Friday, October 15, 2010

Book Vs. Movie Round 1: One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

Today, we start a new tradition here on the blog, that of pitting classic novels against their celluloid counterparts to see whether or not an adaptation holds a candle to the original work.  This first installment is the classic Ken Kesey novel and 1975 Oscar winning film One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.  Although both are works are considered classics of their respected mediums, I personally feel as though the film holds a slight edge over the book due to its better narrative, character development and easier to understand themes.

The narrative of the film is perhaps the most striking difference between the novel and the film.  In the novel, the story is told through the eyes of The Chief, who tells the reader what is going on and offers his own opinions on each of the characters.  Although this makes for interesting  reading when compared to the film, I for one felt particularly bored with The Chief's narrative and lost interest whenever he went into one of his background stories.  Thankfully, the filmmakers decided to abandon the whole Chief narrative and instead make McMurphy the central character and make the story revolve around him.  Not only is Murphy a better character to build a story around, but he also comes with more surprises and moxy.  This makes him a perfect foil to evil personified, Nurse Ratched. 

In the novel, the reader doesn't get a sense a true sense of the eternal struggle between good and evil that McMurphy and Ratched represent in the film.  Ratched is a great villain in every sense of the word.  Although she is ranting and raving like most Hollywood villains, she uses other subtle forms of terror in order to keep the patients of the ward in line, such as emasculating them in front of their peers, and forcing them to obey her every whim in order to get little things like cigarettes.  This is what makes McMurphy's arrival at the ward even more compelling: he is literally a freedom fighter ready to free the patients of the ward from the tyranny of Nurse Ratched.  The film touches upon this good vs. evil mentality most accessibly, but in the novel, the message gets lost in the Chief's narrative and the confusing names that he applies to Nurse Ratched and McMurphy, which lessens the overall message and power of the book.

After looking at all the facts in this round of Book vs. Movie: One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, I am going to have to go with the movie.  Personally I feel that the film speaks to me on a more personal level and is much easier to understand than the book.  If you disagree with me, feel free to check it out for yourself.

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