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One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest

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An Amazing Film

After watching the stunning 1975 film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I realized that this film has a meaningful message of individualism. Psychologist B.F. Skinner believed, that psychology should observed behaviors that could be measured and verified (Hockenbury and Hockenbury 8). Skinner also argued that behavior is a simply influenced by the environment (P. 19). I do believe that from the 1970’s until the present day this film has influenced many people and societies. It has made people realize the importance of understanding human behavior and its mental processes. For many decades psychologists have been studying the human brain and human behavior and for some of them the performance of a lobotomy was in past years a solution to mental illness problems. However, lobotomies are still being performed at many mental institutions throughout the country, and I personally believe that this is a crucial way to treat patients with mental illness. As an example, in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, doctors performed a lobotomy on Randall Patrick McMurphy in order to solve his behavior problem, but it only changed his life in a negative way, making him a vegetable. Psychologists should have tried a different procedure before even proceeding with such a practice. Maybe they should have considered the practice of Psychoanalysis to understand the causes of McMurphy’ behavior. Sad but true, it was too late for McMurphy to get himself out of this mess and he did not have the opportunity to try any other program that might would have helped him.

Randall Patrick McMurphy, played by Jack Nicholson was forced to choose an alternative place facility for medical testing after having been convicted of recidivist criminal, statutory rape, and assault. He appears to be an insane patient but obviously he was only faking, and with this kind of behavior he makes me realize that he might need help. He obviously thought that everyone in the mental facility was a joke for him, and that he could fool them all by making them think he was insane.

It seems that McMurphy has had an attitude problem for years, especially when it comes to people that has authority over him. A good example of his behavior was his arrogant attitude towards Dr. Spivey, the main psychologist doctor of the ward and nurse Mildred Ratched, the main nurse of the facility, because they both weren’t convinced of his mental problem. With this particular behavior I can relate McMurphy’s attitude with one of the branches of psychology, such as is the school of Psychoanalysis. According to Sigmund Freud, he developed an intriguing theory of personality based on uncovering causes if behavior that were unconscious, or hidden from the person’s conscious awareness Fred’s school of psychology called psychoanalysis, emphasized and determining behavior and personality that people like McMurphy can be related to. It also seemed that personal control could be a part of McMurphy’s mental disorder. McMurphy had no personal control over stressful situations and this could explain a lot of his behavior. McMurphy was sent out to a mental hospital, instead of a different facility such as prison, but on the other hand he also seems to express positive emotions, self-confidence, and feeling of self-efficacy, in which makes him having a sense personal control as well. According to the textbook Discovering Psychology, the perception of personal control in a stressful situation must be realistic to be adaptive (P. 488).

McMurphy was a manic free spirit that encourages better self-steam for mostly voluntary inmates, by trying proving a point to them, that “in life is always better to try doing something than just listening to someone else to tell you what to do in life”. McMurphy seemed to have a good relationship with his inmates, with women from the outside, and always looked like he was in a good mood, but this behavior was also a part of his mental disorder. McMurphy’s character has an id personality in which is the most primitive and difficult to explain. The id instinctual drive for his character is “The Death Instinct”, which Freud called Thanatos, because its destructive energy that is reflected in aggressive, reckless, and life threatening behaviors, including self-destructive actions, in this case putting the patients life at steak. An example of this action is driving away the stolen hospital’s bus, going into a harbor, and taking possession of a fishing boat without any authorization. Who does something like this? Only a person with possible mental issues such as McMurphy put his fellow patients into a life-threatening situation.

However, McMurphy also had ego defense mechanism such as repression because of his impulses and thoughts to act towards any situation. He may have developed this defense mechanism from previous traumatic events, past failures, embarrassments, or disappointments in life. As the book explains that the use of defense mechanism is very common. Many psychologically healthy people temporarily use ego defense mechanisms to deal with stressful events. Using ego defense mechanism is often a way of buying time while we consciously or unconsciously wrestle with more realistic solutions for whatever is troubling us (P. 404). On the other hand, I can understand his prosocial behavior, because he seemed to help the patients, whatever the underlying motive was. But is not necessary altruistic because he helped them out of guilt, to gain something, recognition, reward, or having the favor returned, as he demonstrated in the beginning of the film, trying to use chief Bromden to escape from the ward. As the movie continued, his personality changed in the way that he became an altruistic person, but this time it seemed like he was helping the inmates to become stronger and more independent with no expectations of personal reward or benefit and being motivated purely by the desire to help them in their needs. An example of this action is the message McMurphy had for them in the tub room, “live free or die”, and “that escape still possible even from the most had circumstances”.

Nurse Ratched was the powerful person in the facility. She humiliates the patients in every therapy session by bringing up their own fears, and she seems to use it as a weapon to control them. Nurse Ratched became a tyrant over the patients and at the same time McMurphy instigates the group by telling them he will defeat her in a week. McMurphy wants to make sure that nurse Ratched looses control of her patients, as she constantly suppresses her patients by humiliation, as she demonstrates it with Billy Bibbit. Bibbit seems to be afraid of his mother, and nurse Ratched uses his mother to intimidate him. Nurse Ratched seems to be using an improper technique of psychotherapy to treat her patients. Psychotherapy refers to the use of psychological techniques to treat emotional, behavioral, and interpersonal problems (P. 548). Also, psychotherapy helps patients to overcome their problems and emotions, not to make it more difficult for them as she seemed to do it every day by using intimidation.

In my opinion, the first thing that I would have done to help McMurphy is trying to gain his respect and trust and work on his personal and mental behavior using psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. I would also suggest using Raymond Cattell’s questionnaire to evaluate and have an idea on assessing personality of McMurphy. With McMurphy and probably other patients, I feel the staff should have had more patience. Each and every case obviously should be handle differently, but in McMurphy’s case, I personally feel that this is the type of patient that doctors have to use psychology to become very close to him. Also, I feel the nurse Ratched almost seemed not to truly care about individual treatments.

Finally, my goal of therapy would be help him overcoming his behavior issues. Helping him wave his fears away, by the relief symptoms of attitude against control. I think group therapy is a great treatment for his attitude problem, like nurse Ratched said “The time spent in the company of others is very therapeutic while time spent brooding alone only increases a feeling of separation”.

I do believe the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was a great example of the sadness that is related with mental illness. However, it’s amazing how most people with psychological symptoms and behavior issues do not look for mental help like Randall Patrick McMurphy.

Works Cited

Hockenbury, Don., and Sandra Hockenbury. Discovering Psychology. 4th ed. New York: NY,


One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Dir. Milos Forman. Perf. Jack Nicholson and Louise

Fletcher. United Artist, Nov. 19, 1975.

Cited: Hockenbury, Don., and Sandra Hockenbury. Discovering Psychology. 4th ed. New York: NY, 2007. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Dir. Milos Forman. Perf. Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher. United Artist, Nov. 19, 1975.

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