Last night, we finished our discussion of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962). We started with a short clip on what seemed like a related topic: Major League Baseball’s Daniel Norris, the counterculture pitcher who lives out of his 1978 Volkswagon van, despite making millions on the mound. We watched this video about Norris, and in Writing Response 7,
we tried to connect his live to the novel. This was mostly for kicks, but I do like the responses. Here is the complete set:
My point was mostly that MLB is a hyper-capitalistic enterprise, in which the right commodity (like Norris) can be worth millions and millions of dollars. Norris appears “crazy” for resisting the materialism that accompanies giant salaries, so like in “Bartleby,” we can see a connection between a socioeconomic system (capitalism) and neurotypicality. I think Norris is a bit like Chief Bromden, who represents both the anti-capitalistic counterculture of the 1960s (the land his tribe lives on is purchased by the government or a corporation) and a kind of counter-cultural viewpoint (schizophrenia).
From here, we watched four clips from the 1975 film version of the novel–one that Ken Kesey apparently disliked. The clips were as follows: the World Series vote; the fishing trip; the party, and the finale. Before viewing these, we talked through some common cinematic elements (handout). We had two main goals in viewing these clips–we wanted to find:
- A significant cinematic element in each clip
- A significant difference from the novel
- If the two of these connect, even better
After viewing the clips, we had an in-depth, far-ranging discussion (teachers take note: film v. novel comparisons almost always work!). We noted a few things about Milos Forman’s cinematic techniques:
- extreme closeups for psychological insights
- natural lighting throughout
- ambient sound
- camera angles to emphasize Nurse Ratched’s power (and her weakness in the strangling scene)
- soft lighting on Nurse Ratched
We also discussed significant differences between the film and the book. First, the film decenters Chief Bromden, removing him from narrative duties in favor of a narrative perspective that often seems close to McMurphy himself. We were not sure how a schizophrenic viewpoint would work, but removing all of the “fog” from the narrative perspective made the movie much less about what was real v. what was imagined by the Chief. Another point in our conversation focused on the comedic effect of the “gang of crazies,” who are sometimes engaged in slapstick comedy (on the boat; during the party).
But by far the most significant question of the night was that of misogyny: I asserted that novel was misogynistic while the film was not. This led to insights about the nature of being a woman in the 1960s and in the here and now. My argument was based on the lack of “good” female characters in the book, (Ratched, Harding’s wife, Billy’s mother, the prostitutes), and especially on the invulnerable depiction of Nurse Ratched. Many of you came to her defense, however, citing the difficulty of being a female nurse in a ward that housed rapists (including McMurphy) and outlining the stereotypical roles that women in power have to occupy (vixen, nurturer). That Kesey never lets us see any vulnerabity, any sense that Ratched falls apart when she gets home, might make the case for a misogyny all the stronger.
Great class. The summary doesn’t do it justice.