The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Nursing homes do
not have a stellar reputation as places to convalesce or be taken care of.
Private nursing homes, at least in the U.S., are largely dependent on
government benefits accrued by patients, so they can hardly be called
“private.” State-run homes are disasters in terms of the “quality” of care
(minimal) and the character of their “skilled” staff. Wikipedia notes:
In most countries, there is a degree of government oversight and
regulation over the nursing home industry. These regulatory bodies are usually
tasked with ensuring patient safety for the residents and improving the
standard of care. In the U.S. Centers for Medicare and
Medicaid Services
ensures that every Medicare and Medicaid
beneficiary receives seamless, high-quality health care, both within health
care settings such as nursing homes, and among health care settings during care
transitions.
To ensure that nursing homes meet the necessary legal standards, the
authorities conduct inspections of all nursing home facilities. This process
plays a critical role in ensuring basic levels of quality and safety by
monitoring nursing home compliance with the national legal requirements.
Surveyors will conduct on-site surveys of certified nursing homes on average
every 12 months to assure basic levels of quality and safety for
beneficiaries. The authority might also undertake various initiatives to
improve the effectiveness of the annual nursing home surveys, as well as to
improve the investigations prompted by complaints from consumers or family
members about nursing homes.
Nursing homes offer the most extensive care a person can get outside a
hospital. Nursing homes offer help with custodial care—like bathing, getting
dressed, and eating—as well as skilled care given by a registered nurse and
includes medical monitoring and treatments. Skilled care also includes services
provided by specially trained professionals, such as physical, occupational,
and respiratory therapists.
In  November 1975 a film appeared that ought to
have excoriated the whole notion of state-run or state-regulated nursing homes,
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,
based on Ken Kesey’s 1962
novel
of the same name, and partly on Dale
Wasserman’s 1963 Broadway play
, an adaptation of the novel.
Kirk Douglas
appeared in the Broadway version of the story.
The 1963–64 Broadway production starred Kirk
Douglas
as Randle Patrick McMurphy, Gene
Wilder
as Billy Bibbit, William
Daniels
as Harding, Ed Ames as “Chief” Bromden, and Joan
Tetzel
at Nurse Ratched. Douglas retained the rights to make a
film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for a decade, but was
unable to find a studio willing to make it with him. Eventually, he gave the
rights to his son Michael, who succeeded in getting the film
produced. At that time, Kirk Douglas was deemed too old for the role of
McMurphy, and the role was given to Jack
Nicholson
.
The story is
nominally set in a psychiatric hospital,
not a nursing home. But, it is a depressing venue or environment in fiction and
in real life, regardless of the institution’s focus.
On a personal note, I detest Jack Nicholson;
his constant leering, snide persona
repels me. It is the complementary other side of Robert Mitchum’s persona, which exudes a malevolent,
menacing masculinity regardless of the role. (That attribute is especially
present in the original Cape Fear [1962] and in The Night of the Hunter [1955].)
But Nicholson was the right choice for the screen version of Cuckoo’s Nest; his Randle Patrick
McMurphy is a glib talker, a con artist, who takes nothing seriously and is
always ready to crack wise and belittle his opponents. In Cuckoo’s Nest he is faced with little else but men whose utter lack
of self-esteem and their minimal gray matter deserve belittling. But always in
the belittling is a lesson in life for the belittled. And in the course of the
story several of the objects of his derision grow up just enough to assert
themselves. He knows that is a possible consequence, which is to his
character’s credit.

