One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest
I have a memory from high school of my father watching One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. At the time, being 16 or 17, I had little to no interest in what I honestly remembered to be a black and white film. Upon watching it as a 22 year old, I was deeply moved by the film and found the lead character McMurphy to be written as a less than perfect Christ figure. In the film McMurphy steals the activity bus belonging to the hospital and takes his fellow inmates fishing. While out on the water he teaches one of them how to drive the boat, and helps another catch a fish.
This was the first instance that started to define McMurphy as a Christ figure in my eyes. This is really the beginning of the ward rallying behind McMurphy, reminiscent of the 12 disciples following Christ. An essay I found on this film had a very interesting perspective on the scene in the pool, which I found to be extremely insightful, as I had not considered a connection here. “In another very short, but moving scene, all of the patients are playing in the pool. Here, McMurphy is told his status by one of the hospital aides.
The setting makes this powerful. McMurphy is fully submerged in the pool and when he lifts his head, he carries out the conversation with the hospital aide. This “opening of his eyes to what is going on around him” can be viewed as a baptism. McMurphy realizes why he is where he is and what he has to do. When put in a biblical sense, he is developing into a Christ-like figure responsible for all the others, and is accepting his fate. If we are following the symbolism, we can suspect that McMurphy will be killed by the conclusion of the film.”(Ohio. edu)
The night that McMurphy is supposed to escape, he throws a huge party for the ward, with drinks and music and a few female guests. This was reminiscent of the last supper, which Christ held. I saw it as a celebration of the time they had all spent together and the culmination of a journey towards freedom for all of them, especially the voluntary patients. The following morning, after falling asleep by the window waiting on his friends to depart, there is a skirmish involving Nurse Ratched.
The next time we see McMurphy he is escorted into his bed and has clearly been lobotomized. This really hammers home the last supper imagery, as in a way McMurphy was crucified by the hospital, because his free spirit was inciting too much passion in the rest of the inmates. Much as following in Christ changed each of the twelve disciples lives, during his time spent at the hospital we see McMurphy impact great change in several of the lost souls on the ward.
For example, we have the scene where Cheswick begins to question why they can’t have cigarettes whenever they like and ultimately stands up to Nurse Ratched demanding his cigarettes repeatedly. Nurse Ratched attempts to pass the blame, onto the gambling with McMurphy, in attempt to shake the confidence in his followers. Without the influence of McMurphy, Cheswick’s character would never have been as assertive. There is also the morning after the “Last Supper” when Billy Bibbit, no longer stutters, and also finally asserts himself and stands up to Nurse Ratched.
While this ultimately leads to Billy’s demise, it is a huge step in the life of his character. In the final scene of the movie, the Chief frees the now lobotomized spirit of McMurphy by suffocating him. This can be compared to the death of Christ, in many ways. The Chief knew that if McMurphy stayed alive in his vegetative state, it would kill all the work that he had done in the spirit of the inmates. Not to mention as McMurphy’s friend, he couldn’t live with leaving what used to be such a vibrant colorful person so lifeless.
After suffocating him, the Chief rips the heavy stone bath column out of the ground, and throws it through the window. This plan had originally been attempted by McMurphy earlier in the movie, and in this way, the Chief was honoring his spirit as he left. This is also a symbolic act of the removal of the stone from the grave of Christ. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an extremely well written work, and an even greater portrayed film. The cornucopia of emotions evoked by the film is astounding.
After deep thought on what could be taken as a “just another 70’s movie” I have found myself in great admiration of yet another fictional character. R. P. McMurphy did not always make great choices, if he had, he never would have ended up at the hospital in the first place. However he lived life with such passion, and such ambition, that he inspired others to be the strongest individuals they could, one day at a time. He had followers, and they loved him dearly. He was truly, Christ of the Crazies.
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