10/04/2016

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest - Rolling Stones Don't Wash Dirty Underwear In Public

Thoughts On: One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

The last 70s classic I'll be looking at before diving into Spring Breakers. This follows Randle McMurphy into a mental institution, where he discovers the life of a psychiatric patient isn't so mellow and free.


This movie, despite the end, is one of the most joyous films of all time. It does this by perfectly balancing the idea of chaos with control and restraint through mischief. Jack Nicholson perfectly captures a person with little restraint, little self-control, but an abundance of respect and heart. It's because Randle only wants to enjoy himself that he can rouse a sense of humanity and normalcy in those others would consider insane. In short, Randle only wants to see the likes of himself in others and so can see character beyond facade. This is ultimately how we see and is what makes this film absolutely phenomenal. Whilst the film does have themes and questions surrounding a question of normality versus insanity, I won't be focusing on them today. What we'll be looking at is is the two core ideas of the film. The first is chaos and disorder for the sake of levity or fun. The second is trapping yourself and being trapped. Let's jump right into what Randle represents. He is the part of you that picks up snowballs even though you know you're hands are going to get cold, wet and probably to the point where you're almost in tears. Randle is what makes you put glue or sticky tape in your friend's hair for a laugh. You've ruined their day, possibly the next month of their life, but, shit it was funny. Impulsiveness and good intent laced with apparent malice, this is Randle. I mean, just look at that smile up there... I need say no more. How he explains himself as the chaos factor to an organising body (the psychiatric hospital) is that he fights and fucks too much. He is, for all of those who've taken a psychology class, representative of the id - instinctively drawn to innate impulses. Law's purpose is to essentially control that part of society. But, with ease, Randle can have Dr. Spivey smiling over the idea of statutory rape and the audience cured of any disillusion. This has quite a bit to do with antiheroes, but Randle's case is quite special. Sex driven teens are quite the norm, as are gangsters, murderers, monsters and idiots. All common antiheroes. What Randle manages to be is an amalgamation of Travis Bickle and Alex DeLarge. This comes back to what makes the film special. Randle is the dark antihero, your Batmans, Charles Foster Kanes, Jim Starks, or Men With No Names. At the same time he's a Patrick Bateman, Juels Winnfield, Joker, Sugar Kane Cowalczyk, Jordan Belfort. There's a very strong sense of of both ying and yang in his character that few others can manage.

Whereas The Joker can get away with being 90% bad but 10% truly entertaining, Randle splits the divide evenly because One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest ultimately isn't about bad trumping good. This film is made up of antiheroes and the naive. Nurse Ratched may seem like an antagonist, but with an antihero in a realist picture, she can't be the bad guy, but a representative of Randle's opposite. She may act in opposition to him, but not in hostile way, and so, she's not a true antagonist. This will eventually link into trapping oneself and being trapped, but the first takeaway here is that of balance. When we take into consideration all sides of character motivation, the film asks how much control an institution should have. This is best summed up with the cigarettes ordeal. All patients have their cigarettes rationed and doors locked because they essentially aren't trusted to look after themselves. Because Randle won all their smokes, Nurse Ratched decides to look out for her patients and stop what she assumes to be cheating from happening--just like countries may make gambling illegal. But, as Manchini says, how, without their cigarettes, will they win any back? To control we must minimize risk. But risk, the whole concept of odds and imbalance, is meant to excite a system, both in an emotional and physical sense. The freedoms of being an adult are best utilised by those trying to do something childish and stupid. Mistakes are seen as a right to an individual, but on a larger scale, mistakes are big no, nos. Randle is chaos, Nurse Ratched is control and we are the likes of Martini, Taber and Cheswick. We are the impressionable. I like to say this too much, but, the crowd is the stupidest person of all. They can be lulled into routine or sparked into chaos like a child with ice cream; refuse to give it to them, they scream, give it to them, they love you, they drop it, they scream again, give them another, they're grinning again. This kind of makes Randle the big kid who'd happily smack the ice cream out of your hand and Ratched the parent who warned you not to drop it. But, ice-cream and tears are trivial matters. What the film is more concerned with is the over-reactions, the misunderstandings. In the same way Taber shouldn't have been detained because a cigarette burnt his foot, Nurse Ratched didn't deserve to be strangled. At the same time, I don't think Randle really needed lobotomising either. But, the question raised is, who would? Are the over-reactions always unjust?

