Hero-narrator Bromden – the son of a white woman and an Indian leader – pretends to be weak, deaf and weak-minded. He has long been in a psychiatric hospital, escaping in its walls from the cruelty and indifference of “normal America.” However, the years spent by Bromden in the psychiatric hospital, make themselves felt. The senior nurse Miss Gnusen, leading both patients and the weak-willed Dr. Spivey, regulates, in his opinion, the run of time, forcing the watch to fly swiftly and then endlessly. By her order, they include a “foggy machine,” and pills that give patients contain electronic circuits and help control the consciousness of both “acute” and “chronicles” from the outside. According to Bromden’s conviction, this department is a factory in some sinisterly mysterious Combine: “The mistakes made in the neighborhood are corrected here, in churches and schools. When the finished product is returned to society,
completely repaired, not worse than the new, or even better, the older sister’s heart rejoices. “
In this abode of sorrow one day is Randle Patrick McMurfee, who managed to wander around America and spend time in many of her prisons. The last term he served in the colony, where he showed “psychopathic tendencies” and now is transferred to a psychiatric hospital. However, he took the translation without affliction. He is a gambler, he expects to fix his financial affairs at the expense of burdock-loonies, and the orders in the hospital are rumored to be much more democratic than before.
The office really flaunts its liberal principles, and the representative of the administration of public relations now and then tours, in every way praising new trends. Patients are well fed, encouraged to cooperate with medical staff, and all major problems are resolved by voting on a patient’s advice, led by a certain Harding, who received a higher education and is noted for his eloquence and complete lack of will. “We are all rabbits,” he tells McMurphy, “and we are not here
because we are rabbits, but because we can not get used to our rabbit status.”
McMurphy is anyone, but not a rabbit. After “picking this shop to his hands”, he has come into conflict with the powerful Miss Gnusen from the very first days. The fact that he playfully plays cards on patients is not so bad for her, but he jeopardizes the measured activity of the “therapeutic community”, ridicules the meetings, under which, under the watchful eye of the elder sister, patients routinely dig into someone else’s private life. This systematic humiliation of people is carried out under the demagogic slogan of teaching their existence in the team, the desire to create a democratic department completely controlled by patients.
McMurphy does not fit into the totalitarian idyll of a psychiatric hospital. He pushes his comrades to break free, break a window and break the grid with a heavy remote and even beats that he can do it. When his attempt ends in failure, then, paying off, or rather, returning the receipts, he says: “At least I tried.”
The next clash between McMurphy and Miss Gnusen is about the TV. He asks to shift the TV schedule so that you can watch baseball. The question is put to the vote, and it is supported only by Chesvik, known for his obstinacy in words, but his inability to translate his intentions into actions. However, he manages to get a repeat vote soon, and all twenty “sharp” vote to watch TV during the day. McMurphy triumphs, but the older sister tells him that in order for a decision to be made, a majority is needed, and since there are only forty people in the office, one more voice is missing. In fact, this is a hidden mockery, since the remaining twenty patients are chronicles, completely cut off from objective reality. But then Bromden raises his hand, going against the life rule “not to open”. But this is not enough, since he raised his hand after the meeting was declared closed. Then McMurphy arbitrarily turns on the TV and does not move away from him, even when Miss Gnusen turns off the electricity. He and his comrades look at the blank screen and “get sick” with might and main.
According to doctors, McMurphy is a “disorder factor”. There is a question of transferring him to the riotous section, and more radical measures are proposed. But Miss Gnusen is against it. It is necessary for her to break it in the ward, to prove to everyone else that he is not a hero, not a rebel, but a cunning egocentric, caring for his own good.
Meanwhile, McMurphy’s “pernicious” influence on patients is obvious. Under his influence, Bromden notes that the “foggy machine” suddenly broke down, he begins to see the world with the same clarity. But McMurphy himself at the time moderates his rebellious zeal. He learns the sad truth: if he entered the colony for a period of time determined by the court, he was placed in a psychiatric hospital until the doctors consider him to be in need of treatment, and consequently his destiny is entirely in their hands.
