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One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest- Book And Movie Comparison

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"The Power of Words"

In recent years, it has become popular for many of America's great literary masterpieces to be adapted into film versions. As easy a task as it may sound, there are many problems that can arise from trying to adapt a book into a movie, being that the written word is what makes the novel a literary work of art. Many times, it is hard to express the written word on camera because the words that express so much action and feeling can not always be expressed the same way through pictures and acting. One example of this can be found in the comparison of Ken Kesey's novel, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and the film version directed in 1975 by Milos Forman.

The novel details the time that R.P. McMurphy, a criminal, spends in an Oregon mental institution, after deciding that he would rather plead insanity than spend more time in jail. However, when he enters the facility, his life and the lives around him are changed forever. He is constantly trying to push the limits of Nurse Ratched, who runs the institution in an irrationally controlled manner. This is a novel that seems as though it would make an easy transition onto film, being that it consists mostly of action that is described in every detail by the narrator, a former Indian Chief's son, named Chief Bromden. Chief pretends that he is mute and deaf, because he is used to being ignored by most people. This "impairment" allows him to find out all of the information that is present in the novel by eavesdropping and listening to other people's conversations. He also notices and is very aware of everyone's actions around him. He becomes the key character in the novel because of his wealth of information, and he is the central figure in supplying the reader with the changes that occur in the facility after McMurphy's arrival.

One of the weakest parts of the film is the fact that Chief does not narrate the story. The story is given in third-person format, as the audience watches all of the events pan out without narration. It feels as though there is a severed connection between Chief and the story, and one does not get the feeling that he is as important in the film as he is in the novel.

Throughout the novel, the reader is given the Chief's thoughts of McMurphy first-hand. At one point, Chief begins to realize that McMurphy is not just a hardened criminal full of rebellious antics, but he is a person, and he is different than anyone he has ever met. He tells the reader, "I was seeing him different than when he first came in; I was seeing more to him than just big hands and red sideburns and a broken-nosed grin". The reader can tell from Chief's words that even though it may have taken a while, he is starting to respect McMurphy and he is beginning to see that there is more than one side to his personality.

In the film, however, it does not seem as though Chief's change of heart towards McMurphy are based on anything substantial. In one scene that is not in the novel, McMurphy insults Chief by making fun of his Indian heritage, and later on uses Chief's height to his advantage as he tries to win a basketball game. Many scenes later, when McMurphy steals the bus to go on an excursion with the inmates, Chief is smiling because he is happy to see McMurphy get away with this stunt. Some may wonder how Chief went from having virtually no feeling for McMurphy to becoming happy with his success. It may be hard for the audience to feel a legitimate bond between the two men because of the difference in the film in regard to narration.

The way in which the characters are described is also crucial in a novel, as it adds to the element of the character. When reading a novel, the reader can become accustomed to the character that he paints in his mind, through the words that he reads. The reader may then expect this character to be on the screen as well when viewing the movie. It is surprising and interesting to note how a film portrays a character that is based on physical descriptions. In this film, some of the crucial characteristics of the characters were not included, and these elements made a big difference in the story as a whole.

In the novel, Chief describes Nurse Ratched as having orange lips, orange fingertips, and a perfect-looking face. However, she is heavily endowed in the chest area, and Chief says that one can tell that it makes her bitter to think about it. The novel makes the Nurse seem huge, in describing her physically, and the other inmates refer to her as "Big Nurse". In the film, she is a petite lady that does not have a noticeably large chest in any way. It is hard to imagine the Nurse without her chest, so it makes one wonder why the film does not include this aspect. In the novel, when Nurse Ratched and McMurphy have a physical fight, McMurphy rips the front of her starchy white uniform, exposing her breasts, and her vulnerability. At this point in the novel it seems that McMurphy has won the battle, and it is one of the more symbolic parts of the story. Since her chest does not become a matter of importance in the movie, this part of the novel is not shown, and the reader may be left wondering why, as it certainly adds to the story and to the characters of McMurphy and the Nurse.

McMurphy's description is also portrayed differently in the novel than in the film. In the novel, he is described as a huge red-headed criminal with sideburns, tattoos, and a hat on his head and a scar on his nose that he is constantly rubbing. He seems bigger than life in these descriptions, but in the film McMurphy is much smaller than one would expect. He has no tattoos, red hair, sideburns or a scar. He seems to only be wearing the hat and the attitude. McMurphy is a criminal that came from a work-farm prison and has been taking girls to bed since he was ten years old, but his physical appearance does not imply that he is capable of any of this. McMurphy's attitude is what is extremely important, but his physical appearance in the film does not help the audience understand the full capacity of his character.

Another problem with the film in comparison

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