The Purple Coat Club met last week to watch 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'. The film takes the point of view of McMurphy, in prison for assault and statutory rape, who is referred to a psychiatric ward for assessment. McMurphy comes up against the emotionally-straitjacketed Nurse Rached who exerts control through regimen and infantalising the inmates. McMurphy is a renegade. He engineers a fishing trip for those inmates who are lucid enough to participate, providing the film with some fabulous comedic moments. Things get out of hand when McMurphy arranges a party complete with booze and girls. We all thought the acting was superb, especially Jack Nicholson as McMurphy and Louise Fletcher as Nurse Rached.
We wondered about the allegorical implications of the title. According to this website, it is based on the following nursery rhyme:
Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn;
Wire, briar, limber lock,
Three geese in a flock.
One flew east, And one flew west,
And one flew over the cuckoo's nest.
McMurphy and Rached fly east and west, and it is actually the ostensibly dumb-mute Chief who flies over the cuckoo's nest. The book is narrated from Chief's point of view, and Kelsey sued the producers about this change to his story, amongst other liberties taken by the filmmakers. Apparently the film is also an allegory about east-west ideology with Rached embodying the Soviet Union. I guess this would have been more obvious in Cold War times (the film was made in 1975).
This is an excellent film which has enduring themes. For medics it raises questions about definitions of mental illness, modes of treatment and power relations within institutions.