01 March 2010

45. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest



It's about what we think being an American is about: being a free spirit, a rugged individual, against a system bent on conforming you. The filmmakers tip their hand near the beginning, in the first group therapy scene, where everyone else is wearing white and McMurphy is wearing jeans.

Our villain -- first scene -- Ms. Ratched. Our hero -- 5 mins, right after the setting is established. We don't know who he is -- is he crazy too?

We meet the Chief -- can't talk -- this is a set-up for a later payoff. Then we meet the others -- Billy, the rest playing cards, a motif.

Exposition in dialogue by Spivey -- it works because it's exposition rooted in the reality of the scene. "I fight and fuck too much." -- He's a classic anti-hero, a rebel

The set-up -- is he crazy or is he not?

30 mins -- votes to change a rule to do something American -- watch baseball. This is voted down.

"Lunatic" -- an inmate says that to McMurphy
-- He bets everyone he can lift the sink and throw it out the window to get free -- shades of "I can eat 50 eggs."
"I tried, didn't I? At least I did that."
This is a set-up that's paid off in the last scene.

Subplot -- Billy and his control under Ms. Ratched. This is an interesting subplot because it's a microcosm of the rest of the movie -- the control she shows here is a smaller example of the larger control, so the subplot here is an deepening of the theme, instead of another take on it or a release from it.

Besides being entertaining, McMurphy's baseball narration shows that if we have our rights taken away, we can't help but go crazy.

He escapes -- instead of leaving for good, he takes the men on a tour around town and a fishing trip
-- this is the midpoint -- they catch a fish, billy fancies a girl, a taste of freedom.

Back to the question -- is he dangerous or crazy? What do you want to do with him? -- "I want to send him back to the work farm." Ratched says no. She wants to finish what she's started, which is in her very nature.

68 mins -- a twist -- he's committed and can't get out -- when we see him next, he's not wearing jeans anymore, he's wearing the proper uniform.
-- he's one of the few committed -- the rest are voluntary

The inversion of the 2nd act -- now he wants to behave because it suits him, but he's now opened up a can of worms that can't be contained -- hence the fight and Cheswick's cigarette rant

80 -- another twist -- Chief talks!

McMurphy comes back -- acts like he's a vegetable -- set-up

89 -- "I gotta get out of here", "I can't take it anymore" -- fuel for the beginning of act 3, momentum

90 -- the girls come -- 3rd act
-- a call back -- they set up the medicine from before and pay it off with booze now
-- they have a party

100 -- he goes to leave, but does a good deed for Billy instead -- this is why we like McMurphy -- he's not interested only in himself, he wants to set free the rest of the men, show them how to live.

110 -- Billy stutters no more, until she guilt-trips him, references his mother -- another microcosm of the theme of people being free until authority smashes them.

115 -- McMurphy goes to get away, is interrupted by his concern for Billy again. He goes to kill Ratched and is subsequently lobotomized.

120 -- McMurphy comes back, he really is a vegetable this time. A once free spirit is no more, so the Chief kills him and does what he couldn't -- uses the sink to smash the window and become free -- McMurphy sacrificed himself for the good of the whole, something we think of as a very American ideal.

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