Study Guide

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Point of View

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Point of View

Straightforward Storytelling

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest has absolutely no tricks up its sleeve when it comes to narrative structure. It starts at the beginning of the story and ends at the end, and never skips around in between. We learn some memories and backstories of the individual patients, but that's about as close to a flashback as we're gonna get here.

It makes sense, though, for the story to be so straightforward. We need time to unfold linearly so that we can trace McMurphy's attempts to shake up the Ratched regime. With each failure, McMurphy moves closer to his inevitable decline. But with each failure, he also gives a morale boost to his fellow patients—which is how we end up with Chief Bromden's triumphant (if a little depressing) closing scene.

Third Person (Omniscient)

It's true that much of this movie follows McMurphy around and keeps us connected to his perspective. But there are also other scenes where McMurphy isn't in the room, so we're clearly dealing with a narrator that can look in on other people, too.

For example, we watch one scene where the hospital doctors get together to talk with Nurse Ratched about what they should do with McMurphy. It's important that McMurphy doesn't hear this meeting, because Nurse Ratched steps up as the person who decides to keep him confined to the mental hospital, saying "I'd like to keep him on the ward. I think we can help him."

Now we know something that McMurphy doesn't, and that knowledge totally influences the way that we look at his relationship going forward. Basically, we know that McMurphy should probably dislike Nurse Ratched more than he already does, since she's the reason he'll be stuck in the mental hospital until he's an old man.

The third person point of view of this movie is also crucial because we need the focus to shift to a different character once McMurphy has had a lobotomy. At this point, Chief Bromden becomes the hero of the movie. This is an interesting twist, since the book version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a first-person narrative told through the eyes of Bromden.

A lot of critics of the film have complained about this change. Seeing this story through Chief's eyes humanizes him, and provides us with an important outsider's perspective on McMurphy's antics. Losing that means the movie feels more like the McMurphy show, and less about the enduring effects his behavior has on the other patients in the ward.

So it's nice that in these final moments, the movie syncs back up with the book. Bromden becomes the true hero of the narrative, and we might wonder if that's actually been the case all along. After all, he's the one who's had to overcome fear. McMurphy, on the other hand, has been defeated by the hospital.

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