Friday, 25 September 2015
The beacon fires in the British towns and villages smouldered. They had smouldered since 1815 and the threat of French invasion. All through Napoleon’s incarceration on the British island of Saint Helena they smouldered and even with the death of Napoleon in 1821 the beacon fires never quite went out. The British are nervous and protective of their little island.
But invaders come in many guises and they find a variety of ways to break down resistance. It only took a tiny crack in a sturdy oak door and our popular culture was set ablaze and the beacon fires flared once more.
In 1897, Bram Stoker breathed on the smouldering kindling when he published his horror novel “Dracula”. The kindling had been stacked up for centuries, in the form of mythologies, rumours and stories; those creepy tales whispered about Vampires. Creatures of the night; the undead, seeking you out, to sink their fangs into your tender jugular and drink your blood; draining you. The stories go back thousands of years. Now, in 2013, the beacons have crossed oceans; the fires flame fiercely, proclaiming that the old stories are still being told and new tales are being written.
Stoker could have had no idea, that his short novel would precipitate a whole genre of writing that would hold sway on our collective imagination for decades.
Although Stoker did not invent the vampire, the novel's influence on the popularity of vampires has been singularly responsible for many theatrical, film and television interpretations throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
From the beginning of history, vampire-like spirits and beings have been recorded. The Akhkharu were blood-sucking demons, written about back in the time of Sumer. We’re talking about 5,000 years BC. The ancient Chinese wrote about "hopping corpses" which would go around and consume a victim’s life essence (commonly known as chi). Even ancient Egyptian lore had a story where the goddess Sakhmet was consumed with bloodlust. From the earliest of times, vampire like beings have been prominent in folklore from several different cultures.
The most well-known versions of vampire myth are those of the Slavic and Romanian cultures, which, due to their proximity, are similar. And it is from Eastern Europe, that Stoker’s Count Dracula originates.
There are several reasons that a person may become a vampire, such as unnatural death, birth defects, or conception on certain days. Romanian legend gave rise to the belief that being bitten by a vampire would doom one to become a vampire after death. Both Slavic and Romanian myths hold the belief that, with the advent of a vampire, there would be deaths of livestock and family members of the vampire. The favoured way to kill a vampire in these two myths is by driving a stake through the heart, decapitation, and if necessary, dismemberment. Slavic and Romanian vampire myths have given rise to the most popular world-view of vampires.
But what’s the fascination? Why the endless retelling of this old story? Are we playing with danger from the safety of fiction? The horror of vampires is very real; I should know. I spent my adolescence terrified of them; especially Dracula. I invented bizarre little rituals to ward him off and keep me safe. Positioning on my left side as I lay in my bed, was paramount -- as was a convoluted prayer; a mantra that I would recite over and over again. Sleep would be a long time coming.
The success of “Dracula” spawned a distinctive vampire genre. The vampire is such a dominant figure in the horror genre that literary historian Susan Sellers places the current vampire myth in the "comparative safety of nightmare fantasy".
We relinquish control to the vampire. He swirls his cloak around his victim and bites. His teeth penetrate us. It’s a reconstructed image of the sexual act; in fact actual copulation seems tame, compared with what the vampire can do. The victim has no control over his ghastly lover. The victim flirts with death.
But it’s not just the Count we have to fear. He is scary, but his entourage of female vampires more so. Female vampires are predatory and take their pleasure where they will. Women who take control of the sex act itself! Victorian men -- beware! The ideal Victorian woman was chaste, innocent, a good mother. She definitely wasn’t sexually aggressive; a predator.
The three beautiful vampires, Jonathan Harker, Stoker’s narrator, encounters in Dracula’s castle, are both his dream and his nightmare—indeed, they embody both the dream and the nightmare of the Victorian male imagination in general. The weird sisters represent what the Victorian ideal stipulates women should not be—voluptuous and sexually aggressive—thus making their beauty both a promise of sexual fulfilment and a curse. These women offer Harker more sexual gratification in two paragraphs than his fiancée Mina does during the course of the entire novel. However, this sexual proficiency threatens to undermine the foundations of a male-dominated society by compromising men’s ability to reason and maintain control. For this reason, the sexually aggressive women in the novel must be destroyed.