He ceases to intercede for other patients, is cautious in clarifying relations with his superiors. Such changes entail tragic consequences. Taking the example from McMurfy Cheswick fiercely fights for the right to smoke cigarettes at any time and any amount, gets into a riotous department, and then on his return informs McMurphy that he fully understands his position and soon commits suicide.
This death makes a strong impression on McMurphy, but even more amazing is the fact that, it turns out, the vast majority of Miss Gnusen patients are here of their own free will. With renewed energy, he renews the war with his older sister and at the same time teaches patients to feel themselves full-fledged members of society. He builds a basketball team, calls for a match for the orderlies, and although the match is lost, the main goal is achieved – the players-patients feel like people. It was McMurphy who saw through Bromden, realizing that he was only being deaf-mute. He inspires confidence in himself and his forces in Bromden, and under his leadership he tries to lift the heavy console, each time tearing it from the floor higher and higher.
Soon, McMurphy comes up with a seemingly crazy idea: to go all out to sea on a boat to fish salmon, and despite the exhortations of Miss Gnusen, the team is going. And although the captain of the boat refuses to go to sea because of the lack of necessary papers, the “psyches” do it arbitrarily and enjoy themselves immensely.
It was on this boat trip that the timid and timid Billy Bibbitt met Candy, the girlfriend of McMurphy, who liked him very much. Realizing that poor Billy is extremely important to finally establish himself as a man, McMurphy agrees that Candy will come to them next Saturday and spend the night with them.
But until Saturday there is another serious conflict. McMurphy and Bromden join hand-to-hand with the orderlies, and as a result they get into the riotous department and are treated with electric shock.
Withstood the course of psychotherapy, McMurphy returns to the office just in time for Saturday to accept Candy, who is with her girlfriend Sandy and a bottle of alcohol.
The fun acquires a rather violent character, and McMurphy and his friends arrange a rout in the possessions of their older sister. Realizing that the initiator of the holiday, as they say, do not take their heads off, the patients persuade him to flee, and he generally agrees, but alcohol takes his – he wakes up too late when the orderlies are already.
Miss Gnusen, barely restraining her fury, is surveying her severely damaged department during the night. Somewhere Billy Bibbitt disappeared. She goes on a quest and finds him in the company of Candy. Miss Gnusen threatens to tell Billy’s mother everything, reminding how hard she’s going through the son’s eccentricities. Billy is horrified, he screams that it’s not his fault that he was forced by McMurphy and others, that they teased him, called him names…
Satisfied with her victory, Miss Gnusen promises Billy to explain everything to his mother. She takes Billy to the office to Dr. Spivey and asks him to talk to the patient. But the doctor comes too late. Torn between fear of the mother and contempt for herself for betraying, Billy cuts his throat. Then Miss Gnusen attacks McMurphy, reproaching him for playing human lives, accusing him of killing both Cheswick and Billy. McMurphy emerges from the stupor in which he was, and throws himself at his sworn enemy. He tears the dress on the senior nurse, why her large breasts fall out on the public view, and grabs her by the throat.
Sanitarians somehow manage to drag him away from Miss Gnusen, but witchcraft spells are dispelled, and it becomes clear to everyone that she will never again use the power she possessed.
Gradually sick or discharged home, or transferred to other offices. Of the “old” – acute patients – there are only a few people, including Bromden. It is he who witnesses the return of McMurphy. The senior nurse was defeated, but did everything to prevent her opponent from rejoicing in his victory. After lobotomy, a merry fellow, a brawler, a vivacity turns into a vegetable. Bromden can not allow this person to exist in the form of a reminder of what happens to those who go against the authorities. He strangles him with a pillow, and then he breaks the window and tears the mesh with the console that taught him to lift him to McMurphy. Now nothing can block his path to freedom.