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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest


He is 38 and is serving a sentence for statutory rape of a "mature" 15 year old.  His problem is that he "fights and fucks" too much…..or so the system would have him believe.  He is the enemy of the system.  And, as the "Chief" warned him, the system "works on you"---it killed the Chief's father, so he pretends not to hear or talk, and the Chief tries to warn McMurphy that it is working on him as well.  One of the reasons that this movie works so well is how comedy is juxtaposed with oppression.  You are laughing until you realize that this is a tragedy you are watching, not a comedy.


How we see people is a very important feature of the film.  McMurphy tells them they are no more crazy than a lot of the people out there and he is totally puzzled with how many of them are voluntary patients.  When he takes them on the fishing trip, we see how they "look" and appear very different when McMurphy introduces them as doctors.  We label people and in so doing destroy them.  We label people and they become self-fulfilling prophecies for us.  We label them to control them.


When Nurse Ratched emotionally destroys Billy out of a perversity for power over the patients, McMurphy tries to kill her and the other patients want him to succeed, as does the audience.  We feel the pain, we empathize with Billy, we are angry over what is happening to him.  We are infuriated at the way she uses guilt and his mother to keep him from enjoying one of the greatest moments in his young life.


Remember, all of this is a metaphor.  We are all oppressed.  We are all prisoners of guilt.  We all need for McMurphy to come to our aid and fight the oppression.  We all need to reach out and help those like Billy who are weak and need our support just like the patients in Cuckoo's Nest and The Snake Pit reached out and helped one another as do the members of AA and other self-help groups.


Tragically, the oppressed often become so habituated to the games they play that they are reluctant to give them up.  Back in the 60s and 70s when we were depopulating the state hospitals and moving people into more comfortable and less controlling environments, a number of them quickly died after the move---they couldn't adjust to the change.  Years ago a study was done of those in mental hospitals.  When a patient was told that he was being interviewed to see if he was well enough to have a grounds pass, which would allow him to have more freedom, he acted as though he was doing very well.  If he was told that the interview would determine if he was ready to be released, he tended to demonstrate numerous symptoms as a way of remaining in the hospital.  That does not mean that the hospital was a fun place to be… does powerfully show how we adapt to even the most demeaning of environments.  We get use to what is happening to us and begin to believe that that is the way it should be.  We become reluctant to give up our old habits no matter how dysfunctional they may be…….the fear of the new, the unknown, tends to keep us in our places…..especially when authority figures are telling us that what is happening is the way it should happen.


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