As you are probably aware, there are many books that have been turned into movies, and, there are probably many more movies that were inspired by books. In this post I’ll be putting a book and its film adaptation head to head to see which one I liked best!
The second book that I read this year was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey and it was a really interesting book that gave me a completely unique perspective to life in a mental hospital in the 1960s.
I was curious about Ken Kesey, how could he write such vivid descriptions of what it means to be constantly drugged in the ward and at the same time tell us about the narrator’s background?
“I know how they work it, the fog machine.” –Chief Bromden
In this sentence we think that our narrator is crazy, he thinks that they fill the ward with actual fog from machines, how delusional! Right? Not quite, he’s seen actual fog machines at work during the war, where they filled the fields with fog so that the enemy couldn’t find them.
“You were safe from the enemy, but you were awfully alone” — Chief Bromden
In this passage I was impressed with Kesey’s ability to give the reader that doubt of what exactly Chief Bromden was talking about. There are many more passages where things are not as clear, some filled with memories and others mixed with hallucinations and images brought on by the medications that the Chief is given throughout the day.
Ken Kesey was an author who volunteered to take drugs such as LSD, cocaine, among others, for a CIA project called MKUltra, which sought to find drugs that could be used for interrogation purposes as well as torture. Kesey would then write about the experience for that project, so it is no wonder that the descriptions in this book are what they are, full of vivid descriptions, not just visual but also tactile and auditory.
Before watching the movie I wanted to jot down how I imagined the characters, specifically Randle Patrick McMurphy who is described as:
“…redheaded with long red sideburns and a tangle of curls our from under his cap…tall…broad across the jaw and shoulders and chest, a broad white devilish grin…”
So, this is exactly who I imagine:
Mad Sweeney = RP McMurphy!
McMurphy is this tough guy who comes into the ward to save all the crazy men from this institution. He’s careless and simply wants the men to be just like him, no matter who they are. He’s the only one who talks to Chief Bromden and expects to hear his side of the story, which no one has done before apparently. McMurphy treats the men as any other man out in the world and therefore gives them courage and power that they’ve lacked while under the “care” of Nurse Ratched.
Nurse Ratched, the woman in charge of the ward and who has a strict set of rules that all patients must abide by is described as:
“Smooth, calculated, precision-made, like an expensive baby doll, skin like flesh-colored enamel, blend of white and cream and baby-blue eyes, small nose, pink little nostrils — everything working together except the color on her lips and fingernails, and the size of her bosom” — Chief Bromden
I honestly imagined her like this, except in white:
Nurse Ratched = Dolores Umbridge!
Nurse Ratched is supposed to be a tyrant, someone who doesn’t care about her patients and only cares about controlling them and bending them to her will. And, from Chief Bromden’s point of view she seems even scarier, with arms that are much longer than normal, eyes that see everything, and buttons that control all the patients. ::shudders::
The novel in general has a very heavy mood, at times it was like wading through molasses, so I had to push myself to keep reading until I got to another part where our narrator wasn’t so heavily drugged.
As for the movie, Miloš Forman won an Academy Award for Best Director for his work in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Additionally, this film won all 5 major categories in the 48th Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Leading Actress (Louise Fletcher), and Best Screenplay (Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman). So needless to say, I knew that this movie would be pretty good.
The first main difference comes from the point of view. In the novel we see everything from Chief Bromden’s perspective, but in the film we don’t have this filter, we get to see things as they are and that takes away one of the layers of the novel. This change in perspective works for the film because it makes it much more accessible, even if it does remove that uncertainty of what is real and what isn’t. This uncertainty was what gave the novel the heavy tone and the sense that it was moving so slow. In contrast, the movie is bright and it moves on a bit more quickly.
Then there’s Jack Nicholson as RP McMurphy, and he’s not exactly how I imagined him (see above picture), but he definitely delivers with his portrayal of the gambler who starts a war with Nurse Ratched and is trying to make the men in the ward stand up for themselves. On the other hand Louise Fletcher portrays a softer Nurse Ratched at first, makes her seem more like a victim or bystander of what’s happening. She is still manipulative, but not as much as in the book. That might also be because they removed the layer of Chief Bromden’s narration, so that makes sense too.
Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher
In the end, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest makes you think about different aspects of life. Do you want to live in fear and go along with the rules imposed on you by society? Or, do you want to break the rules, live life to the fullest, but perhaps deal with the consequences of going against the system? This novel puts all this into perspective and puts you in a place where things might seem hopeless, but in the end I think that it shows us that we live in a world that isn’t set to strict rules, we can make a change in our society by living courageously and standing up for what we believe in. We have the tools to make a difference, whether they be our education, our culture, or our government, we must stand up for what we believe is right and fight for our values.
4/5 stars, will give you the perspective from the point of view of a highly medicated patient in a mental ward. The perspective from a patient with mental health issues is incredibly valuable, since it helps us understand why mental health issues are so misunderstood to this day.
4/5 stars, will focus more on the aspect of courage against a system and the strength in numbers, and give you a very clear and scary image on what mental health meant in the 1960s. (I do believe that many of the ideas that existed then about mental health still exist and it is something that still needs to be worked on as a society).
Final verdict: Book wins!!! I personally liked the book better because of Chief Bromden, his perspective was much more interesting than just seeing McMurphy come in and try to save everyone from the Big Nurse, and it adds that extra layer that makes each character much more complex.
Have you read this novel or watched the film? Which one did you enjoy best? Let’s discuss in the comments!
Also, if you like this post, let me know which other books that have been made into movies I should try!