The 1979 film adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (OFOCN) directed by Milos Forman and Dead Poets Society (1989) (DPS) directed by Peter Weir are two texts which explore the lives of people in controlled environments and the consequences when the rules are rebelled against. Both authors explore the idea of conformity and rebellion through differing historical contexts but similar settings. OFOCN is set in a psychiatric ward which is controlled by the iron fist of Nurse Ratched, when rebellious McMurphy is transferred to the ward the two juxtaposing characters conflict until the ward is destroyed. DPS explores the constricted school lifestyle at the elite Welton Academy. The new English teacher Mr Keating bends the schools traditional teaching methods and introduces new concepts and ideals to the students, until severe consequences occur. The authors of these texts explore how self-expression becomes rebellion in restrained environments.

Both authors explore the idea of conformity and rebellion within each institution through differing context. In DPS, Weir decides to set his story in the post war conservative late 1950’s USA because of the traditionalist niche in society and the high expectations of people in that era. His decision in setting effectively explores the idea of conformity and rebellion in the youth of America because it is prior to the 60s which involved the strong change in the public and youths’ opinions and views on conformity. This makes rebellion a rare sight and something which participants are very cautious about (scene where kids consider recreating the DPS good example). Set three years later in 1962, OFOCN creates a more modern view in terms of context. 1962 was known as the freedom summer in USA, this period is the setting of historical influences such as the fights for civil rights among discriminated races in America. This context enables the author to create characters such as McMurphy to have a stronger incentive for freedom, rights and want for change in the psych ward. OFOCN explores conformity and rebellion through the changing time and attitude of the people living in the era, McMurphy is a character who has been jailed for being someone who pushes boundaries. He is portrayed as being an outsider in and out of the community in the ward. Kesey’s shows the audience this when McMurphy stands up against Nurse Ratched and casts a vote to watch the world series. Although he loses, he was very persistent in gaining votes. The purpose of the setting and time of the two films is to create a stand point in the movie for the audience as to what is acceptable and what is considered unacceptable. Both authors have designed their texts with the intent to be set in institutions that don’t actually assist the characters, and in doing so support the conditions for radical decision making.

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Both authors explore the ways in which the rules of society can be challenged using characterization. In OFOCN, Forman uses the ward and Nurse Ratched and McMurphy as metaphors, perceiving the ward and Nurse Ratched as society as and McMurphy as rebellion. McMurphy is a very persistent and strong-minded character who is continuously rebelling against the wards rules and Nurse Ratched. The relationship between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy is a clear representation of modern society and underlining compressed issues found in modern society. The authors creation of McMurphy’s rebellious characterization shows the social correlation between modern society and traditionalism in the ward. Evedince. Throughout DPS the audience are shown that discovery itself is a process of transformation that can bring new ideas to individuals which can have a positive effect. The author uses characterization to convey character discovery. The author created Keating as an unrestricted character, this can be seen when Keating expresses to the students the act of conformity. When Keating defines conformity as ” the difficulty of maintaining your own beleifs in the face of others.” The audience are able to recognise the difference between Keating and the headmaster Nonlan’s attitudes towards education.


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