Chief, the (not really) deaf and dumb oaf of a Native American man, steadily proves himself to be McMurphy's right-hand man throughout the film. Two thoughts: One, did they really need to play into the racial stereotype and cast a Native American man for that role? And two, "Chief?" Really? I'm curious as to what purpose that served in the plot of the film beyond the aesthetics. Believe me, I'm all for tasteful, historically accurate racial portrayals, but it felt like that was sort of just thrown in there.
And while I'm up on my equality soapbox, I wish there was more equal representation in the film in general. Were all of the ward's guards intentionally cast as black men? I'm really interested in how this contributed to the film. Reaching further, the film made light of serious mental illness, but I realize we can chalk it up to mirroring McMurphy's attitude toward the subject. But, to play devil's advocate, his lightheartedness gave the character an element of innocence and inclusiveness when he treats his ward-mates as they were any other bloke on the street.
While McMurphy brought a welcomed contrast to the eerily structured going-ons in the facility on Nurse Ratched's watchful eyes, his antics during his time spent in the ward made it difficult to root for or sympathize with him. It felt like Forman spent half of the film building relationships and showing the patient's progress with the help of McMurphy, only to have it crumble apart in the later half as he oversteps his boundaries. For instance, the basketball scenes were cheery and optimistic. McMurphy's patience with his peers was relatively heartwarming and gave us viewers a hope that he could make best the time he was forced to spend there. But then he'll have another one of his schemes like sneaking in women or commandeering a school bus full of mental patients. In the end, this was obviously his undoing, and I struggled to feel one way or another toward it.
I realize that not all films are accurate, productive, or even relatively politically correct, but I still feel like Cuckoo's Nest often falls short and there are too many disconnects from the reality of the situation the character's are in. Even though this film is decades its senior, I'm glad to see shows like Orange is the New Black spotlight the reality of the life of inmates and their relationships without being too strange, ignorant, or even sometimes offensive. I find the former hard to take seriously, and the latter refreshing. You can still make a humorous, emotion-provoking film out of a a gruesome or morbid premise without the exhausting stereotypes and tropes.