A short summary for those of you who are unaware: In the late 60’s a psych ward takes on a new patient by the name of R.P. McMurphy, up until this point the ward has been run with an iron fist by Nurse Ratched aka “Big Nurse.” When McMurphy enters the ward he instantly befriends the patients and befuddles the staff while making it his personal mission to bring Big Nurse to her knees. What follows is a psychological game of chess between McMurphy and Nurse Ratchet with the stakes being the mental stability of the rest of the ward.
This movie has always had a special place in my heart, so it is only natural that eventually I would get around to reading the book. Even though it appears as though the movie was about as faithful to the book as I have ever seen… there are very subtle yet profound differences between the two. The predominant difference is the point of view. The movie, takes the viewpoint of McMurphy where as the book is from the viewpoint of Chief Bromden. Now either the Chief is more disturbed than we are first lead to believe or there is some CRAZY stuff going on in that hospital. I would have to say that a few of the scenes in the book had me puzzled until I realized that good old Chief wasn’t exactly playing with a full deck. What we see through his eyes is very disturbing, surreal, and at times the reader finds themselves mentally translating what he is relating into something that we can comprehend as physically possible.
There are many themes in this book, the one most people bring up is man vs. the corrupted establishment, but threaded through are also the themes of self reliance, the state of the mental health industry back then, society’s blaming anyone who goes against the establishment on mental illness, the power of society in bringing down the individual, then we also touch on the treatment of Native Americans, and a very interesting male vs. female battle. Though I’m not entirely sure what I was supposed to walk away with in regards to all of these themes, this was still a very well written book. The version I read was 278 pages but took me a full week to read. I’m not entirely sure why, but for being so short, it really does read very slowly. I recommend reading this book, it is truly a modern classic, if one still considers the 1970’s modern. Either way this is an excellent read and it is extremely engaging, particularly once McMurphy and Big Nurse begin their mental game of chess… each trying to out do the other while maintaining complete composure. It is such a violent and hate filled battle to be fought so subtly. Each play is genius, but the players are never to be out done by one another. Read the book, then watch the movie, both are stellar examples of their craft.
One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest