy is locked in a mental institution; he had sex with an underage girl whom he thought was eighteen.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Bromden.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Poozle."
  • Visual Pun: McMurphy's boxers, depicting white whales, which was given to him by a literary student because he "was a symbol."
  • Wham! Line: The book being from Bromden's perspective and the movie from Mac's provides us with two contrasting reveals, both of which are provided by a single line: in the movie, Mac passes deaf/mute Bromden a stick of chewing gum and Bromden says, "Thank you." The book's Wham! Line is possibly less impactful on the story, as it is more illustrative of a character than something that fundamentally changes our perception of them, but it still comes as a shock: we know Bromden is faking being deaf/mute right from the start. What we don't know until roughly the halfway point is that Mac has him figured out quite early on: "Chief, I swear they told me you was deaf!"
  • White Male Lead: While the original novel is narrated by Bromden, a Native American, the film makes McMurphy into the lead.

Navboxes for the film:

Navboxes for the novel: