This movie demonstrates much of what I despise about my fellow feeble-minded Americans. In this movie, I saw stereotypes galore, and almost every cliche in the book.
For example, one voluntary patient is seeking therapy for his marital problems. It seems that he and his wife were having “sexual” problems. This ultimately leads everyone, patients and viewers alike, to believe that this man must be gay. As if this weren’t enough, we have to have the “blind-deaf-and-dumb-guy”, and of course, he’s foreign! The central character in this drama is Randal McMurphy.
Mac is a new patient at the mental institution. He was transferred from a nearby prison. He seems to have been committed not for mental illness but because he is resistant to authority. In the past he has been arrested for such things as assault and statutory rape.
He may be a criminal, and he may deserve to be in jail, but he is not insane. He was just too much work for the prison guards “cause I don’t sit there like a goddamn vegetable” he says. I believe the only dangerous thing about Mac is his desire to fight authority, and I believe the danger is only for the authority figures. He may not go about his struggle in a lawful manner, but I do believe he has some good, sane ideas and beliefs which he tries to maintain in all of his situations.
For example, in jail, he didn’t feel it was right for the authorities to demand he act as a “vegetable” and I agree with him. In the institution, he felt that decisions should be made democratically and fairly, and he fought for this belief, which inevitably lead to punishment by ECT . Another influential character in this movie is Billy. Billy has some obvious self-esteem issues.
I feel the portion of the film that we viewed in class only touches on his true character. Billy has a very obvious speech impediment, which seems to make him reluctant in many ways. He is the character that follows orders without question. He is threatened by Mac in many ways, but excited by his ideas at the same time.
Mac’s presence in the institution disrupts the routine that Billy has functioned so well under for so long. It is possible that his naivety could be a dangerous attribute to himself, but I do not feel that Billy is necessarily a dangerous individual. Chief is the stereotyped blind-deaf-and-dumb character. Before Mac, everyone ignored his presence, primarily on the basis of his silence.
The other patients and staff apparently never even tried to incorporate Chief into their activities. When Mac comes along, he tries to utilize one of Chief’s attributes, his height, in a basketball game. After awhile, Chief catches on, to the astonishment of all present, and helps Mac’s team win a game. To the surprise to Mac, in a private moment Chief speaks.
This leads the audience to believe that perhaps this silent man would only speak to those worthy of his words. Chief is not dangerous, only cautious. The infamous Nurse Ratched is the head nurse on this floor. She leads the therapy sessions and attempts to maintain order of her patients.
She always uses a calm and rational tone of voice and claims to know what is best for all of her patients. The audience is lead to believe that she has some ulterior motives for her decisions when she requests that Mac stay in the ward during a review of his mental status. It is apparent to all at this point that there is nothing mentally wrong with Mac, though she decides he needs to stay. Perhaps this decision was made out of spite for his disruptive behavior.
I do feel that she is dangerous. She has the power to keep a sane man in a mental institution and rule over his life for as long as she desires-this is very dangerous. Along with medication, the patients in this ward are undergoing a sort of talking therapy. It is lead by Nurse Ratched.
Only certain patients are involved, primarily the less severe patients. Several patients assemble themselves in a semi-circle at the beginning of the session. They may begin where they had left off during a previous session, or they may start with a new issue. I am not sure if this type of therapy is used widely.
I understand the benefits of group therapy, but perhaps in this situation a more individual-based therapy should be utilized due in part to the observed reactions of other members of the group to certain topics of discussion. I would assume that this film took place in the middle to late seventies. This talking therapy in reality has no apparent affect on the more severe or chronic mentally ill patients because they are not even involved in these sessions. Nurse Ratched demonstrates a very calm attitude toward the patients, however, I don’t agree with her idea of democracy and fairness.
I don’t necessarily believe that her technique of therapy is beneficial to all or any of the patients. I might change my mind if she changes her method of therapy, however. In my opinion, mental illness involves a chemical imbalance in brain chemistry which creates delusions in an individual. I would also classify disorder-related illness under the category of mental illness.
Insanity is not necessarily an illness in my book. The word insane has often been used to describe people with ideas contrary to the norm, such as Copernicus and Galileo. Normality and abnormality seem to be defined by majority and minority, not necessarily by brain chemistry or ideas. With this in mind, I feel that there are some characters that fit into these descriptions very well, in a strange sense.
According to my definitions, Nurse Ratched is abnormal. She is not a patient, and the others are in this situation. Also, perhaps Mac is insane for this reason–he has ideas contrary to the majority, such as, external interests from the institution like fishing and baseball. ECT was used in this film as a punishment for intolerable behavior, not necessarily as a means to correct a clinical problem.
The problem that ECT was attempting to correct in this situation was unruliness. This method was used to silence views disliked by the staff, in particular, Mac’s views. I understand that now ECT is used at much lower frequencies for shorter amounts of time because of the ethical considerations involved but not considered during the period covered by this film. As I discussed in my analysis of Mac, he was sent to the institution for his unfavorable open beliefs and ideas which fueled the notion that he must have a mental illness.
I am sure that many criminals do fake a mental illness to escape jail and enter an institution, however, I do not feel that this was any motivation for Mac. In many ways there are similarities between the two institutions of mental hospital and jail. For instance, unfavorable ideas and opinions are suppressed. However, the means of suppression is vastly different.
In a jail, physical consequences may be present for such behavior, and it is not necessarily labeled as illness. In an institution, the behavior would be dealt with in a manner that would suggest that it is a mental dysfunction that is being displayed, so it may be treated with medication or ECT . In my opinion, Nurse Ratched flew over the cuckoo’s nest. She is the perhaps the “mother bird” watching out for the patients in the hospital, flying around while protecting their mental state of mind, in her own way.