If there were ever a perfect conglomeration of both repressed impotency and a twisted sex life that would leave Oedipus in a cringe, Billy Bibbit would be the one. A stuttering stifled personality from Ken Kesey’s masterpiece, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Billy represents the short end of the stick in fiction that leaves any reader void of hope for humanity. What is noteworthy on his case is his fall induced not by past or relations, but by his continuing attachment to innocence, in the realm of the morally ambiguous. His fate is sealed by the mere nature of not only himself, but the flawed persons that surround him.
The only character in the movie or Kesey’s novel that doesn’t exhibit pretense throughout is Billy. Nurse Ratched, McMurphy, and even Chief use and exploit their circumstances and present false fronts to achieve their ulterior desires. Billy, still virginal (no pun intended) and sadly irrational, tries to find faith in emotional attachment with these characters only to be used by all of them to some extent.
Randle McMurphy or “Mac”, the story’s focal character, an eccentric anti-hero by inheritance, inspires the patients for a brief return to reality, to hope. That being said, Mac is far from perfect. He presents himself as overtly aggressive so he can be sent to the mental hospital to avoid prison time and consequences for his own actions. Using the unkempt state of the mental health system and the self-indulged nature of patients, he maintain this desire to smuggle himself in the hospital until he can go home scot-free. While only four years older than Billy, Mcmurphy inherits Billy under his wing as a role model. Whether its standing up to a seemingly omnipotent authority, Nurse Ratched, or pretending to watch the World Series, he’s someone Billy begins to idolize. He gives Billy the chance to release his adolescent desires, finally be the delinquent he wanted to be for so long. This shows throughout the story as a subtle transformation in Billy’s attitude, even the absence of Billy’s stutter in the latter part. This bleak passing of freedom, while unintentional, is the crux to Billy’s suicide, and the subsequent lobotomization of Mcmurphy.
While most of Chief’s duration in the ward is undisclosed and blurry, we do know from the book he was a soldier in a preceding war, now stuck in a constant state of hallucinations and fixated realty known as the “fog”. He has mixed feelings on this state, hidden yet trapped, explaining it is better to be lost than found. He sees this world as he did in the war, a plain of fog, fluctuating in intensity. He overlaps this state with his time spent at the ward, seeing patients and nurses as others in the fog and he himself, a soldier still hiding, in fear of being found, or receiving shock treatment. This justifies his choice to be a mute, to not yell for help but instead be silent, play dumb to those around, though really sitting in the nest, attentive as hawk over the schemes and intentions to keep himself afloat. This instills a feeling of powerlessness in Chief, unable to support and bond with Billy as it would be futile for both of them. At the end of the film, Chief drops this disguise in the face of those lost, and breaks out of the fog, into the
Until the arrival of Mac and the paradigm shift that follows, Chief is ironically the weakest character in the story, and his inability to see past his desire for survival only impedes Billy and others from ever getting better. Exposure to Mac is the exposure to the social world and for many of the patients and even people today, that’s all we need. A friend to give them the right push, not as much numbing drugs, white walls, and traditional psychotherapy. Most of what we learn from each patient is generally during a group therapy, a time of potential bonding and debate. While this may not completely demonstrate the workings of early american psychoanalysis, it does show some of the many faults in previous times and procedures.
The nurse is probably the most manipulative and malevolent of the main characters, abusing her influence over the patients and their situations to maintain a status of superiority and control; Her orderly like drones follow in this mindset, enacting this learned behavior in a eugenics-approved prison like atmosphere with the patients, especially as the movie progresses.
This pretense the nurse puts over them is mainly portrayed with Cheswick and Billy, the weakest links of the group. When she displays authority over Cheswick, she begins to become frustrated when he realizes his place in the ward, as a voluntary, one with privileges to perishables such as cigarettes. With Billy, she exploits his weak self-esteem and modest character to maintain order in the group, increasingly as the power struggle between herself and Mcmurphy escalates. She does so by using an apparently ill-inspiring connection between Billy and his mother whenever Billy begins to transition his faith into Mcmurphy. This infers a transition of power over from Bill’s mother, an obvious authoritarian figure, to the nurse, a close friend of his mothers. Almost every time Billy tries to open up to the other patients, Nurse Ratched steps in, seeping her reach into every nook and cranny of the institution. This is most apparent when they all bring in alcohol and women. and Billy is found with Candy. The nurse is left feeling powerless, briefly, and unleashes her wrath. She targets Billy, threatening to bring his mother back into the picture, an obvious source of his abnormal symptoms, and Billy refuses this consequence by taking his own life.
What Billy and the cast show us are people. People in a fog, traversing through, holding close their desires and intentions, and whether they are wrapped under white garments, carried through the pain and fatigue of war, or lurking in a mere smile, there is little hope for innocence, not if we do not unite and look past our fears and lies. Maybe then, we won’t have to share the same fate as the ill-fated characters in the nest.
If you find yourself being a model to another, even if by chance, please, do not waste it, respect the cards the variability has dealt.
Someone might need you, their key to leaving the nest.