Theatre & Films Productions

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

It was a fine university day. The birds were chirping and purple flowers blossoming. Until, our dear beloved and respected class rep. who is always devoted to her work (Nunds) gave me the golden opportunity to photocopy HRM notes on culture. One fine day, I sat down and I read it – because I do read sometimes, though very rarely: Chapter 3: Managing Culture by Stephen Linstead, under the section, The Origins of Organisational Culture, last 3 lines in paragraph 3 and I quote:

“A good film to watch, which relates to negotiated order, power and culture is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1973) starring Jack Nicholson and directed by Milos Forman”

Given the vivid effects of better understanding HRM (in some way) after watching Office Space. I decided to take advantage of the broadband connection and download the movie from the information super highway. I sat down and with the dolby Headphone enjoyed the 5 Oscar Winning film. It was a fantastic film. Amazing performance by Jack Nicholson. Great screenplay. as well as being entertaining, great way of understanding concepts in Sociology and well as Psychology. Ref:


Ref: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Sociological Analysis

The movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is based on the experience of a criminal that elected to move to a mental institution to avoid serving his time at a prison work camp.

The criminal, Randall P. McMurphy, or McMurphy, as the other inmates call him, was under the impression that his sentence would be converted to the amount of time he would need to spend in the institution. What he did not realize was that once he was admitted to the institution, he would not be released until the medical staff felt he was safe for society.

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McMurphy goes about living in the institution, and creates a society among several of the patients, which has a large impact on the structure of the institution. His relationships with the other patients in the ward develops into a society where thoughts and opinions grow and interfere with the flow of the institution’s rules and regulations, and friction is made between the authorities and the patients.

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McMurphy strives to overcome the head nurse, Nurse Ratchet, and finds himself understanding the mentalities of the others in the ward.

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This movie’s theme is about insanity and how people on “the other side” of the wall view the term “insanity”.


The term “society” is defined as a group of people that share a culture and common identity. This society is present when McMurphy is admitted to the institution, but he changes it by developing relationships with the other patients. This can be described as social influence. Social influence is where other people have an impact on and change the thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors of others.
When McMurphy first arrives at the institution, the other patients follow a structure in the institution where interactions with others are limited. Many of the patients are withdrawn from others, and only follow the daily “routine” assigned to them. This is a society of order and regulations, and the members of this society have a culture and common identity of being “insane” and in the institution for medical treatment.

Role Conflict

McMurphy changes this society by influencing the other patients. During his time in the ward, McMurphy develops relationships with the other patients and teaches them to interact with one another more completely. He also how to work towards what they wanted with both their accommodations in the hospital, as well as their personal goals for themselves and their success with their treatment.

While he is doing this, Nurse Ratchet becomes enraged at his attempt to change the system she strongly encourages and abides by. There is an unspoken feud between the two, and there is a role conflict between them as well. The role conflict is between the power of the authority, and the obedience of the patient.

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Since McMurphy is expressing his desire for change, he other patients follow his lead and also demand their own desires. Nurse Ratchet begins losing her authority over the patients and McMurphy gains influence over the patients.

Group Power

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The patients, led by McMurphy, form a group. This group interacts with one another, and recognizes their identity through their involvement with each other. Since there is only a group of patients in the entire ward that really interact with one another, this group becomes a primary group. These are the select patients that grow close with each other and possess common thoughts and desires.

There are specific norms in the institution that are expected to be followed by the patients, as well as the employees of the ward. McMurphy and eventually, the other inmates constantly violate these norms.

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For instance, McMurphy bribes a security guard to allow his female friends into the ward with alcohol, and the patients have a party during their sleeping time. No visitors are allowed, and certainly no alcohol, but the patients enjoy themselves and disregard that they are violating a norm of the institution.


Non-material culture is present both inside and outside of the institution. The patients outside of the institution violated the aspects of non-material culture involving appropriate behaviors and patterns of interaction. This is why they are living in the institution- they violated these norms of behavior and interaction. Some of the patients were voluntary, but they felt that they were inconsistent with the interactions with others in their personal lives. Others, like McMurphy, were seen as dangerous or unhealthy to society, and their interactions or behaviors were inappropriate when compared with the non-material culture of their society.