In a passage highly charged with erotic symbolism, Jonathan Harker, writes in his journal;
“I was afraid to raise my eyelids, but looked out and saw perfectly under the lashes. The girl went on her knees, and bent over me, simply gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck -- she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight, the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth. Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed to fasten on my throat. Then she paused, and I could hear the churning sound of her tongue as it licked her teeth and lips, and I could feel the hot breath on my neck. Then the skin of my throat began to tingle as one's flesh does when the hand that is to tickle it approaches nearer, nearer. I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the super sensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in languorous ecstasy and waited, waited with beating heart.”
The vampire lover is erotica personified. You relinquish control; you do nothing, other than give yourself up to the seduction.
Janine Ashbless suggests; “We don't fantasise about controlling vampires - we fantasise about how we have NO control over them. They are stand-ins for Death itself.”
Stoker’s narrator, flirts with the promise of an intercourse so erotic, that he will give up his life.
Later in the novel, Count Dracula has made his way to England, and sets about possessing the upper-middle class Lucy.
Once infected by Dracula, Lucy becomes sexually overt and aggressive, and is portrayed as a monster and a social outcast. She feeds on children making her the maternal antithesis as well as a child molester. In order to rectify Lucy’s condition she is sexually overpowered by her fiancée, Holmwood; the scene is witnessed by Jonathan Harker and Van Helsing. Holmwood penetrates her to death with a stake through the chest, a staking which is openly sexual in interpretation;
“the thing in the coffin writhed; and a hideous, blood-curdling screech came from the opened red lips. The body shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortions; the sharp white teeth champed together till the lips were cut, and the mouth was smeared with a crimson foam.........He (Holmwood) looked like a figure of Thor as his untrembling arm rose and fell, driving deeper and deeper”
The killing of Lucy is a sort of legitimised gang rape, legitimised because the Victorian balance of sexual penetration from the female domain is back in its accepted station within the male domain.
The reasons for our fear of, and fascination with vampires change with the times we live in. To Stoker’s contemporaries, Count Dracula posed many threats to Victorian social, moral and political values: he changes virtuous women into beasts with ravenous sexual appetites; he is a foreigner who invades England and threatens English superiority; he is the embodiment of evil that can only be destroyed by reasserting the beliefs of traditional Christianity in an increasingly sceptical and secular age; he represents the fear of regression, a reversal of evolution, a return to our more primal animal state.
Think of the wealth of literature, film and television dramas that we wouldn’t have if Bram Stoker hadn’t written “Dracula.”
Perhaps they leave you cold -- I love them! I’m over my teenage angst about them. There’d be no exotic Lestat, from Ann Rice. No Hammer house of Horror. No vampires with a conscience; M.Christian wouldn’t have written his vampire novel; “Running Dry.” Neither would Janine Ashbless have written; "The Blood of the Martyrs" All wonderful stuff; my favourite writers digging around in my agonised psyche.
And then there’s those TV shows; “Buffy,” “True Blood,” “The Vampire Diaries.” A bloodletting, tinged with magic. I lose myself in a world, of exotic, erotic fantasy. A strange world of death and immortality. Stories that speak to us once again of an ancient, horrid rite and fear. And through the re-telling of the tale we absolve ourselves; we flirt with sex and death safely and sanely.
Friday, 18 September 2015
We’ve forgotten about the old gods, the gods of the wind and oceans; the forests and rivers. But if we’ve forgotten about them, they haven’t forgotten about us. They just choose to ignore us; but they are watchful in their slumber. Sometimes, perhaps, the old gods dream of us.
The problem with the old gods, is that when they decide to take their drowsy action, they are not at all discerning. They don’t really care who gets in the way; and why should they? As far as they are concerned, we’re none of us innocent. They don’t answer questions, those old gods; the judgement is final and if the little people get in the way, it’s too bad.
