Study Guide

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Freedom and Confinement

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Freedom and Confinement

Doctor: They think you've been faking it in order to get out of your work detail.

The head doctor at the mental hospital is concerned that McMurphy has been faking insanity in order to get out of his work at the prison—which, let's be honest, is a distinct possibility. But McMurphy swears he'd never willingly choose to be in the mental hospital. He has no clue why the folks at the prison sent him to the hospital. At least, that's his story.

Cheswick: He said to go straight out as an arrow.

McMurphy's most successful act of freedom is to bust out of the hospital and take the other patients of his ward on a boating you ride. He even puts Charlie Cheswick in charge of driving the boat, despite Charlie's total reliance on having other people tell him what to do. It's a tiny moment of triumph for poor Charlie.

McMurphy: I'll be seeing you on the outside. You know what I mean?

McMurphy is unwavering in his confidence that he's going to get his freedom back. But he's in for a rude surprise when he finds out that the mental hospital can keep him locked up for as long as it wants. As he discovers throughout the movie, there are any number of ways that the establishment manages to squelch his freedom.

Mr. Washington: By the time you get out of here, you'll be too old to even get it up.

Mr. Washington is glad to tell McMurphy that he'll be an old man by the time he gets out of the mental hospital—in the crassest way possible, of course. You see, McMurphy has been under the wrong impression that he is going to get out of the hospital as soon as his prison sentence is up. But he doesn't realize that the mental hospital can keep him there for as long as it sees fit.

McMurphy: You're just a young kid. What are you doing here?

McMurphy is offended when he finds out that the young Billy Bibbit has chosen to be inside the mental hospital voluntarily. He thinks that Billy should be out doing all the things that free young men should be doing, like getting drunk and dating women.

McMurphy: Jesus, I mean, you guys do nothing but complain about how you can't stand it in this place, and then you haven't got the guts to walk out?"

You'll have to pardon the somewhat self-righteous McMurphy for being super annoyed that the men around him complain all the time about the mental hospital when they have the opportunity to leave whenever they want. For him, there is nothing more important than freedom. That's why it blows his mind when he finds out that some people reject freedom for the comfort of having someone else make decisions for them.

Chief Bromden: I'm not going without you, Mac. I won't leave you here this way.

Here's a nice moment of friendship, right? When Chief Bromden realizes that McMurphy has had a lobotomy, he decides he won't let McMurphy live as a zombie. So he decides to set McMurphy free by killing him. Thanks?

Chief Bromden: You're coming with me. Let's go.

At first, Chief Bromden doesn't realize that McMurphy has had a lobotomy. He tells McMurphy that he (Chief) has finally gathered the courage to leave the hospital. But it's too late, because only at this second does he realizes that part of McMurphy's brain has been cut out.

Sefelt: They were taking him through the tunnel. He beat up two of the attendants and escaped.

After McMurphy disappears for a while, rumors start to circulate about how he escaped from the hospital. These rumors help show how much McMurphy's free spirit has infected the imaginations of other people in the mental ward. Maybe it's better for them to imagine him free—rather than lobotomized, that is.

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