I read Mr. Kesey's book, even knowing the ending, which was spoiled for me a long time ago. I've never seen the movie but remember being told about its ending. So I am reading the book, knowing full well how it ends. I don't like that.
The book itself feels like a psychedelic acid trip. Not that I know what that's like, mind you. :) The book is told in the first person by an Indian named Chief Bromden, who is mentally ill (schizophrenic). The things he imagines happening to him in the asylum on a daily basis are ...well....crazy. Kesey writes his delirium so well (it is said Kesey took drugs and had electroshock therapy so he could know what the patients went through back in the day). Chief believes the walls are alive, that there are invisible strings pulling people along. That there is a "Combine," a group/a machine/ workings that run everyone and everything and he's trying to fight against this Combine.
The asylum is run by the hard-nosed Nurse Ratched, a tyrannical nurse who has everyone and everything, including the doctors, under her thumb and does not hesitate to get people moved or fired if they don't adhere to her idea of order. She has everyone in there, patients and staff, afraid of saying or doing anything. It's almost as if her oppression of these men mirrors the oppression Chief and his family felt at having their land taken from them. New location, same oppression by the Combine.
In comes Randal McMurphy, a young "punk kid" who gets himself checked in as sort-of a retreat. He doesn't want to work, he wants to relax. He's a gambler, a womanizer, and freeloader, and he brings life to the ward. Forever butting heads with Nurse Ratched, Randall eventually brings everyone out of their shells...and pays a very dear price.
Even knowing the ending, I was sad. I hated the Nurse, hated what she, in my opinion, did to Billy and I hated Randall's punishment for his reaction to Billy's demise. She lost in a way. Everyone was gone, but what happened to Randall and Billy made me feel she won more than she lost and it angered and saddened me.
It's a great book and the last book of my Classics list I will be reading in 2007. On to 2008!