Chief (Will Sampson)

We've got to give some major props to Chief Bromden for sheer cleverness and heart. While we may track McMurphy for most of the movie, there's a pretty convincing argument to be made that Bromden's the real hero here.

Not Deaf, Certainly Not Dumb

The most shocking thing we learn about Chief in this movie is the fact that he has succeeded in convincing the entire mental ward that he is a deaf mute. Genius, right? This gives him the advantage of knowing absolutely everything about what's going on because no one is ever afraid to say secrets when he's around. It also means we know very little about Chief in the first two-thirds of this movie because he is always silent and staring blank-faced at nothing at all.

But once he starts talking, he gives McMurphy a speech about how the world is going to try and break him down. According to Chief, his father used to be a great man, "He did like he pleased" just like McMurphy. But the world wasn't about to let a man do whatever he wanted, so in Chief's words, "They worked on him" the same way that Nurse Ratched is working on McMurphy and trying to change him.

The world eventually wore down Chief's dad so much that Chief says, "The last time I've seen my father, he was blind in the cedars from drinking." He worries that the same thing will happen to Mac because he's more afraid than Mac is. That's why Chief is scared to leave the mental ward. He doesn't think that free spirits like McMurphy can win in the long run.

Hail to the Chief

It's not until McMurphy gets his lobotomy that Chief finally summons the courage to escape and run off into the forest. But it's too late. He realizes that McMurphy's free spirit has been destroyed by the hospital. He shows just how much he cares about freedom when he decides to kill McMurphy, saying "I wouldn't leave you here this way."

Sad, right? He thinks he is setting McMurphy free by killing him, since the hospital has destroyed McMurphy's ability to be free while his body is still alive. Chief ends the movie by picking up the water fountain that McMurphy failed to pick up earlier in the movie. In other words, Chief succeeds where McMurphy failed and escapes. His final run out to the forest helps symbolize the freedom that he has finally achieved.

Freedom from the hospital, yes. But also freedom from fear.

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