One Flew Over The Cuckoo? s Nest is not a film that adheres to a strict set of generic conventions. However, my understanding of the film as a media text was helped when I recognised that it is a film that follows a classic Hollywood narrative. Mimetic theories of film narration can be applied to One Flew Over The Cuckoo? s Nest, as the narration style is the presenting a spectacle that is being told through the eyes of the characters. This is in contrast to diagetic theories of narration which, in the words of Plato ? the poet himself is the speaker and does not attempt to suggest to us that anyone but himself
is speaking? (Bordwell 1985) The narrative structure of the scene I am analysing could be described as one that follows Bordwell’s description of the classic Hollywood narrative. According to Bordwell (1985) ? the introduction [in a classic Hollywood narrative] phase typically includes a shot which establishes characters in space and time?. In this scene, the director shows first where the lead character (Jack Nicholson in the role of RP McMurphy) is, before showing viewers through a series of cut shots the proximity of all the other characters. ?
As the characters interact, the scene is broken up into closer views of action and reaction?. This is particularly true in this scene; two of the patients are playing monopoly, one is standing at the door with a mop, two more patients are playing draughts, some are just standing around minding their own business, while McMurphy sits in the nonchalantly in the corner, feet resting high on the wash basin. All of these actions are shot individually, there is not an instance where two men doing one action are shot with one man doing something else. ?The scene usually closes on a portion of space?.
Again this structure can be applied to this scene, as in the final shot of the scene, McMurphy is walking out of the room. He stops in the doorway and not only is he the central focus of the final shot, he is framed in the doorway. This shot isolates a fragment of the scene, with McMurphy in this scene and throughout being the subject of much isolation. According to Pudovkin (as cited in Bordwell (1985), the camera lens should represent the eyes of an implicit observer taking in the action? the change of shot will then correspond to the ? natural transference of attention of an imaginary observer?.
In this scene, the director rigidly follows this guideline, with frequent cutting from the main source of action to the observer of the action and back again. Through the positioning of the camera in this scene, the viewer can increase their understanding of the relationship between audience, the camera and characters (Gibbs 2002). As we are effectively assuming the role of a character (or ? in their shoes? ), we also assume their view of the scene. McMurphy tries in vain to pull a washbasin out of the floor with the intention of putting it through the hospital window, so he can escape the hospital. After two mammoth but unsuccessful attempts, McMurphy walks towards the door in defeat.
The camera now switches to a more detached, unimposing mid-focus shot. We have resumed the role of viewer again, having enjoyed our moment ?in? the scene. The director realises the danger of the viewer becoming too detached, and McMurphy stops at the door as if to re-focus our attention. ?But I tried didn? t I God Damnit, at least I did that? with that single sentence the viewer? s understanding of McMurphy? s character? s mentality is re-enforced. The theme of conflict in this scene is primarily developed through the use of order-disorder-restored order model.
Perhaps this is best illustrated in conjunction with the use of lighting in this scene. The area McMurphy is sitting in contrasts with the area that the rest of the patients occupy. They are sitting in a well-lit area where they, so low on confidence and self-esteem, can feel secure. McMurphy, a rebel who thrives on conflict, is sitting in a much darker light. The conflict here occurs as much out of McMurphy? s boredom as it does his wanting to challenge authority.
Out of the darkness, McMurphy sprays the other patients with a hose, upsetting the status quo. At this stage he has moved into a less dark area and later in the scene when he fails to pull the sink out of the floor, he stands in the exact same light as the other patients. The irony here is that the conflict McMurphy is instigating in an attempt to challenge authority is, making him become more like the patients than the wild, bubbly and sometimes dangerous person that he once was. ?
Realistic motivation corroborates the compositional motivation achieved through cause and effect? (Bordwell 1985). The reality portrayed in One Flew Over The Cuckoo? s Nest achieves a ? tacit coherence among events, [and] a consistency and clarity of individual identity? (Bordwell 1985).
The viewer never has to wonder as to why a character is undertaking a particular course of action. This is a testament to the director? s grasp on the importance and significance f the use of high levels of verisimilitude. Gibbs (2002) describes two different ways of addressing coherence in film. He writes about ? coherence across the work?. This can be achieved by the use of visual motifs. In One Flew Over The Cuckoo? s Nest, one of the most effective visual motifs is the cigarettes, a notepad and a pencil that McMurphy has in his shirt. In a later sequence, his resolve and stomach for the fight having been weakened, he appears without these motifs ?