Main Sociological Themes of the Movie ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest’

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‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest’ follows the story of Randle Patrick McMurphy, a criminal that was sent to a mental ward due to his antics. He assumed that moving there would have been far easier than the prison he was at, but he was wrong; as the person who was in charge of the ward, Nurse Ratched was no pushover and thus a power struggle began between the two and was one of the main plot points the story followed. The movie employs several sociological themes to tell its story but power and health were what stood out for me as they related to my course material and both of these themes played vital roles in making the story enjoyable.

When looking at this movie through a sociological lens, two sociological themes that were constantly being presented were the idea of power and health, primarily power. Healthwise, the setting of the movie is in a mental ward for the most part. This means that most of our characters have some type of mental health problem which sociologically means that they can’t perform their social roles. Those characters are unable to do a lot of the things they could prior to taking their sick role and as a result they had to rely on others like Nurse Ratched, our antagonist in the movie. This theme eventually led to perhaps the most prominent sociological theme in the movie, power.

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From the very beginning of the movie, it was clear that Nurse Ratched was the one in power and everyone in the ward wouldn’t dare challenge her but with the arrival of McMurphy, things started to change. McMurphy was unlike all the other patient that came before him, he was rebellious, full of laughter, a gambler, and wasn’t afraid to take a stand against authority. Nurse Ratched, on the other hand, is the tyrant of the ward, she controls everyone through her manipulative tactics and holds absolute power. When those two personalities clashed in the ward it was always a sight to see as it was always a game of one-upmanship. A primary example of this power struggle was during one of the group discussions in the ward. In the movie, during one of the group discussions McMurphy brings up the idea of watching the world baseball series on the TV and although Nurse Ratched disagreed, she decided to vote on the matter by asking the people who agree with McMurphy to raise their hands. Surprisingly she noticed that she was losing, she noticed that McMurphy was about to win thus she used an underhanded tactic and included everyone who was in the asylum. This meant that the chronics, patients who were braindead, were agreeing with her as they weren’t raising their hand. The fact was that they couldn’t raise their hands even if they wanted to but Nurse Ratched used their disability to her advantage. McMurphy still prevails but the nurse wasn’t just going to take that loss from them. When all the patients sat to watch the World Series, she unplugs the TV and tries to force the patients to resume their work. The patients instead sit in front of the TV as if it were still on, ignoring Nurse Ratched and finally they were making a stand against the tyrant.

These two sociological themes were heavily reliant on each other. The patients in the ward are all sick thus they are not able to have normal social roles. Due to this fact Nurse Ratched is able to have complete control over all of these patients as she is functional and is able to perform all of her social roles. Furthermore, the ward labels all the patients as either ‘acutes’ meaning curable or ‘chronics’ for those who are uncurable, this means that there’s is the chance that labeling theory is happening as the labels of ‘chronic’ and ‘acute’ might make certain patients act the way they are labeled and this could destroy their motivation in wanting to get better. Whether this was intentional or not by the ward we don’t know but all these factors made it so that Nurse Ratched was able to dictate everything that happened in the ward. Had they been healthy; they would have never been in the ward and an empty ward would have meant a powerless Nurse Ratched. This is why McMurphy was able to challenge her as much as he did because unlike the other patient’s he was more or less healthy.

To conclude, these 2 sociological themes were very prominent in the movie. Power especially, along with health were very coherent with one another. This story was able to thrive off these 2 themes as they complimented each other quite well and made Patrick McMurphy a truly memorable character for me.

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Main Sociological Themes of the Movie ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from
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