An atrocity is occurring and as usual, mankind is at the bottom of it. Mankind is damming the beautiful Cahulawassee River. Mankind, in the form of the power company, is going to turn the beautiful river, with its rapids, woodlands and panoramic views, into a dull, flat lake.
It will be a rape; a desecration. It is sacrilegious.
“Deliverance”, really is one of the great suspense films. And without being too fanciful, I do have that chilling sensation that something else is at work here. Whether that something else, is a manifestation of those old, primitive gods taking vengeance, or simply a group of city guys totally out of their depth, in the face of a world where the normal rules of civilisation don’t apply, I don’t know. But you do get the feeling that you need to keep looking over your shoulder. Maybe it’s the camera angles, maybe it’s the use of light and shade. But the hair stands up on the back of your neck; a primal reaction to the something that is creeping up behind you.
It’s been a while since I first saw it, but I watched John Boorman’s 1972 film, of James Dickey’s novel, “Deliverance”, last week. I hadn’t forgotten how good it is, but I had sort of forgotten about some memorable performances and stunning direction. I needed to remind myself of the chilling impact that the film had on me when I first saw it.
We join “Deliverance” at the point where four friends plan on a canoe trip down the Cahulawassee River. The four are in high spirits; there is a sadness that the beauty that they see before them, will soon disappear, but apart from Lewis, a weekend “survivalist”, played by Burt Reynolds, they bow to the inevitable.
In his review of “Deliverance”, Steve Rhodes informs;
“The movie opens disarmingly as Drew, played by Ronnie Cox, plays a good-spirited, impromptu duet with a young, backwoods, mountain boy playing his banjo. This hauntingly tranquil banjo music will reappear periodically during the film, as will scenes of the placid sections of the river. And there will be peaceful shots of roaring campfires and of the river at twilight, all to provide sharp contrast to the horror of their journey.
Different rules apply, out in the wilds of Georgia; they are far away from the tame influence of modern civilisation. Ironically that's exactly the quality that attracts the four urban businessmen of James Dickey's novel, the chance to pit themselves against Nature. Of course what they want is not actual risk but its semblance, a taster sharp enough to remind them that they're alive”.
Anything could happen -- and does.
Steve Rhodes continues;
“It's a palpable sensation, a horror so intense you want to curl into a foetal ball. The cast really does a superb job of communicating their terror, the certainty that they're mixed up in something beyond their comprehension. Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, as Ed, take the ultimate honours in this, modulating themselves through the full gamut of emotion, moving from excitement to happiness to panic to grim desperation. Yet at the same time “Deliverance” never loses sight of their roots, the cultural decency that becomes something of a liability in this sort of situation. Ned Beatty, as Bobby Trippe and Ronnie Cox very nearly attain the same heights, with the former, central to one of the most harrowing scenes in any '70s film. Several times Boorman leaves you open-mouthed in shock, stunned at the enormity of what you're witnessing, yet the actors are good enough to make the material hit home without numbing. This is a world turned upside-down and they're living through it.
In his review, Damian Cannon tells us;
“Dickey's narrative is carefully structured for maximum impact, an effect enhanced in Deliverance by Tom Priestley's well-judged editing. The pace picks up with the film's memorable banjo duel and never lets up, not once. The characters are supremely ordinary and the cast, in a fine acting style, makes them believably naive. Thrust into the real-life Tallulah Gorge, the peril that they're in, barely seems fictional, thanks to the awesome camerawork of Vilmos Zsigmond. In his hands the river springs to life, toying with these unwise canoeists, pondering whether it should be merciful or merciless. Around these four there is scenery of intense hue and shade, a backdrop mighty enough to awe a brave man into weeping; yet they don't see it, so consumed are they by the desire to survive. It seems as though the hellish ordeal will never end, and in some ways it never does.