His principal nemesis is Nurse Ratched, the head nurse of McMurphy’s ward.
Ratched is played to perfection by Louise Fletcher,
who plays a prim, petty, possibly man-hating tyrant who is adept at
manipulating the fears and frustrations of her luckless charges.  She talks down to them, and treats them as
clueless, manipulatable children. She does not tolerate resistance to her mind
games. In the Nicholson character she immediately recognizes a man who will not
be broken or made to be her toy, and sets out to break him. McMurphy is more
anti-authority than he is a self-made, independent man. My former landlady, the
one who evicted me from my apartment in July because she claimed that my political
column endangered her other tenants, shares many unpleasant attributes with
Nurse Ratched, and even physically resembles the Fletcher character.
McMurphy has schemed to be transferred from a prison work farm to the
far more salubrious environment of a mental institution by claiming he is
mentally ill. But he learns quickly that the hospital presents more serious
challenges to his freewheeling nonconformance than the rigors of a work farm. Many
of the patients in his ward are truly mentally ill or disturbed, such as
Cheswick (played by Sydney Lassick),
a man ruled by his emotions and who invariably behaves like a tantrum-throwing
spoiled child, and Taber (played by Christopher
Lloyd
), whose mental problems remain unexplained, except perhaps, for a
certain madness in his eyes, a characteristic which Lloyd carried to the TV
series Taxi (in which he portrayed
an eccentric and less-than-bright cab driver) and as Dr. Emmett Brown in the
three Back to the Future movies. The
most pathetic patient is Billy Bibbet, a young man with a serious stuttering
affliction (Doug
Dounif
) who is dependent on the approval of his mother and Nurse Ratched
and stammers when he fears his mother’s or Ratched’s reactions to his answers
to their questions or actions.
The most inexplicable patient is “Chief” Bromden (Will Sampson),
a giant Creek Indian who remains taciturn until he is befriended by McMurphy.
Other patients, including Nurse Ratched, believe he is deaf and dumb. He speaks
for the first time after McMurphy offers him some chewing gum. In the film, his
presence in the hospital is never explained (in the novel, which the character
narrates, it is suggested he suffers from schizophrenia). “You fooled them!”
McMurphy exclaims joyously when he discovers that Chief is an imposter like
himself.
McMurphy makes friends of Chief and Bibbit. The other patients admire
him for his standing up to Nurse Ratched and the black orderlies.
McMurphy is genuinely astonished when he learns that his incarceration
under Ratched’s “care” is to be permanent until he is evaluated and “cured,”
and is doubly astonished to learn that most of the patients in his ward have
voluntarily committed themselves to the place and can leave any time they wish.
He doesn’t understand why they tolerate the abuse, cruelty, and machinations of
Ratched and her staff. He doesn’t grasp that some of these men have a need to
be taken care of and are afraid of living independently of authority and “therapeutic
solicitations.”
Ken Kesey wrote Cuckoo’s Nest during the turbulent Civil Rights era.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was written in
1959 and published in 1962 in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and deep changes to the
way psychology and psychiatry were being approached in America. The 1960s began
the controversial movement towards deinstitutionalization,
an act that would have affected the characters in Kesey’s novel.
On another level, Nurse Ratched’s ward is intended to be a microcosm of
American society in which rebels like McMurphy are unwelcome and destined to be
“cured.” The story, given the period in which it was written and became popular
(the film won several Academy awards, while the play had a long run on
Broadway) can be seen as a fable about the “dehumanization” caused by
capitalism.
Kesey, according to Wikipedia, was a real-life Randle McMurphy “countercultural”
figure, which invariably meant “left wing.” He was “an American novelist,
essayist, and countercultural figure. He considered
himself a link between the Beat
Generation
of the 1950s and the hippies of the
1960s.” Given that many of the “hippies” of Woodstock are now dominating American
academia and immersing their own hapless charges in the Marxist “therapeutic”
brainwashing of the “critical” studies regimen, had Kesey lived (he died in
2001) doubtless he would have been in the vanguard of “safe spaces” and “triggering”
behavior on campus, and have become a “social justice warrior.”

Schizophrenics being cured of their Islamophobia with
scalding steam,

a medical treatment called the Merkel/Obama/Ratched
procedure.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of just many prominent but subtle Hollywood productions crafted
to criticize America with slyly scripted subtexts loaded with subliminal messages
for the movie-going public. They usually well-done and salted with first-class
talent. Seven Days in May (1964)is
another anti-American production that features Kirk Douglas. The brainwashing
of Americans has been going on for a very long time. They are the products of
the doyens of the Frankfurt School who chose to remain in the U.S. after their
colleagues returned to Germany following WWII. 
Some went into academia, and some settled on Rodeo Drive and Sunset
Boulevard and the lucrative living they could enjoy there while tearing down
the country that made their prosperity possible.

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2 Comments

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  2. Fred Sanford

    I'm going to guess you're a young(ish) Republican,as you certainly know nothing of Kesey. An original MKULTRA test subject, Kesey never came close to PC behavior. Hell, man, he spurred on Leary. Sheesh…

    As for your analysis of his novel/movie adaptation, I'll just say this: America was not founded on capitalism; that bastard conflation did not occur until the 19th century. More the pity for us…

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