07 September 2011

Meditation on the virtues of dumbness

One of my all time favourite English films is ‘One Flew Over the Cuckcoo’s Nest’, adapted from the novel of the same name by Ken Kesey and directed by Milos Forman.  The film won all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Actor in Lead Role, Best Actress in Lead Role, Best Director and Best Screenplay) in 1975, six Golden Globe awards and 6 BAFTAs. 

The film is set in a mental hospital where the energetic, flamboyant, wise-guy anti-hero Randle Patrick McMurphy (played by Jack Nicholson) stuck in the facility for an evaluation while serving a short prison sentence for statutory rape rebels against the ‘Establishment’, i.e. the institutional authority and rigid attitudes personified by the supervisory nurse, Mildred Ratched (played by Louise Fletcher).

Jack Nicholson as Randle Patrick McMurphy

McMurphy, although not exactly a saint and yet one feels for the man as he rants, raves, innovates and goes nuts trying to mobilize a set of docile (well, ‘dociled’ would be the better term) inmates to break free if not from the facility at least from the mind-set they’ve been cajoled and arm-twisted to acquire. 

McMurphy carries the film.  My favourite character, however, is ‘Chief’ Bromden (played by Will Sampson), a 6 foot 7 inch giant who we are made to believe is dumb as in ‘cannot speak’.  It is much later in the film that McMurphy discovers that Chief is not as dumb as he makes himself out to be (literally and metaphorically).  McMurphy puts up quite a fight but finally and tellingly, he gets done-in by a lobotomy.  ‘Chief’ manages to extract a consolation prize from the establishment; he gives McMurphy a literal death by suffocating him with a pillow and proceeds to execute the escape plan that McMurphy just didn’t have the strength to carry out earlier in the film.  He lifts the hydrotherapy console off the floor of the ward, hurls it through a grated window, climbs through and runs off into the distance.

I like the McMurphy character, but it remains an easy ‘write’.  Rebels are easy to script. ‘Rant and Rave’ is child’s play for anyone writing a screenplay.  ‘Dumb’ is tough to write. ‘Dumb’ is tough to be. 

There are times when ‘Rant and Rave’ inevitably meets brick-wall.  Doesn’t necessarily end up with lobotomies being carried out, but it is natural to script in ‘severe headache’ and ‘nutcase’, the latter possibly a hero to some and remembered with some affection by history book but by and large of little accomplishment and classed more or less as scripted.  There are times for heroes. There are times for the reticent. There is a time to rant and rave and there is a time to be silent.  There is a time when some have to scream and others have to be silent.

There are screamers who get lobotomized. Indeed, screams have to get lobotomized for the silent to find a way out and walk into a territory called Freedom.  Some have to scream because that’s all they know.  They are not dumb, not all of them. Some of them actually know that they will end up on the operating table and be decapitated one way or another. Or shot, in certain cases. 

So we rant and rave, us writing people, us screamers and protestors.  We get ‘treated’.  Maybe we are dumb.  On the other hand, maybe we are not.  If those who rant and rave end up making others realize their strength, recover self-belief and pride, then someday, somewhere, someone will say ‘thank you’, perhaps not by snuffing out ‘life’, or perhaps by doing just that, considering what this ‘living’ is made of post-operation. 

I am sitting here, thinking of how one flew over a cuckoo’s nest.  There was a ranting and raving McMurphy. There was ‘Chief’. Dumb, apparently.  I haven’t seen the film in a while, but I am ‘seeing’ it right now, as I write.  It’s a brand new film from what I remember.  McMurphy is certainly a ‘presence’, but it is ‘Chief’ that carries it.  Good to keep in mind.   

Courtesy: Daily News - 9 September, 2010
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