Quote 5

Nurse Ratched:   “Now calm down. The best thing we can do is go on with our daily routine.”

Nurse Ratched ushers the men into the corridor after Billy Bibbit’s suicide to deliver this brief line, which encapsulates her entire character and belief system. While the others, including the shrieking Nurse Pilbow and the gasping patients, react with horror to Billy’s bloody corpse, Nurse Ratched projects an unnatural discipline. Her cold control betrays her heartlessness. No matter how genuinely appalling the event, Nurse Ratched insists upon quiet, order, and routine. Her need to control every aspect of behavior on the ward extends to a need to direct even how the men should feel. In her tyranny, she tries to strip them of their natural emotions and deaden their sensitivity with routine. In light of the men’s affection for Billy, her demand for calm and order is not only grossly inappropriate but also a mad distortion of human nature. With these words, the film portrays her as more insane than the mental patients.

In contrast, McMurphy’s selfless rage, which wells up as she delivers this directive, comes from his emotional sanity. He grips her throat with his bare hands as if to choke off the evil of her words. Without regard for himself, McMurphy grapples her to the floor as if wrestling the devil. While he shakes her neck, her carefully arranged hair comes undone, marking her loss of authority and control. The film suggests that McMurphy’s attack on Nurse Ratched is far more than revenge for Billy Bibbit’s death: he is fighting for humanity, for the individual’s right to be loved, respected, and mourned.