From start to finish, “Deliverance” is a film of rare power, focused towards a single end. It throbs with tension and fear, a reaction to the forces arrayed against our weekend paddlers. As the drama unfolds, Dickey skilfully guides you into contact with the characters, understanding their motivations. The four, Lewis and Ed leading, are well balanced, providing everything that the film requires. Merely watching them paddle, gaining confidence from their rapid-shooting success, is a delight. When the hillbilly conflict arrives, from the merest bad timing, it propels the film onto another level; yet the battle is mostly psychological, there's barely any contact between the two sides. This is where John Boorman's direction astonishes, in his conjuring of menace from thin air. He doesn't need to show us the danger, only the suggestion”.
1972 is a long time ago, but “Deliverance” is still an important, iconic film. Its indictment is profound and powerful. The accusation makes us tremble, because we know that we are all guilty.
“In 2008, “Deliverance” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.” WIKI
This review was put together using sources from the Web.
Friday, 11 September 2015
“Six of the best for you!”
“On your knees!”
“How DARE you look at me!”
What was I doing? Exactly what they wanted. Needed. I dressed in a formal dress, high heels, pearls, sometimes an academic cape, and these men had come to see me for discipline and domination. Not the high boots, stockings and suspenders, hooker-with-a-whip type; they needed an older woman to understand them; to listen to their stories, and reenact events in their lives that they couldn’t move on from. Did their wives know? Some did. Most didn’t. Was it sexual? Some would say yes, others would deny the sexuality. In 10 years of being an English Disciplinarian… Dominatrix… Professional Mistress… (all these terms are used), my clients never once saw my underwear… maybe a cleavage, nothing more.
On the other hand, 90% of my clients were naked. Others wore appropriate clothing for their “scene”.
I had my own private rooms. I worked alone, 10:00 am to 5 pm. Strictly business hours, no weekends. The sort of men I saw were paramedics, surgeons, company directors, politicians (lots), barristers, AFL players, F1 race drivers (always busy during Grand Prix in Melbourne), and a couple of very famous group members when they were playing at the Palais in St. Kilda. School headmasters, teachers, taxi drivers, soldiers, a priest, a rabbi… Oh, I even saw a heavily tattooed bikie, bearded, cross dress! Oh yes, I had a wardrobe full of clothing just for my delightful cross dressers. Most were in the older age range. They were able to relate to me, rather than a twenty-something with no life experience.
I’m talking about the 90s, before the internet was popular. So my first advert – and I was pretty much a novice at that time – read “English disciplinarian, just arrived in Melbourne. Australian men need a damn good thrashing and I’m the one to give it to them!” In the first week I received 180 letters (which I still have!) addressed to my PO Box number. I could then pick out those that seemed genuine and respond. We met in a neutral place. One of those from that first week is still in contact with me. He’s nearly 80, and we occasionally meet up for lunch.
Initially I only saw “naughty adult schoolboys”. These were the men who had been to Catholic schools. Some had crooked fingers from the canings they’d had on their hands; some needed a good telling-off before a very formal caning. Many couldn’t function at all without a regular caning; a legacy from their schooldays. I should add that this need is not required as much these days, since the days of regular canings in schools have been over for many years. I saw myself, and still do, as a facilitator; a therapist. They arrived stressed and uptight, and left relaxed and able to get on with life.
It was theatre. “Scenes”. To be good at the job, you cannot hate men. You need empathy, and not laugh at some of the odd requests. For instance, one of my regular clients used to arrive with a bag of food, sometimes fruit, sometimes Maccas, cakes, pies. I had a rubber floor. He would lay down on the floor, fully clothed, and the food was strewn around him, and for 10 minutes I walked over him, and squashed the food, telling him I was squashing him. He would then jump up, say he’s OK now, and leave. He was well known to others in my field, so he didn’t just come to me.
One client came for severe torture. I won’t go into detail, but for two years that man had a very high pain threshold. Then one day he arrived, and he couldn’t handle any pain. He said in explanation: “my daughter has been battling cancer for two years; she is now in remission”.
