One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: Book and Film Comparison

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a compelling narrative of the misfortunes of the patients in an Oregon hospital. The story was adapted for the big screen in 1975, manifesting several differences from the source. The decision of the director of the movie not to narrate the story from Bromden’s point of view has had a distinct impact on it because the viewers have to build their understanding of McMurphy’s actions themselves.

The film is easier to comprehend for those who have read the book earlier. Bromden’s unreasonable fantasies in the novel take the center stage, immediately setting up a perspective filled with both factual and psychosexual metaphors that partially result from the racially hinted terror. For example, he uses machine-like terms to describe the Big Nurse. At the beginning of the novel, he sees the Nurse coming towards the black boys, and he states, “She blows up bigger and bigger, big as a tractor…” (Kesey 5). It takes almost two pages for the reality of the conditions in the ward to become evident, and even then, the reader spends some time trying to evaluate Bromden’s dreams and make them coherent. However, in the film, the scene is barely described, omitting important details.

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The outcome of the novel is a narrative in which melodrama regularly seems to break into chaos. On the other hand, the film does not have any narration. The first scene occurs outside a mental institution and serves as the setting for the following actions. The viewers see a forest, fields, and a car that appears on the road. After several minutes, Nurse Ratched comes in, and the patients start their usual daily routine. In the film, Forman does not use hallucinations and visions, which Bromden thinks are working to turn everybody into easily programmed robots. The events in the movie unfold more realistically, making the role of Bromden as a narrator irrelevant. Consequently, the viewers understand the film without any additional explanation.

Throughout the novel, the readers get the information from the Chief about what he thinks of McMurphy. At one instance, Bromden starts to understand that McMurphy is not only a tough criminal filled with disobedience and adventures; he is someone different from anyone Bromden has encountered before. He narrates to the readers, “I was seeing him different from when he came in” (Kesey 56). From these words, the readers can see that even if it takes them some time, they will understand that McMurphy’s personality is more than what they think he is.

In the film, on the other hand, it does not appear that Bromden’s change of attitude towards McMurphy is based on something significant. In one of the scenes, which is different from the one in the book, McMurphy abuses Bromden by making fun of his Native heritage. Afterward, when McMurphy takes a tour with fellow inmates, Bromden smiles because he is happy to see McMurphy getting away with the stunt. Based on this scene, the viewers may not understand how Bromden has evolved from feeling hatred for McMurphy to being pleased with his accomplishments. It is the lack of narration in the film that contributes to the glaring vagueness of such scenes. It is obvious that the absence of the narrator leaves the story wanting, making it inferior to the novel.


Work Cited

Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Berkley, 1963.