Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Nursing homes do not have a stellar reputation as places to convalesce or be taken care of. Private nursing homes, at least in the U.S., are largely dependent on government benefits accrued by patients, so they can hardly be called “private.” State-run homes are disasters in terms of the “quality” of care (minimal) and the character of their “skilled” staff. Wikipedia notes:

In most countries, there is a degree of government oversight and regulation over the nursing home industry. These regulatory bodies are usually tasked with ensuring patient safety for the residents and improving the standard of care. In the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ensures that every Medicare and Medicaid beneficiary receives seamless, high-quality health care, both within health care settings such as nursing homes, and among health care settings during care transitions.

To ensure that nursing homes meet the necessary legal standards, the authorities conduct inspections of all nursing home facilities. This process plays a critical role in ensuring basic levels of quality and safety by monitoring nursing home compliance with the national legal requirements. Surveyors will conduct on-site surveys of certified nursing homes on average every 12 months to assure basic levels of quality and safety for beneficiaries. The authority might also undertake various initiatives to improve the effectiveness of the annual nursing home surveys, as well as to improve the investigations prompted by complaints from consumers or family members about nursing homes.

Nursing homes offer the most extensive care a person can get outside a hospital. Nursing homes offer help with custodial care—like bathing, getting dressed, and eating—as well as skilled care given by a registered nurse and includes medical monitoring and treatments. Skilled care also includes services provided by specially trained professionals, such as physical, occupational, and respiratory therapists.

In  November 1975 a film appeared that ought to have excoriated the whole notion of state-run or state-regulated nursing homes, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, based on Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel of the same name, and partly on Dale Wasserman’s 1963 Broadway play, an adaptation of the novel.

Kirk Douglas appeared in the Broadway version of the story.

The 1963–64 Broadway production starred Kirk Douglas as Randle Patrick McMurphy, Gene Wilder as Billy Bibbit, William Daniels as Harding, Ed Ames as "Chief" Bromden, and Joan Tetzel at Nurse Ratched. Douglas retained the rights to make a film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest for a decade, but was unable to find a studio willing to make it with him. Eventually, he gave the rights to his son Michael, who succeeded in getting the film produced. At that time, Kirk Douglas was deemed too old for the role of McMurphy, and the role was given to Jack Nicholson.

The story is nominally set in a psychiatric hospital, not a nursing home. But, it is a depressing venue or environment in fiction and in real life, regardless of the institution’s focus.
On a personal note, I detest Jack Nicholson; his constant leering, snide persona repels me. It is the complementary other side of Robert Mitchum’s persona, which exudes a malevolent, menacing masculinity regardless of the role. (That attribute is especially present in the original Cape Fear [1962] and in The Night of the Hunter [1955].) But Nicholson was the right choice for the screen version of Cuckoo’s Nest; his Randle Patrick McMurphy is a glib talker, a con artist, who takes nothing seriously and is always ready to crack wise and belittle his opponents. In Cuckoo’s Nest he is faced with little else but men whose utter lack of self-esteem and their minimal gray matter deserve belittling. But always in the belittling is a lesson in life for the belittled. And in the course of the story several of the objects of his derision grow up just enough to assert themselves. He knows that is a possible consequence, which is to his character’s credit.

