This article describes the development and advances in psychiatry over the twentieth century, which informs a study of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by providing a context for the film's portrayal of the mental hospital, patients, staff and procedures. Palmer notes that early on, mental illness was considered an incurable disease of personal failing or spirituality. Now, mental illness is thought to be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Asylums were created with the intention of removing "lunatics" from the community for recovery. The article also discusses various experimental treatments, noting that the lobotomy procedure became very popular for its ability to tranquilize patients although it "more or less deprived them of their social skills and judgment." This background informs Cuckoo's Nest's depiction of the surgery which correspondingly destroys McMurphy's individuality and signals his demise. Forman presents the procedure as potent and fear-inspiring; its critical role in the plot is shaped by the historical and cultural factors that colored the public's perception of lobotomies during that time period. During the 1960s and 1970s-during which Kesey's novel was published and the film adaptation was created-the antipsychiatry movement gained momentum. Researchers, writers and protestors contended that mental illness had roots in social, political and legal areas; many believed such illness was "purely a social contract." This historical portrait provides insight into the portrayal of disease in McMurphy and the other patients, whose disabilities are influenced by multiple vectors of societal pressures, such as threat of emasculation and defiance of conformity. This analysis of mental illness clearly reflects the time period in which in was created, approaching it from social causes rather than solely organic causes. In addition to shedding light on the cultural factors that shape the depiction of mental illness in Cuckoo's Nest, this article utilizes the film as an illustration of those social forces and their affect on public perception of mental illness and psychiatric practices. Palmer notes that the release of Cuckoo's Nest "gave the public an awareness of the horrors of electroconvulsive therapy" and increased negative perception of it. The article contends, therefore, that the film is not only a reflection of a social and historical time period but a factor in shaping those cultural forces. This article demonstrates how a film serves multiple purposes in society, public opinion and directing it. From this perspective, Cuckoo's Nest holds a very influential position in American culture and its weight should be factored into any analysis of the film's role and reception.
Forman's Cuckoo's Nest, Its Composition and Symbolism
Jan Bialosticki's treatment of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a detailed exploration of allegorical composition, which provides valuable insight to the construction and significance of the film. Through close analysis of a few scenes, Bialosticki demonstrates how Forman effectively achieves a balance of symbolism and narrative; where ideas prevail, he argues, the film becomes artificial. Cuckoo's Nest, though, allows representations of reality and characterizations to triumph, which gives allegory a "human shape." Bialosticki explicates the scene in which the patients temporarily escape the hospital and commandeer a boat into the "full of light, wide, almost boundless" sea to illustrate the impossibility of escaping one's own psyche. A false sense of freedom as the ship passes through the narrow harbor into the open water is truncated by a transformation into a "ship of fools" that is headed nowhere, inhibited and powerless against the sea that turns it around. Bialostocki proposes that Forman's is a chief example ofan artist's exploration of the basic necessities governing social life,...