It all begins with pen and paper
. Back in 1962 Ken Kesey
dotted the final six words to his moving masterpiece One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
and laid down his pen. His vision was complete- Chief Bromden’s chronicle of R.P McMurphy’s fight against the system came to an end
On reading his book one would hit a wave of emotion, get tossed about and swept away by the power of the material. Kesey had simply reduced his own sequence of images to words; words, which in turn we let leap back off the pages, unlocking a world of our own.
In 1974 Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman, under the supervision of director Milos Forman, laid down their version/vision of Kesey’s material, in the form of a script. That script, created without the author’s permission, was soon to be turned into a magnificent motion picture starring Jack Nicholson as the much emphasized McMurphy.
Kesey refused to endorse Hollywood’s adaptation of his book. He fought an almost 40 year legal battle against the corruption of his work. His complaint: the only way one could follow the story was through Chief Bromden’s perspective. He refused to even watch the film.
But, we watched it, and furthermore, we acknowledged its value in cinematic history. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was the first film to sweep the five major awards at the Oscars, and virtually every other acclaimed festival.
Awards, however, are not everything, but Cuckoo’s Nest won an honest vote for its all round accomplished filmmaking and storytelling.
The question remains- was Kesey wrong to boycott what was essentially his own vision?
He believed not to the end of his life, but I am inclined to disagree. Kesey’s complaint that Bromden’s relegation to the role of a secondary character was unnecessary is most irrational. In the book The Chief remains mute for most of the events he describes, leaving Forman with the difficult task of keeping as faithfully as possible to the original, while eliminating entirely the man’s hallucinations. The Result: A more objective, but equally effective, perspective of the action on the ward.
It is perfectly possible for film to do justice to written work if one can accept that a different route must be taken in order to achieve the same result. A good book aims to stimulate the imagination, while a good film to be aesthetically pleasing. They both, however, essentially set out to do the same thing: entertain, or challenge the views of the viewer/reader.