Despite his being the most lucid among the inmates, he was still not immune to psychiatric intervention that led to his eventual defeat against Nurse Ratched. This makes society all the more oppressive, not accepting any dissent or differing perspective and eliminating those it cannot subdue. Thus, the story resonates Szasz's argument that mental illness is a myth and that psychiatry is a practice masquerading as a science to exert control over behavior by medical treatment that do not necessarily have physio-biological bases.
Disturbing as it is, both book and movie teaches the valuable lesson that even so-called social misfits or people relegated to being mentally deranged do find their sense of self given the right motivations and under positive and uplifting circumstances. McMurphy's character highlights the need for man to challenge the norm, not necessarily for the benefit of the self but more so for others. In his journey to liberate himself from the drudgery of prison, his conscious choice of having himself admitted into a mental institution indicates a sad sense of wanting to take control of his life again. Circumventing the system that has relegated him as a deviant, he sets to another environment where he will not necessarily be considered as a deviant -- the mental institution.
There were some departures from the novel, which would have given the movie more meaning and depth. First off, it was not apparent in the movie that the movie was taken from the perspective of Chief Bromden. The beauty of such role given to the silent, unimposing giant that he is gives a more personal touch to the narrative. The book also allows the reader to easily see the shift from the lucid Chief Bromden to his "fog machine" reverie than in the movie. Such purposeful and significant segment in the novel and its absence in the movie defeat the progress of Bromden's character development in the story. This is a substantial departure in the movie. This is a missed opportunity to peek into Bromden's journey to finding himself again.
Another obvious change in the film version that has been made was the fishing expedition that the inmates were allowed to have. The book was more specific about the small but significant changes taking place in the characters such as when Billy, for the first time since his stay in the institution, rediscovered his sexuality to indicate that one's humanity is not lost even when repressed for long periods of time. The fishing outing was so abbreviated in the movie that the segment in the gas station was not included, which would have added another texture to one of the key issues tackled by the novel, which is to demonstrate the negative attitudes of society at large towards people who are diagnosed as having mental illness. The movie likewise did not include the segment where the men were made to realize that they can use their insanity as leverage instead of a handicap when they were intimidated by the gas-station attendant. The movie also doesn't show the harassment they get from the fishermen and it departs from the novel when McMurphy instead introduced themselves as doctors from the mental institution. In what could be an otherwise serious scene, as depicted in the book, the movie made light about their experience at sea with the accompanying soundtrack. What is missing in the movie, however, was the turning point when the men as makes another discovery about themselves that they can be "normal" individuals if only for a moment, without any aid from McMurphy.
While there may have been a lot of modifications from the novel to its film adaptation, it does not in any way diminish the value of either the book or the movie. In a sense, what was lacking in one rendition the other makes up for it. One would experience the story more if one does both reading the book and watching the film. The merits of having the company of the book is for the reader to have the opportunity to sit back and think on the different musings, which may not arise should the experience be limited only for the movie. A lot of imagery and symbolism can be gleaned from the book, which is more difficult to figure when watching the film. On the other hand, watching the movie helps the reader to feel the texture of the characters with the masterful portrayal of high-caliber artists such as Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher.
Both the book and movie may leave one a feeling of sadness and tragedy over the demise of McMurphy in the hands of his friend, Bromden. It reminds one of yet another tragic ending in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. The tragic ending, however, imparts many lessons about our humanity.
As McMurphy's character has shown, our actions as influenced by our beliefs, no matter how erroneous at the onset, can have beneficial outcomes. While one may view his decision to voluntarily commit himself into the hands of a merciless mental institution to escape labor from prison, his strong-willed antics have inspired in his fellow patients to rediscover the inner strength that they have in spite of the limitations imposed by their mental incapacity. His unyielding respect for their capability to make independent decisions has helped the men see their humanity, even for a moment. This is poignantly depicted when Nurse Ratched wanted to insinuate that McMurphy was taking advantage of them by taking their money and the inmates defended him by saying, in a brief show of defiance against another of Ratched's attempt to turn them against each other, that they were well aware of the bets they were making. The moving scene, while it was overall hilarious with Jack Nicholson's portrayal, of Bromden finally speaking shows a moment of vulnerability yet it builds trust between the two men. As McMurphy finds an ally in the silent giant, Bromden finds confidence in himself.
A more tragic revelation that comes towards the end of the film, however, is McMurphy's realization that he entered the battle not knowing that his defeat has already been set up. Concealing Nurse Ratched's secret weapon to cow the patients into submission was a very realistic display of man's tendency, even in his deranged state, to protect himself by deflecting the wrath of an enemy to the unknowing party. This sort of betrayal put McMurphy in a bind, thereby making him more careful and calculated in his display of rebellion against Nurse Ratched's authority. It is indeed tragic that in exchange for all the wrath he had to incur to awaken the humanity in the patients in the ward, McMurphy has been trapped in the web that he unwittingly created. But not admitting defeat despite the reality he faces, he continues to wage his "crusade" to liberate the men from the wretchedness of Nurse Ratched's oppression. One of McMurphy's most endearing traits is unquenchable need to help the inmates regain their self-respect and his disregard for his own welfare. Such selflessness is not common in a society that has become so consumed with the self and upward mobility. He always had the choice to keep things as quiet as possible, biding his time in the mental institution and enjoying the relative comfort in the hospital. But he chose to rock the boat, as the rebel in him dictates.
After reading the book or watching the movie, one is left to reflect on the state of psychiatric treatment, which has been heavily criticized for its almost illegal intervention practices. The psychiatric practice also strips the moral imperative in one's actions and reduces it to a medial one (Leifer 11). It gives us further peek into the cracks of this pseudo-science which robs people to the humanity that the law of the land inherently provides for. While it may be claimed that these social misfits are a threat to society and to themselves, as psychiatrists are inclined to make the general public believe, the movie and the book show that these treatments actually exacerbates the problem instead of working towards reintegrating men and women into the society as productive citizens. Mental institutions were created to care for those with mental illness. But some contend that mental illness is cultural constructions to impose order when citizens do not conform to what society has determined as acceptable behavior. But who determines what is acceptable or not is also debatable. And the story indeed condemns the psychiatric practice with the arbitrary way of deciding to admit or discharge a patient from the hospital. And as a critique of society, it provides the cruel reality that the state, run by supposedly competent brutes hiding behind the educated facade of men and women, cannot really protect its citizens from abuse behind the close doors and walls of a mental institution. Such is the dangerous power that institutions can hold. It can make or…