In high school, my 12th grade summer reading assignment was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I actually read the book instead of cheating by watching the movie, assuming that my English teacher would show us the film when we returned to school in the Fall. Apparently, I was hoping for too much there. Although I read the book over 5 years ago, I remember enjoying it more than I enjoyed the film this weekend. Yet, I also feel like the film was true to the book. Go figure.
I’m going to state the obvious and say that R.P. McMurphy was not crazy. Because many of the patients in the film legitimately need psychiatric care, it’s important that they are kept in controlled enviornments and aren’t disrupted by sudden changes in routine. Of course, the repressive nature of the ward is turned upside down when McMurphy, a prisoner from a work farm, arrives for psychiatric evaluation. There’s no denying that McMurphy is a criminal and may have a dangerous side, as the doctors in the film believe, but that doesn’t make him “insane.” His disrespect for authority and his desire to just have fun ends up leading to his death.
The most disturbing aspect of the film for me was seeing McMurphy after he is given a lobotomy. He is literally just a shell of a man. The spark he had throughout the film is gone. It’s hard to believe that up until the 1960’s this was a fairly common procedure used to “cure” mental illness. Instead of working to help someone deal with their mental and emotional issues, you remove the problem (aka the frontal lobe) all together, which also happens to be the emotional center of the brain. Patients are left with no personality and no way to communicate. It’s basically an easy fix. Chief Bromden, one of McMurphy’s close friends in the ward, has seen the result of lobotomies throughout his stay in the hospital. He ends up smothering McMurphy with a pillow after he returns to the ward from his operation. Chief knows that McMurphy would rather die than continue his life staring at the walls of the hospital.
I think the moral of the story is that we’re all a little crazy, but we shouldn’t have our brains removed for it! Well, that might be a bit simplified, but it’s kind of accurate. The line between sane and crazy can be a blurry one. The McMurphies of the world might not be safe.
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