McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) as a wise-cracking Everyman
Of the twenty-one films referenced in this blog related to the subject of psychology via Hollywood, after a (too-)long wait, here is number 6, starring Jack Nicholson in his quintessential role, along with Louise Fletcher, in chilling role as a mental-health-facility nurse.
Condensed from Wikipedia, thus is the plot:
In 1963 Oregon, Randle Patrick "Mac" McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a recidivist anti-authoritarian criminal serving a short sentence on a prison farm for statutory rape of a fifteen-year-old girl, is transferred to a mental institution for evaluation. Although he does not show any overt signs of mental illness, he hopes to avoid hard labor and serve the rest of his sentence in a more relaxed hospital environment.
McMurphy's ward is run by steely, unyielding Nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who employs subtle humiliation, unpleasant medical treatments and a mind-numbing daily routine to suppress the patients. McMurphy finds that they are more fearful of Ratched than they are focused on becoming functional in the outside world. McMurphy establishes himself immediately as the leader among several characters (mostly played by well-known or soon-to-be-well-known actors), among them his fellow patient Billy"Chief" Bromden (Will Sampson), a silent American Indian believed to be deaf and mute.
McMurphy and Ratched's battle of wills escalates rapidly. McMurphy steals a hospital bus, herds his colleagues aboard; they begin to feel faint stirrings of self-determination.
Soon after, however, McMurphy learns that Ratched and the doctors have the power to keep him committed indefinitely. Sensing a rising tide of insurrection among the group, Ratched tightens her grip on everyone. Following one of her group-humiliation sessions, sent up to the "shock shop" for ECT. While McMurphy and the Chief wait their turn, McMurphy offers Chief a piece of gum, and Chief murmurs "Thank you." McMurphy is delighted to find that Bromden is neither deaf nor mute, and that he stays silent to deflect attention. After the electroshock therapy, McMurphy shuffles back onto the ward feigning illness, before humorously animating his face and loudly greeting his fellow patients, assuring everyone that the ECT only charged him up all the more and that the next woman to take him on will "light up like a pinball machine and pay off in silver dollars."
But the struggle with Ratched is taking its toll, and with his release date no longer a certainty, McMurphy plans an escape. He phones Candy to bring her friend Rose (Louisa Moritz) and some booze to the hospital late one night. They enter through a window after McMurphy bribes the night orderly, Mr. Turkle (Scatman Crothers). McMurphy and Candy invite the patients into the day room for a Christmas party; the group breaks into the drug locker, puts on music, and enjoys a bacchanalian rampage. At the end of the night, McMurphy and Bromden prepare to climb out the window.
Nurse Ratched arrives the next morning and discovers the scene: the war upended and patients passed out all over the floor. She orders the attendants to lock the window, clean up, and conduct a head count. McMurphy, enraged at Nurse Ratched, chokes her nearly to death until an orderly knocks him out.
Some time later, Nurse Ratched, still recovering from the neck injury sustained during McMurphy's attack, wears a neck brace and speaks in a thin, reedy voice. The patients pass a whispered rumor that McMurphy dramatically escaped the hospital rather than being taken "upstairs."
Late that night, Chief Bromden sees McMurphy being escorted back to his bed, and initially believes that he has returned so they can escape together, which he is now ready to do since McMurphy has made him feel "as big as a mountain." However, when he looks closely at McMurphy's unresponsive face, he is horrified to see lobotomy scars on his forehead. Unwilling to allow McMurphy to live in such a stateā”or be seen this way by the other patientsā”the chief smothers McMurphy to death with his pillow. He then carries out McMurphy's escape plan by lifting the hydrotherapy console off the floor and hurling the massive fixture through a grated window, climbing through and running off into the distance, with Taber waking up just in time to see the Chief escape and cheering as the others awake.