Thursday, 24 November 2011

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (5/5)

The back says: Chief Bromden, half American-Indian, whom the authorities believe is deaf and dumb, tells the story of a mental institution ruled by Big Nurse on behalf of the all-powerful Combine.

Into this terrifying grey world comes McMurphy, a brawling gambling man, who wages total war on behalf of his cowed fellow-inmates. What follows is at once hilarious, tragic and ultimately liberating.

I say: I was a bit reluctant to start reading this because I had seen the film twice and I never understood what all the fuss was about. The first time was in school at the age of 10 (what they hell was our teacher thinking?) and the second sometime in my early twenties – I understood way more that time and Jack Nicholson is awesome. I am so glad that I had to read this as part of my 100 Classics Challenge because I loved it.

Just absolutely loved it.

First of all, I just have to say that this was an incredibly intense read for me; so intense that I took me a week to finish it, because I had to stop along the way when it got too much and too heavy.

I love that Kesey chose to set the novel from “Chief” Bromden’s perspective since he was the silent and invisible observer and therefore offered what in the beginning was a neutral point of view. As mentally damaged as he may have been, he still had enough clarity of mind (most of the time) to be able to assess the situations and describe them with staggering beauty. And this is coming from someone who usually can’t stand novels written in vernacular.

Yes, I did notice the bad grammar, but it didn’t bother me.

Having seen the movie I already knew what was going to happen but, as always, it was different reading about it. It wasn’t over in 1.5 hours and therefore it became a slower and more intense process – and less obvious. Even though I knew and could discern that McMurphy was liberating the men and fighting Nurse Ratched, the subtlety of his actions were far more profound when observed through the eyes of one of the very people he was trying to free. Chief Bromden was by no means a stupid man, but because he had moments of hallucinations it made me question his interpretation in the beginning.

I could truly go on for days about this novel, and I probably will, but I’m going to finish off by saying that the reason this gets 5/5, besides the moving storyline and the brilliantly quirky characters, is due to all the layers that Kesey laid forth. We are all free to take from a novel what we please, but sometimes there’s only so much you can grasp.

With this the possibilities are endless.

I mean, the critique of the mental healthcare wasn’t subtle, nor was it meant to be, but Chief Bromden’s paranoia about constantly being watched and manipulated by “the combine”, the way he described how Native Americans were being treated by the government, the reason why Nurse Ratched ran the place with an iron fist and hired the men she did, the meaning of the title… the list is endless.

And I am passing this on to everyone I know so that we can have merry heated discussions about it for hours.


  1. I was in my early twenties before I watched the film. Had always put it off as I find Jack Nicholson to be more than a little creepy. I loved it though and loved his character. It was so upsetting though that I haven't been able to watch it since. I have been meaning to read the book but have been putting it off for the same reason. Glad you enjoyed it though. I can imagine why you had to put it down when it got too much. I think I would be the same. One day it will be my classic choice of the month.

  2. Oh yah, Jach Nicholson the person is bit creepy (it's the thing he does with his eyebrows and that laugh) - but he's an excellent actor. I'm actually thinking of watchin the film again, just for a better comparison. But I don't want to get to the end. It really bothers me.

  3. I took psychology in high school and this film was part of the class. Though disturbing and abhorrent in the care given these patients, I still enjoyed the movie. Jack Nicholson does a terrific portrayal of his character! His early films are rather creepy but have you seen him in The Bucket List or Something's Gotta Give? You see a totally different character which shows his true abilities and flexibility as an actor.

  4. Yes, those eyebrows are something else. The end bothers me too.

    Have to say it's Nicholson himself and not the characters he plays (although that doesn't help) that creeps me out. I've seen Something's Gotta Give. It didn't change my view of him.

  5. Ha. I thought he was really old man creepy in Something's Gotta Give. Somehow, that character is how I imagine him being as a person.