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Due to the violated norms and inappropriate interactions of these patients, sanctions were the responses from the rest of society and also the medical staff of the institution. For instance, since the patients in the hospital were seen as unsafe to society, others sanctioned them by being placed in the institution. Also, when McMurphy violates the norms of the institution by rioting with the other patients, and he attacks a hospital orderly, he is given shock treatment to control his emotions and behavior. This sanction was a medical treatment that was deemed necessary by the hospital staff because they felt that McMurphy, as well as two other patients, were out of control and insubordinate to the norms of the institution.


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Each of the inmates in the institution are prescribed and administered medications by the hospital staff to control their illnesses. In fact, there is one scene that emphasizes “medication time”, and each of the patients must take their prescribed medication in view of the head nurse. McMurphy questions the contents of his medicine, and is refused any information, even though it is his body the medicine is entering. This is a perfect example of medicalization, for these patients do not have a choice of whether they feel medicine is necessary for their treatment. The doctors make that decision for each patient based on their opinions and “expertise”. Many of these opinions are based on the ideals of absolutism, where the doctors determine what is either absolutely right or wrong in the patient’s behavior, and when it is wrong, what medical treatments are necessary for them.
When the patient’s do something that is considered wrong, it is defined as deviance. The patient’s deviance is determined by whether or not their action, idea, or attribute is offensive, immoral, or strange to society. For example, McMurphy was originally sentenced to a work camp, the crime he committed was statutory rape, which is considered immoral to society.

The expectations of these patients are to behave, think, and interact in accordance with society’s ideals. Because the patients stray from these expectations, their actions are considered violations. The reaction to these violations is first, the admittance to the institution, and after that, medicalization of the deviants once they have entered the institution.



Groupthink is present in the society of the patients, because at one instance, McMurphy pressures the others into voting with him for a decision that is made by the entire ward. This creates a unanimous vote among the primary group, and causes a patient outside of the group to vote by his own rationalizations. Groupthink is defined as just that- the process where pressures to achieve a unanimous decision influence and overwhelm other ability to decide for themselves.

Society Structure

This institution has the structure of a bureaucracy. Although this is not a place of employment for the patients, there are a set of rules and expectations that the patients are expected to follow, and the doctors and staff rule the institution. There is also a division of labor present among the staff, for certain employees have specific guidelines and defined duties for them to complete and work by. And there is also a hierarchy of authority in the institution, for certain professionals are deemed more important and therefore have more power and authority over the other employees. For example, the head nurse has more authority than the orderlies do, and the doctors have more authority than the head nurse does.

Social reconstruction

The patients, against some of the regulations of the institution, take collective action. The patients begin to violate the rules, and also voice their frustrations involving the policies they feel are wrong or unnecessary. At group meetings, which are supervised and instructed by Nurse Ratchet, the patients not only ask for change to fulfill their wants and needs, but they demand them as well. The patients also show their demand for change by violating the rules one evening, and having a large party after McMurphy bribes a security guard. The ideology of the patients is that of the want for mental freedom and also more changes they feel are necessary.

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After the patients take their collective action against the authority of Nurse Ratchet and the institution’s policies and regulations, there is a collapse in the order of the ward.


In order for the staff of the hospital to regain control after the party the patients held, strict sanctions are administered to some of the patients, and McMurphy receives a frontal lobotomy as a “treatment” for his unwillingness to cooperate and abide by the rules and norms.

a video on Lobotomy:



flying over the cuckoo's nest...

After analyzing this movie, I now have a deeper understanding of many sociological concepts, and also of mental institutions and the lives and mentalities of the patients in them. I am very pleased that I chose this film, for it provided me with a lot to think about, and it gave me a chance to see a more in depth look about “insanity” and the way it is perceived by society. Although this movie was originally made for entertainment purposes, I think that it is a key factor in the learning and understanding of sociology and also psychology. I also think that it would provide a better understanding to all of us that remain on the “sane” side of the wall.

Here is the Novel eBook by Ken Kissey.

3 responses

  1. Naizlah

    really good observations and deduction!

    9 November, 2008 at 5:32 pm

  2. Pingback: Movies – Academic Yr 08-09 « :: Ashesh Ramjeeawon – Blog ::

  3. Pingback: The Graduation Ceremonies 2011 « :: Ashesh R – Blog ::

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