Studio 360

American Icons: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

This is the story of America’s fight against authority.

Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

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Ken Kesey had worked in a mental hospital, but One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, his first novel, was really a parable of what happens when you stand up to the Man—a counterculture fable that doesn’t end well. Despite his far-reaching influence, Kesey was shut out by filmmakers who turned the story into an Oscar-sweeping phenomenon. Still, Cuckoo’s Nest changed how many people thought about mental illness and institutions. In this American Icons episode, Sherman Alexie debunks the myth of the silent Indian; we visit Oregon State Hospital; a psychiatrist explains how the movie gave mental hospitals a bad name, with tragic consequences; and actress Louise Fletcher takes us into the mind of one of the most fearsome villains in the history of the movies—the sweet-faced Nurse Ratched. “She doesn’t see her behavior as it really is. Who does? Who sees that they’re really evil?”

Originally aired Sept. 20, 2013.

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Passages from the audiobook narrated by Ken Kesey were provided courtesy of HighBridge Audio.