One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: Hope in the face of oppression

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) tells the tale of McMurphy, who fakes insanity in order to be transferred to a mental ward so that he can escape prison labour. Once in the ward for the mentally unstable, McMurphy must carry on faking insanity in order to convince the staff whilst also rising against the head nurse named Ratched. 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, starring Jack Nicholson, is one of the most impactful films in terms of how it left me feeling afterwards. It’s about friendship, freedom, hope, and individuality in the face of authority. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s explores themes of oppression through the conflict between McMurphy and Ratched, in which McMurphy essentially creates an uprising in order to fight back against what he sees as oppression. Jack Nicholson perfectly executes the role, flawlessly encapsulating a man whose one and only desire is to seemingly be free. Although the film is set within a mental ward, it is not really about insanity or mental or physical disabilities, but rather it is about chasing freedom from the confines of their ward. We see on multiple occasions nurse Ratched’s attempts at stopping McMurphy, such as through the inhumane electric shock therapy in order to make him act how she wants him to. We learn that the power of friendship and happiness can aid with illness, such as how we see Billy lose his stutter at times where he feels at peace. Furthermore, we see Charley Cheswick stand up for himself and be his true authentic self in front of Ratched. This is essentially all McMurphy’s doing, through his ferocious and unwavering fight for freedom he managed to change and better the lives of those around him, whilst also invoking a sense of freedom into their lives. Through this, it becomes clear that the fear that nurse Ratched causes in fact worsens the lives and disabilities of those within the ward, therefore McMurphy wages his war against her. 

Although at a glance One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest seems like a heartfelt and joyful film, I in fact find it rather sad and moving. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has no intention at displaying an uprising, but rather a downfall. The sad truth is that McMurphy loses in the end, but not completely as it seemed that by the end he at least opened the eyes and hearts of every patient within the ward to their own identity and freedom, at the cost of his life. 

The relationship between McMurphy and every patient seemed special and authentic, but none seemed as deep as the friendship that McMurphy and Chief shared. McMurphy’s influence over the patients and in particular the Chief can be seen at the very end where Chief is forced to end McMurphy’s life as he has been rendered lifeless from his Lobotomy. It becomes clear that McMurphy has shown that he is willing to die for his attempted freedom which prompts Chief to make his dramatic escape by using his sheer size to throw a large object through the window. The final scene depicts Chief running into the horizon in a beautiful, yet sad ending.

What do you think you are, for Chrissake, crazy or somethin’? Well you’re not! You’re not! You’re no crazier than the average asshole out walkin’ around on the streets and that’s it. – McMurphy

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