One wife would phone me when her husband needed to see me. He was an adult baby, and I would put him in a baby blue romper suit, and a baby bottle. I did refuse to do any nappy changing! Another wife still asks me to see her husband and give him a good caning; she has MD and is no longer able to discipline him herself. We have become good friends, and I no longer charge. It keeps my hand in!
I could continue: so many interesting men (and some women), all highly intelligent, hard working, comfortable with their “need”, and generally men who had to be in control in their day to day lives. What they needed was, just for an hour, maybe two, to give up control to another; to get some balance.
Although I am approaching 70, I miss the interaction, the theatre, the therapy. Some of my peers are still, at over seventy, seeing the occasional client. But I am enjoying my life too much to be at the beck and call of others any more.
This blog post has been put together using sources from the Web.
Friday, 4 September 2015
Sometimes, something snaps inside our heads. We become disconnected; we can’t find our way. We are lost. We may be confused, babble, see visions. Sometimes, people take us away. The world whispers about us; around us. People say that we are mad.
And it is madness that inhabits the world of Ken Kesey’s novel, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. Not just madness, fear inhabits that world too.
I can’t claim, by a long way, to have read every novel written in the twentieth century, but I’ve read a helluva lot, and I really do believe that Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, published in 1962, is one of the finest. It’s startling in its originality; Kesey’s use of language is stunning in his poetic prose. He twists metaphor until it strains like tortured metal, and threatens to snap, and all the while, instantly, the reader knows exactly what Kesey is talking about. His novel deserves its reputation as a classic work of literature.
The narrative takes place in “the Big Nurse’s” ward in a mental institution. It sounds as if you are in for a tough read, but you’re not. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is funny, Kesey’s sharp sense of humour rescues the book from bleakness.
The novel is also poignant and ultimately heartbreaking.
The two main players in Kesey’s novel are McMurphy and “the Big Nurse;” Nurse Ratched.
Kesey has gravitas. His writing has dignity. Our emotions may be miniscule, set against the great profundities that human beings have to pit themselves against, but any writer who can make us think; “yes, I have felt like that too,” is worthy indeed.
Kesey demonstrates this understanding after McMurphy observes in the group therapy session, how the residents turn against Harding. “Pecking at him, like he was a wounded chicken”, all under the eye of Nurse Ratched and the doctor. McMurphy says that Nurse Ratched is a “Ball breaker” -- she sits with a small smile on her face as Harding is emotionally castrated.
The Chief describes Nurse Ratched;
“Her face is smooth, calculated, and precision made, like an expensive baby doll, skin like flesh coloured enamel, blend of white and cream and baby blue eyes, small nose, pink little nostrils -- everything working together except the colour on her lips and fingernails, and the size of her bosom. A mistake was made somehow in manufacturing, putting those big womanly breasts on what would otherwise been a perfect work, and you can see how bitter she is about it.”
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is told in the first person, by Chief Bromden. The Chief is a patient on the Big Nurse’s ward. He has been there the longest of all the patients, and despite being considered a hopeless case, he has learnt to carve out a life for himself. He knows how to survive. The staff and patients all think that the Chief is mute; deaf and dumb. He isn’t; he can hear as well as anyone, and if he chose to, he could speak. Through the Chief, readers are treated to a cynical look at society and its rules. He refers to the authority figures in the book as “The Combine”, in reference to the mechanical way they manipulate individuals. The story is really a modern day parable about the abuse of power.
The Chief introduces us to the ward. We immediately understand that this is a domain of lost souls. People with no power, who at some time in their lives have had their grip on sanity slip, never to regain their footing.
Enter, Randle P. McMurphy.
Faking insanity to get out of prison for a battery charge, McMurphy immediately begins upsetting Nurse Ratched’s routines, embroiling the two in a power struggle. As an upbeat character, McMurphy easily convinces the other patients—including the stuttering Billy Bibbit, the effeminate Dale Harding and the germaphobic George Sorenson—to gamble, to vote to watch the World Series on TV, to take a fishing trip and to start questioning the demands of the hospital staff. McMurphy is a strong, but flawed character; one who, at times, struggles with the expectations he has manipulated and the consequences he has brought about.
