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How reading the book first can alter your liking of the film adaptation

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How often are you watching a film when you see something along the lines of “based on the bestselling book by...” show up on the screen? Probably pretty often.

It seems as if more and more movies lately are the result of a book being adapted. This is not a bad thing; a lot of the time readers are eager to see their beloved literature on the big screen and it often brings more attention to the book from people who might not have read it otherwise.

Sometimes these adaptations are done very well, both satisfying the readers and pleasing the general non-reader audience. However, sometimes the reaction is much more divided.

It is possible for a book-to-film adaption to receive massive success as a film, yet be entirely unpleasant to the readers of the original source. This is the case for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, at least through my eyes, someone who loves the book immensely.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the film, is beyond successful, often being regarded as one of the best films of all time. It is highly praised and is one of only three films ever to win all five of the major Academy Award categories (Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Director and Best Screenplay).

Despite all of the hype and praise, the film does not sit well with me. At all.

I read the book for the first time while I was in high school and had no idea it was also a film. I found out about the movie adaption when I told my aunt I was reading the book and she told me that the film was one of her favourites. She has never read the book.

I love the book very much; it is one of my favourites of all time. So, I was very excited to see the movie version, as I am often a fan of books becoming films.

I was highly disappointed.

In the case of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, so much of what I, personally, loved about the book did not translate into the film. Namely, the role of Chief Bromden was lacking. Bromden is a minor character in the movie - as a reminder, he is the Native American who is believed to be both deaf and mute and eventually befriends McMurphy.

However, in the novel, Bromden is not only the narrator but drives so much of the plot and the themes forward. With this character, Ken Kesey, the book’s author, has created this point of view that is highly distinctive, as every character thinks the narrator cannot hear or talk when he actually can. This gives him the potential to be an extremely objective first person narrator, which is not often come across - subjectivity almost always comes into play.

Then, you add in the fact that Bromden suffers from paranoia and some hallucinations, it not only adds complexity to his role as a narrator but also provides insight into the larger themes of the novel through a fascinating focal point for the readers. This results in a unique look into Bromden himself, as well as all of the other characters - including McMurphy - who Bromden so intricately observes.

McMurphy’s role is still significant; it’s just different. You only get to see him through Bromden’s eyes, but instead of this being limited, it just makes it more fascinating and thought-provoking. Bromden’s narration and strong presence is a filter, but a welcome one.The film removes this filter, leaving behind a less interesting narrative.  Reading the book first, I grasped onto Bromden’s role; I became captivated with this character’s perspective, making it the only point of view I wanted to see this Oregon mental hospital and its inhabitants through.

The film removes this filter, leaving behind a less interesting narrative. Reading the book first, I grasped onto Bromden’s role; I became captivated with this character’s perspective, making it the only point of view I wanted to see this Oregon mental hospital and its inhabitants through.

I may have liked the movie much more if I hadn’t read the book first. Not liking the film really took me by surprise, as I hadn’t disliked a film adaptation so much before. Even though I can’t personally see it, I realise that the film is considered to be quite phenomenal in its own right, the book aside. I just can’t quite separate the two, leaving me with the conclusion that sometimes film adaptations just don’t work out for the readers of the book.

Luckily, this doesn’t happen all the time and there are still plenty of film adaptations for readers to enjoy. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest just isn't one of them for me.




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