The International Writers Magazine:
Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey/Milos Foreman
flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoos nest,
but which way did Milos Forman take in his adaptation of Ken Kesey's
classic One flew over the Cuckoos nest?
One of the key movies of the 70s is claimed to be Milos
Forman's One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest. Formans
take on the classic hallucinogenic, antiestablishment novel is
somewhat left to be desired. His film undermines the author Ken
Kesey's original, which deals with the complex cultural issues
of the 20th century.
The film adaptation
cuts important scenes and themes from the original. For example, Forman's
version completely misses out the harsh racial discrimination, which
the resident guards undertake under the influence of the wicked Nurse
Ratched, effectively played by Louise Fletcher. The language used by
Kesey, with reference to the guards, definitely puts a cultural influence
into context as to how Blacks were represented in 60s
within society. Quotes such as "The black boys" (Kesey, 1962,
139) are generally how the resident guards are described.
The political content of the novel is not developed enough through the
characters and themes of the film. On reading the book, its quite
obvious Keseys idea of the asylum establishment is based around
Russian politics with a direct link to the Soviet Union embedded within
the character of Nurse Ratched. However, the film doesn't convey these
complex ideologies to the viewer whatsoever.
Kesey has been quoted in saying that had he never been in the acid movement
group the Merry Pranksters in the 60s he would have never
written One Flew over the Cuckoos nest. This makes me wonder
why Milos Forman didnt include some of the many scenes of the
Chiefs hallucinations, also, priceless lines such as "Jus
a plain old cigarette. Hee hee, yes. You want a toke?" (Hauben
and Goldman 1975). This line in itself concludes Kesey's cultural influences
from the drug movements apparent in the era in which he wrote.
The main problem I had with this film, is the fact, why did Forman change
the whole direction and narration of this book? The book is written
from the narration and direction of Chief Bromden, Played by William
Redfield, but the film takes direction from star attraction, Randall
Patrick McMurphy, Played by Jack Nicholson. In my eyes, the casting
of Jack Nicholson as McMurphy was an ambiguous decision on many levels.
Nicholson did play the character of McMurphy exceptionally well. However
from the vivid iconic imagery that the reader gets in the novel, McMurphy
is inaccurate in being star of the film.
The Chief character is the main disappointment within Formans
screenplay. The Chief is the protagonist, and it should have stayed
that way. In my opinion Nicholson would have been more suitably cast
as the Chief's role. That way Forman would still have made his box office
smash and also made an extraordinary rendition of Keseys novel.
The actual characterisation of the Chief is poor. Within the film the
viewer isn't guided through the true medical condition of the character
and the reasons behind his imprisonment. In the novel we learn why the
Chief is deaf and dumb; we're introduced into his tribal background
and understand the true characteristics behind his acute condition of
schizophrenia and paranoia. Parts of the novel where the Chief talks
in-depth about the mist and fog that is taking over his own instinct
of vision aren't even worthy of a mention in the mind of Forman. The
film only touches on the Chief's character from the visual form and
starves the viewer from the moments where Kesey has crafted an emotional
connection between the reader and the character.
Kesey has been quoted as saying that he has never watched Forman's rendition
and sued the producers because the rewriting of the screenplay, and
especially the narration, not being told from the eyes of the Chief
was one factor that Kesey couldn't understand.
The film is good in its own right. It has yet to outshine the novel.
It is difficult to describe the two distinctly different artistic methods
of storytelling without comparing them in depth. I feel the film simplifies
some of Kesey's main themes and complexities that he deals with in the
novel. The film has made the story into a comedy, with, I admit, quite
humorous scenes including McMurphy and Charlie Cheswick, played by Sydney
Lassick. But, by making this film into a comedy, Forman managed to take
away the films true meaning. Forman managed to simplify the fact of
the treatment that these men were under going in this hospital, and
their lack of human rights whilst in this establishment.
Quibbles aside, the novel is tremendous with its muscular narrative
and fight for justice, which can leave you sometime feeling completely
high. The film is also awesome! Its story is simple, tragic and humorous
and oddly life-affirming. If you haven't already read the novel, read
it! If you havent seen the film then watch it! See which way you
© Sally Hawkesford November 2005
Sally is a Creative Arts major at the University of Portsmouth
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