McMurphy represents the freedom that the patients have voluntarily given up – and it is McMurphy who shows them how to find the courage to reclaim their place in the world.
When McMurphy first enters the ward, the thing that immediately distinguishes him, aside from his lack of fear, are his jokes. He laughs out loud at everything, and makes fun of everyone. Laughter is very rarely heard in the ward, and by not taking anything too seriously, McMurphy is able to exert power over it. He manages to avoid any sort of insult or invasion by making a joke of it. And laughter is something that men do. McMurphy’s gut wrenching belly laugh is absolutely male. The Chief notices McMurphy’s calloused hands; his sunburnt skin. McMurphy is a man; a concept that the men in the ward have forgotten. Even through the pervasive odour of hospital smells, the stench of incontinence, the Chief scents on McMurphy;
“…the man smell of dust and dirt from the open fields, and sweat, and work.”
McMurphy, having bet the rest of the men that he can get the Big Nurse to crack within a week, makes his first step by the use of a long joke. The Big Nurse is unable to fight back because it takes her by surprise. By making fun of her, he subverts her authority, and eliminates any power she might have over him.
McMurphy tells the other men jokes in an attempt to get them to laugh, but such an act smacks of rebellion, and the other men are unable to accomplish it. Laughter is equated with strength and an ability to not take everything seriously. It also means having an emotional reaction to something that isn't fear, an idea of which the men of the ward are terrified.
When for the first time, the men take part in the joke, pretending to be dangerous mental patients, they frighten the people around them into treating them with respect, giving the men a feeling of power. They become a team against the world, which they always were, but a team with an ability to actively fight back. For the first time, the joke is at the expense of the society that has terrorized them.
McMurphy laughs at seeing the men the way they are, both laughing at them and with them. He is able to survive for so long against the world that has destroyed the rest of them because he can laugh at it. He takes everything seriously by taking nothing seriously. He doesn't deny that there is pain and hardship, but he refuses to let that define and ruin him.
But McMurphy misunderstands the enormity of what he has taken on. He is playing a dangerous game. These men, really are people who are very ill. They are emotionally frail and while McMurphy reminds them of what it is like to have fun, there is danger ahead. And Nurse Ratched is a formidable foe.
The Chief muses;
"I thought for a minute there I saw her whipped. Maybe I did. But I see now that it don't make any difference.... To beat her you don't have to whip her two out of three or three out of five, but every time you meet. As soon as you let down your guard, as soon as you lose once, she's won for good. And eventually we all got to lose. Nobody can help that."
McMurphy slips up and shows the danger of constant jokes. The Big Nurse warns him of the possibility of a lobotomy, but instead of taking it seriously, he turns it into a joke about his testicles. McMurphy has no intention of backing down at this point, but by turning the warning into the joke, he increases the chances of it being acted upon.
Friday is the day that the men go to the X-Ray room to get checked up. While they wait, McMurphy notices another door and asks where it leads. Harding tells him that it goes to the Shock Shop, and explains the theory behind electro-shock therapy. Once again, it is revealed that the Big Nurse has the power to order such treatment as well as lobotomies. McMurphy realizes that it's the system that's behind everything, and tries to explain this to the rest of them; how even if they got rid of the Big Nurse, things wouldn't change, really. The men don't understand, and Harding finally admits that they've noticed that he's stopped fighting against the Nurse. McMurphy agrees, and tells them he realised he had as much to lose as the rest of them. Harding tells him no, McMurphy has more to lose, since all the Acutes are there voluntarily. McMurphy can't believe this, and he starts accosting all of them, until Billy Bibbit breaks down.
"'You think I wuh-wuh-wuh-want to stay in here? You think I wouldn't like a con-con-vertible and a guh-guh-girl friend? But did you ever have people l-l-laughing at you? No, because you're so b-big and so tough! Well, I'm not big and tough.'"
It’s the beginning of a downward spiralling tragedy, that for the Chief culminates in triumphant liberation, and ends in disaster for others.