His principal nemesis is Nurse Ratched, the head nurse of McMurphy’s ward. Ratched is played to perfection by Louise Fletcher, who plays a prim, petty, possibly man-hating tyrant who is adept at manipulating the fears and frustrations of her luckless charges.  She talks down to them, and treats them as clueless, manipulatable children. She does not tolerate resistance to her mind games. In the Nicholson character she immediately recognizes a man who will not be broken or made to be her toy, and sets out to break him. McMurphy is more anti-authority than he is a self-made, independent man. My former landlady, the one who evicted me from my apartment in July because she claimed that my political column endangered her other tenants, shares many unpleasant attributes with Nurse Ratched, and even physically resembles the Fletcher character.
McMurphy has schemed to be transferred from a prison work farm to the far more salubrious environment of a mental institution by claiming he is mentally ill. But he learns quickly that the hospital presents more serious challenges to his freewheeling nonconformance than the rigors of a work farm. Many of the patients in his ward are truly mentally ill or disturbed, such as Cheswick (played by Sydney Lassick), a man ruled by his emotions and who invariably behaves like a tantrum-throwing spoiled child, and Taber (played by Christopher Lloyd), whose mental problems remain unexplained, except perhaps, for a certain madness in his eyes, a characteristic which Lloyd carried to the TV series Taxi (in which he portrayed an eccentric and less-than-bright cab driver) and as Dr. Emmett Brown in the three Back to the Future movies. The most pathetic patient is Billy Bibbet, a young man with a serious stuttering affliction (Doug Dounif) who is dependent on the approval of his mother and Nurse Ratched and stammers when he fears his mother’s or Ratched’s reactions to his answers to their questions or actions.
The most inexplicable patient is “Chief” Bromden (Will Sampson), a giant Creek Indian who remains taciturn until he is befriended by McMurphy. Other patients, including Nurse Ratched, believe he is deaf and dumb. He speaks for the first time after McMurphy offers him some chewing gum. In the film, his presence in the hospital is never explained (in the novel, which the character narrates, it is suggested he suffers from schizophrenia). “You fooled them!” McMurphy exclaims joyously when he discovers that Chief is an imposter like himself.
McMurphy makes friends of Chief and Bibbit. The other patients admire him for his standing up to Nurse Ratched and the black orderlies.
McMurphy is genuinely astonished when he learns that his incarceration under Ratched’s “care” is to be permanent until he is evaluated and “cured,” and is doubly astonished to learn that most of the patients in his ward have voluntarily committed themselves to the place and can leave any time they wish. He doesn’t understand why they tolerate the abuse, cruelty, and machinations of Ratched and her staff. He doesn’t grasp that some of these men have a need to be taken care of and are afraid of living independently of authority and “therapeutic solicitations.”
Ken Kesey wrote Cuckoo’s Nest during the turbulent Civil Rights era.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was written in 1959 and published in 1962 in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and deep changes to the way psychology and psychiatry were being approached in America. The 1960s began the controversial movement towards deinstitutionalization, an act that would have affected the characters in Kesey's novel.
On another level, Nurse Ratched’s ward is intended to be a microcosm of American society in which rebels like McMurphy are unwelcome and destined to be “cured.” The story, given the period in which it was written and became popular (the film won several Academy awards, while the play had a long run on Broadway) can be seen as a fable about the “dehumanization” caused by capitalism.
Kesey, according to Wikipedia, was a real-life Randle McMurphy “countercultural” figure, which invariably meant “left wing.” He was “an American novelist, essayist, and countercultural figure. He considered himself a link between the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the hippies of the 1960s.” Given that many of the “hippies” of Woodstock are now dominating American academia and immersing their own hapless charges in the Marxist “therapeutic” brainwashing of the “critical” studies regimen, had Kesey lived (he died in 2001) doubtless he would have been in the vanguard of “safe spaces” and “triggering” behavior on campus, and have become a “social justice warrior.”

Schizophrenics being cured of their Islamophobia with scalding steam,

a medical treatment called the Merkel/Obama/Ratched procedure.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of just many prominent but subtle Hollywood productions crafted to criticize America with slyly scripted subtexts loaded with subliminal messages for the movie-going public. They usually well-done and salted with first-class talent. Seven Days in May (1964)is another anti-American production that features Kirk Douglas. The brainwashing of Americans has been going on for a very long time. They are the products of the doyens of the Frankfurt School who chose to remain in the U.S. after their colleagues returned to Germany following WWII.  Some went into academia, and some settled on Rodeo Drive and Sunset Boulevard and the lucrative living they could enjoy there while tearing down the country that made their prosperity possible.


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Fred Sanford said...

I'm going to guess you're a young(ish) Republican,as you certainly know nothing of Kesey. An original MKULTRA test subject, Kesey never came close to PC behavior. Hell, man, he spurred on Leary. Sheesh...

As for your analysis of his novel/movie adaptation, I'll just say this: America was not founded on capitalism; that bastard conflation did not occur until the 19th century. More the pity for us...