The conflict between control and chaos in a liberal or moral society--liberal more so--is tantamount to embarrassment. With rules such as freedom of speech, people are forced into a corner when they hear something they do't want to. People and idealism don't work together because people hate contradiction, but love to say we're all human. The cycle is quite funny to me. As a species humans yearn for paradigms - formulas that make us all happy. But, one of the worst attempts at this is the idea of doing onto others as you'd want done onto yourself. Equality is one of the key ideals of our day and age, the idea is prospectively warming, but when faced at present isn't always so fun. Equality is sharing your toys with that snot nose kid that got away with making you eat sand. Equality is staring the nurse who just drove your friend to suicide in the eye and saying, well, I'm sure you didn't mean for that to happen. Equality is blind tolerance, blind forgiveness. Why should we love our enemies? Yes, I can pragmatically say that Nurse Ratched didn't deserve to be strangled, but had I stood in Randle's shoes, like almost all of us, I could have strangled the bitch. Maybe I wouldn't, but I could not forgive her so easily. This is the embarrassing state of conjecture. We love to ignore apparent truths or what makes us look bad so we can get those retweets, that round of applause from strangers. Here's one I love, 'treat your girl like a queen and you become a king'. I see it all the time, but, no, simply, no. All that sounds like to me is an abusive relationship. But, it keeps the girls smiling and the guys' hopes of sticking it in you high--so, shh. From a literal perspective, people love to spew nonsense and this translates to the film's ideas through its main conflict. Both Randle and Nurse Ratched are trying to look out for the patients at the psychiatric hospital. Randle, for fun. Nurse Ratched, because it's her job. Both for moral comfort in helping others. The patients maybe need parties and alcohol as much as they do therapy and pills. Both sides of the spectrum (Randle/Ratched) don't want to accept this. The true tragedy in the end of this film is not that Randle is reduced to a zombie, but that the film had to end, that things got so out of hand. The reasons for this link to the second idea of the movie.

Whilst this is a film about freedom, it is as much about about enslaving oneself. It's because of Randle's, what he would call, misdemeanors, that he was sent to prison. However, in an attempt to cheat the system and get an easier ride, he gets into the psychiatric hospital. Because of his nature, he ends up trapped in a place that he doesn't seem to belong--but kinda does. In this sense Randle is just as much of a voluntary patient as Billy. This isn't so coherent in the beginning of the film, but by the third act all is revealed. It's the lingering close-up of Randle having just set Billy up with Candy that shows that he doesn't want to leave for Canada. He puts on a relaxed facade, but can't prevent his embarrassment from surfacing in his disingenuous smile to no one. Randle chooses to stay until morning, just like he chose to put the keys back on the window ledge. Chaos is nothing without control and all Randle was looking for was a fight. It's the in-extreme element, the mid-ground, that suffers from this. Like I said, there's the antiheroes and the naive. When extremists fight for control, the crowd that watches is torn left to right until they break. This is what happens with Billy. It's unclear whether Ratched or Randle is better for him, if routine or impulisivity better suite his nature, but both of them together prove fatal. In the same way that Billy is torn apart, that Randle tears himself apart by rebelling, systems are shown to collapse by not managing their extremes. In short, opposites are rarely equal in a literal sense. Someone always has to win. Unstoppable forces do not meet immovable objects. Randle is a binary archetype, it's all or nothing, off or on, with him. As with Ratched. What does this imply? It implies that we should all become more tolerant, backpedal toward a mid-ground, toward equality. Contradiction! I hear you scream. Well, yes. But, here's the thing, a move toward equality is not equality. Systems, like people, work best when in conflict. This is the crux of the film (I feel like this is becoming a catchphrase). Anyway, the core idea of the film is not in Big Chief running toward the horizon, free as an eagle, big as a mountain. The point is lifting that sink and breaking the window.

Conflict is what the film ends on, is what the film implores. It's with imbalance, Ratched in the nurses station with a neck brace on, the group playing with a set of cards with nude women on, but Randle nowhere to be seen, that the film finds peace. It's Randle when, having lost the vote, can sit in front of a blank screen a yell like a child, that the film finds joy. It's when Cheswick is moaning, 'Hard-on' is ranting, Martini's giggling, Taber's mocking, Sefelt yips 'peculiar!?' and Billy silently grins, that morbid silence can't stagnate, that everyone seems so alive. This is why we trap ourselves in jobs we don't love, with friends that are annoying, with people who don't share our ideals. Not, only do we love to moan, but we need conflict to know that things are happening. This is where the rolling stones and underwear aphorisms come into play. Rolling stones plow through life. Not gathering moss is refusing to, as Ferris Bueller would say, stop and take a look around once in a while. In the same respect not cleaning your dirty underwear in public is best defined with the Kim Jong-un character in The Interview. It's refusing to be seen as human--to have a butt-hole. Randle is a rolling stone, Ratched wouldn't wash dirty underwear in public. They are flawed in the same sense because those they aim to impress themselves upon are never truly allowed to see them as much more than caricatures. Randle's happy to throw a big gestures, but rarely small ones. Ratched exercises restraint to the point of being nothing more than cold. By polarising themselves they are trapped in conflict with each other, but a conflict that'll always want to escalate. A conflict that has an end, wants to stop and have the life sucked out of a place. However, with Big Chief, Randle found another opposite. He's controlled internally, but he does not want to control externally. It's these two that form the most genuine relationship, that can have the quiet conversations. And so, through Chief, a part of Randle lives on. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is ultimately about inserting the right amount of chaos into a control system so that it can thrive. The hard conflict the film endures cites an unbalanced imbalance. The levity we are given through joyous uproar is the porridge that's not too sweet, not too salty, but just right. Of course, we're stealing from bears, but everyone loves a fairy tale, adventure, a bit of danger.

All in all, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is about the world as a 'Cuckoo's Nest'. Yes, Cuckoos are birds--they are free--but they're nuts. And so again, the tragedy of the film is not that Randle flew over the nest, but that he couldn't stay. Chief, in all hope, hasn't fled the nest, but entered a bigger badder world. Ultimately, freedom is not shown to be in peace, but in comfortable conflict--the tears and the ice-cream. If the world wasn't a crazy place, then what would it be?




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