McMurphy gets the doctor on his side, and they organise a fishing trip. It’s a chance to remind the men of who they are, outside the confines of the hospital. On the fishing expedition the patients laugh and feel complete humans again. This happens with McMurphy's guidance, his laughter booming in the face of chaos.
But later, all the men who went on the boat trip have to take a special shower, because Nurse Ratched thinks they might have caught some sort of bug. While they're in the shower, the black aides attack George, trying to get him to put on salve. George refuses, because of his neatness obsession and pathological fear of germs. McMurphy steps in to defend him, and he gets in a fight with the aides. The Chief helps throw them off, and the two of them get strapped down and sent up to “Disturbed”.
Things are dangerously out of control for McMurphy. This passage, where they are driving home from the fishing trip, stands out for me. The Chief narrates;
“Then -- as he was talking -- a set of tail-lights going past lit up McMurphy’s face, and the windshield reflected an expression that was only allowed because he figured it’d be too dark for anybody in the car to see, dreadfully tired and strained and frantic, like there wasn’t enough time left for something he had to do…While his relaxed, good natured voice doled out his life for us to live, a rollicking past full of kid fun and drinking buddies and loving women and barroom battles over meagre honours -- for all of us to dream ourselves into.”
This is a story of sacrifice. While the Chief and McMurphy are waiting for Electric Shock Treatment, Kesey sprinkles his prose with Christ images.
McMurphy arranges himself willingly on the table in a crucifix; arms outstretched, his ankles clamped together, he’s clamped down at the wrists.
“They put graphite salve on his temples. ‘What is it?’ he says. ‘Conductant.’ the technician says. ‘Anointest my head with conductant. Do I get a crown of thorns?’”
Electro Shock Treatment is an obscene ritual and Kesey tells it so casually and that’s what makes it so horrifying. It is only when the Chief describes McMurphy’s body arcing, as the volts slam through him, that the reader offers up a silent scream.
“…light arcs across, stiffens him, bridges him up off the table till nothing is down but his wrists and ankles…”
The Chief is brought back to the ward, and the rest of the men greet him like a hero. They ask him all sorts of questions about what's going on with McMurphy, and when he responds, no one thinks it odd that the Chief is talking now.
The Big Nurse sees that McMurphy's legend is growing, and while he's away he's just getting bigger and bigger, so she starts making plans to bring him back down. The men anticipate this, and work out a plan to get McMurphy out of the ward that Saturday, forgetting it's the day that McMurphy has set up for Billy's date with Candy. They tell their plans to McMurphy when he returns to the ward, but he refuses to leave until after that night. He says to consider it his going away party.
McMurphy bribes the night aide, Mr. Turkle, with the promise of “booze and broads“, in order to get him to open up a window that night. Candy is late, but when she arrives, she's got a friend with her, the woman, Sandy, who was supposed to be with her earlier at the boat trip. The group hides from the night supervisor, and proceeds to get drunk on the liquor the women brought with them, along with whatever medication Harding can get out of the cabinet. Billy and Candy eventually sneak off for some privacy, and Harding tries to get McMurphy to leave. McMurphy asks why the others don't come with him, but all of them need a little more time. He asks Harding what made them so scared. Harding isn't able to say, exactly, just that they were beaten down by the rest of the world for the things they did, and who they were, and that they didn't have the strength to fight back. McMurphy says that he's always had people bugging him, and it's never brought him down that much. Harding admits that this is true, but that he's figured out who drives strong people like McMurphy to weakness.
"'Yeah? Not that I'm admitting I'm down that road, but what is this something else?'
'It is us.' He swept his hand about him in a soft white circle and repeated, 'Us.'"
It's five am, and McMurphy decides to get some sleep before leaving. He says goodbye to Harding and the Chief, then settles into bed. All of them fall asleep and don't wake up till the black aides come on the ward at six-thirty.
