Recent Encounters With Authority Inspire this Posting
It’s not that I don’t respect others – it’s that I respect me
**Major Portions directly borrowed from “Beames on Film“
Despite the ultimate, spirit-crushing lobotomy visited upon Nicholson’s Randle McMurphy following his strangling of the nurse, one of the really exceptional elements of ‘One Flew’ is that the institution is not portrayed as malicious for its own sake. Ratched is stern and rigorously enforces her regime – to the detriment of the patients – yet, until the heartless humiliation of Bibbet, her good intentions are never really in question. You get the sense she genuinely believes her methods are the best way bring stability or order to disordered lives. Here (in a refreshing break from the norm) the system, though it medicates patients into docility and uses electro-shock therapy as a punishment, is not depicted as deliberately cruel.
Perhaps (the forced lobotomy of McMurphy aside) Ratched’s greatest act of cruelty is subtle and indirect. Though most of her patients are in the hospital voluntarily – and therefore permitted to leave at any time – none of them express even the faintest desire to do so, thanks to her control over them and the relative security it brings. Through her regime Ratched merely seeks to pacify her wards, with little thought of preparing them to reintegrate with society. This horrifies McMurphy who thinks only of freedom. Though clearly a loose cannon, he’s not himself mentally ill: he’s a criminal who’s had himself committed in order to avoid manual labour and serve the rest of his sentence in relative comfort.
This allows him to witness, and experience, the pitfalls of institutionalisation. It is ambiguous whether he fails to escape the night of the illicit party (falling asleep) or simply decides not to – preferring to stay within this new community in which he has become an important member. Either way McMurphy becomes the unwilling victim of a system that seems designed to make people easier to handle, rather than working to enrich their lives. In this respect the hospital is not too dissimilar from the prison Nicholson’s character has left behind.