One Flew Over The Cookoo’s Nest is a movie about a power struggle. This contest takes place in a Oregon mental institution in 1963. With that, the main characters are a head psychiatric nurse and a patient who is a felon. The movie is ultimately about escaping the mental institution; however, it turns out the felon is unable to do it, but the Native American can do it. That’s the long and short of this movie.
To begin, this film revolves around the battle of two main characters: Randle McMurphy and Nurse Rached. That being said, these two characters are supported by other characters: Chief Bromdel, Dale Hardng, Billy Babbit, Charlie Cheswick, Max Tabor, Martini, Orderly Turkel, Rose, and Candy. Largely, this duo battle takes place withi the institution.
Essentially, Nurse Rached is an authoritarian personality. She likes order on her ward. She sees discipline as a necessary evil to combat problems. And she’s willing to suppress “problems”; especially, confident people like Randle McMurphy. This nurse has a hard heart.
As with all asylums in the 1960s, patients were the social misfits of society. These outcasts included artists, Native Americans, old people, young people, veterans, homosexuals, housewives, and lonely people. This was the population of the asylum in 1962.
Moreover, these patients are controlled with drugs. Psychotic drugs keep them sedated throughout the day. Patients are given these drugs in the morning. However, patients don’t know the names of these drugs. Drugs kept order within the wall of the asylum.
In a passive aggressive way, Nurse Rached likes to pick on the patients. During a therapy session, Rached makes a remark to the therapy group about Mr. Hardings marriage problems, ‘Is there not a man among you with an opinion?’ In a typical passive aggressive way, nurse Ratchet attacks and humiliates Mr. Harding.
That being said, nurse Rached likes to maintain a grueling regime at the asylum. All activity is scheduled. There is exercise hour. There is music hour. There is therapy hour. She likes to stick to the rules of the institution.
Slowly, in time, institutional order starts to unravel with the arrival of Matt Murphy. He’s a felon and been indefinitely committed to the asylum. He can’t leave until he’s deemed competent by the institution. Basically, his stay is a long one. However, he’s unaware of his current status at the asylum.
As for personality types, Matt Murphy is a free spirit. He likes to have fun. He likes to hang out with friends. And he’s light hearted and likes his freedom.
When Murphy decides to make nurse Rached mad, the opposite personalities clash. In one scene, nurse Rached uses ward policy to stop McMurphy from watching the world series. However, the ward pretend to watch the world series and this infuriates nurse Rached.
Basically, the movie revolves around Rached’s and Murphy’s battles. Murphy continually circumvents the rules of the institution. Moreover, he gets the other patients to join his rebellion. Consequently, Nurse Rached applies treatments like drugs and shock treatment to restore order.
If one applies a Foucaultian analysis (social theory) of power to this movie, power is said to be dispersed throughout society in the form of the institution. Here, people are the vehicles of power. Power circulates and exists in a chain-link fashion. This power is exercised through a net-like organization; however, it is not specific to one organization. The knowledge-power relationships of the institution produce regimes of “truth” which manifest in practice. Unlike the centralized power of kings or class structures, this power manifests in mechanisms and strategies within the asylum.
In this movie, two epistemes exist at once; that is, two power knowledge systems (Foucaultian social theory). On one hand, you have the science of mental health. On the other hand, you have the mechanisms and strategies of resistance employed by McMurphy. These two epistemes interact.
At the end of the movie, Murphy must make a choice: Either escape from the asylum or get revenge on Nurse Ratchet. Murphy chooses revenge. Accordingly, he’s lobotomized at the asylum.
Overall, I liked this movie. I liked Jack Nicholson’s character McMurphy. He did a great job of creating a believable character. Also, I liked how the use of power and resistance were examined in the movie. I would recommend this movie.