Harding tries to get McMurphy to leave in the morning, but he claims that he's too drunk too move. When roll call shows that Billy is missing, the aides and the Big Nurse do a room check. They find him and Candy in bed in one of the rooms. Nurse Ratched is shocked, and keeps telling Billy how ashamed she is for him, but Billy doesn't seem to notice, just gets his clothes together and comes out into the hall. He responds to her questions without a stutter. However, the Big Nurse knows what buttons to push in the end. "'What worries me, Billy,' she said- I could hear the change in her voice- 'is how your mother is going to take this.'" Billy immediately panics. He begs Nurse Ratched not to call his mother, and when the nurse refuses, he starts to blame the fact that he was in bed with a woman on everyone else in the room, saying they made him do it. He is taken away to wait alone in the doctor's office.
All the men sit down in the day room, and they tell McMurphy that they don't blame him at all, they know it wasn't his fault. He just relaxes and looks like he's waiting for something. The doctor yells for the nurse from his office, and she and the aides go running. She comes back alone, and speaks directly to McMurphy. She tells him that Billy cut his throat with some instruments in the doctor's desk.
"'First Charles Cheswick and now William Bibbit! I hope you're finally satisfied. Playing with human lives- gambling with human lives- as if you thought yourself to be a God!'"
She goes back into her office. The Chief knows that McMurphy is going to do something, and at first he thinks to try and stop it; but then he realises that he can't stop it, because he and the rest of the men of the ward are forcing McMurphy to do it. They force him to get out of his chair and go over to nurses' station. He rips open the Big Nurse's shirt, revealing those too large breasts, and tries to strangle her.
When the doctors and aides rip him off her, he cries out. The Chief describes it as;
“A sound of cornered-animal fear and hate and surrender and defiance, that if you ever trailed coon or cougar or lynx is like the last sound the treed and shot and falling animal makes as the dogs get him, when he finally doesn't care any more about anything but himself and his dying.”
McMurphy’s fate is sealed. When he is returned to the ward, he has had a lobotomy. The mythology of McMurphy lives on. The men on the ward discuss whether this ruined spectacle is really him.
“After a minute of silence, Scanlon turned and spat on the floor. ‘Ah what’s the old bitch tryin’ to put over on us anyhow, for craps sake. That ain’t him.’”
“‘Nothing like him,’ Martini said.”
“‘How stupid she think we are?’”
The chief knows it is McMurphy and he tries to think of what McMurphy would have done.
“I was sure of only one thing: he wouldn’t have left something like that sit there in the day room with his name tacked on it for twenty or thirty years so the Big Nurse could use it as an example of what can happen if you buck the system. I was sure of that.”
Nurse Ratched may think that she has won the game, but the Chief’s final actions before he leaves the ward, make it a hollow victory.
The title of the book is a line from a nursery rhyme.
Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew East
One flew West
And one flew over the cuckoo's nest.
Chief Bromden's grandmother sang this song to him when he was young, and they had a game about it.
The inspiration for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest came while working on the night shift (with Gordon Lish) at the Menlo Park Veterans' Hospital. There, Kesey often spent time talking to the patients, sometimes under the influence of the hallucinogenic drugs, with which he had volunteered to experiment. Kesey did not believe that these patients were insane, rather that society had pushed them out because they did not fit the conventional ideas of how people were supposed to act and behave. Published in 1962, it was an immediate success; in 1963, it was adapted into a successful stage play by Dale Wasserman; in 1975, Miloš Forman directed a screen adaptation, which won the "Big Five" Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Actress (Louise Fletcher), Best Director (Forman) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Lawrence Hauben, Bo Goldman).
Kesey was originally involved in creating the film, but left two weeks into production. He claimed never to have seen the movie because of a dispute over the $20,000 he was initially paid for the film rights. Kesey loathed the fact that, unlike the book, the film was not narrated by the Chief Bromden character, and he disagreed with Jack Nicholson being cast as Randle McMurphy (he wanted Gene Hackman). Despite this, Faye Kesey has stated that Ken was generally supportive of the film and was pleased that it was made.
Thanks to Jan Vander Laenen, for suggesting Gustave Courbet's Le Désespéré to head this post.