One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Beat Sheet

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Beat Sheet

Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
‘Apple seed and apple thorn;
Wire, briar, limber lock,
Three geese in a flock.
One flew east,
And one flew west,
And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.


One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

Screenplay by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman
Based on the novel by Ken Kesey
Directed by Milos Forman
Running time: 132 minutes
Year: 1975


One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest McMurphy

PROTAGONIST: R.P. McMurphy, 38, an anti-authoritarian convict transferred to a mental institution for evaluation.
CHARACTERIZATION/MAIN MISBEHAVIOR: No respect for authority / Violent tendencies
EXTERNAL GOAL: To fake mental illness / To escape the asylum
INTERNAL GOAL: To inspire the patients to think for themselves and live free
THEME: Beware of institutions that crush individual thought.
CENTRAL DRAMATIC QUESTION: Will McMurphy inspire the patients to embrace their freedom?
ENDING: McMurphy is lobotomized for his attack on Ratched. As an act of mercy, Chief Bromden suffocates McMurphy, freeing him of the institution, and makes his escape with McMurphy’s spirit.
ARC: McMurphy goes from a duplicitous convict to a man who defends and inspires his fellow patients.


One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Nurse Ratched


McMurphy is admitted to Oregon State Hospital, faking mental illness to avoid work detail in prison. He shows the other patients his disdain for their rules and informs them of his intentions to break the spirit of their oppressor, Nurse Ratched.


McMurphy challenges Ratched over watching the World Series. When he can’t win, he begins to call out a fictional game, which thrills the other patients. Later, McMurphy highjacks a bus and takes all of the patients deep-sea fishing. The patients experience freedom and rebellion for the first time in ages, if ever.


McMurphy learns the majority of the patients have voluntarily institutionalized themselves with complete disregard for their personal freedom. Before he’s administered electroshock therapy for attacking an orderly, McMurphy discovers Chief Bromden has faked his ailments to disconnect, and the two men make a pact to break out.


McMurphy bribes the night security guard and throws a party in the ward. The following morning the patients are woken by the staff. Ratched represses Billy’s newfound sexual freedom, insisting she will tell his mother and Billy breaks down. Seconds from making an escape, McMurphy is alerted from a nurse’s screams and discovers Billy has killed himself. McMurphy attacks Ratched, nearly strangling her to death before an orderly intervenes. McMurphy is lobotomized for the attack. Chief escapes the asylum, taking McMurphy’s spirit with him.



Sequence I: McMurphy is admitted to Oregon State Hospital. His psychiatrist, Dr. Spivey, believes he faked mental illness to avoid work detail in prison.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Opening Image

1 – OPENING IMAGES: Sunrise on an Oregon countryside. A car drives along a highway.

2 – At Oregon State Hospital, the patients are sound asleep.

3 – NURSE RATCHED enters the asylum wearing a black coat.

4 – With classical music over the PA, expressionless patients take their medication. Everyone seems to follow a routine.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Inciting Incident

6 – INCITING INCIDENT: RANDLE PATRICK MCMURPHY enters Oregon State Hospital handcuffed, escorted by two police officers. Upon release from the handcuffs, he erupts into laughter and kisses one of the officers. After all, he’s crazy.

10 – McMurphy’s evaluation by DR. SPIVEY. Behavioral problems. Anger. Lazy. Arrested and sentenced for statutory rape.

13 – Dr. Spivey gets down to business…


They think you’ve been faking it to get out of your work detail. What do you think about that?



Do I look like that kind of guy to you, Doc?


Well, let’s just be frank for a minute. Tell me, do you think there’s anything wrong with your mind, really?


Not a thing, Doc. I’m a goddamn marvel of modern science.


Sequence II: Nurse Ratched instigates an argument between the patients with a subtle and sadistic pleasure.

20 – Nurse Ratched brings up a heated point from their previous session, one that causes an argument with HARDING over his know-it-all attitude. A smile indicates, perhaps, Nurse Ratched did it on purpose.


Sequence III: Nurse Ratched observes McMurphy’s attempts to bond with patients.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Strong Movement Forward

23 – STRONG MOVEMENT FORWARD: McMurphy attempts to play basketball with CHIEF BROMDEN, the 6’11”, deaf and dumb Indian.


McMurphy, what the hell you talking to him for? He can’t hear a fucking thing.


I ain’t talking to him, I’m talking to myself. It helps me think.


Yeah, well it don’t help him none.


Well, it don’t hurt him, either, does it?

25 – Hoping on the shoulder’s of BANCINI, McMurphy demonstrates how to put the ball into the basket, but Chief does nothing. Ratched observes from her office.


Sequence IV: McMurphy’s duplicitous with Nurse Ratched, making her believe he took his medication when he didn’t. Spitting out the pill, he shows the other patients his disdain for her rules and informs them of his intentions to break her spirit.

27 – McMurphy plays cards with Martini, Cheswick, Taber, Billy and Fredrickson. Frustrated with Martini’s inability to play, McMurphy starts losing his temper.

28 – Irate over the loud classical music, McMurphy breaches the nurses’ station and is reprimanded by Ratched.

29 – Outside the station, McMurphy is asked to take his medication. He insists to know what he’s taking, but Ratched doesn’t care to tell him.


If Mr. McMurphy doesn’t want to take his medication orally, I’m sure we can arrange that he can have it some other way. I don’t think you’d like it.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest End of Act One

30 – McMurphy takes his medication without further argument. Harding ridicules him over challenging Ratched’s authority, but much to his surprise, McMurphy spits the pill in his face.

32 – TURN / PLOT POINT#1: McMurphy bets the patients that he can break Ratched.


Sequence I: Nurse Ratched refuses to let the patients watch the World Series. In an irrational act of defiance, McMurphy bets the patients he can throw a heavy marble console through a window to make an escape and watch the big game, but he can’t move the console in the slightest. In his shame, he points out the fact he tried.

34 – McMurphy asks Ratched to change their schedule so they can watch the World Series. Ratched is reluctant, but puts it to a vote. The majority decides against watching the game.

37 – After breaking up an argument between Harding and Taber, McMurphy insists he’s gonna watch the game. He bets a few patients he can lift an old hydrotherapy console (extremely heavy; solid marble) and break a window for his escape.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest First Trial

40 – FIRST TRIAL: McMurphy attempts to lift the console to no avail.

The Acutes stand aside and McMurphy steps up to the machine. He shifts his feet to get a good stance, wipes his hands on his thighs, leans down and gets hold of the levers on each side, and strains.

Bromden watches, in awe of McMurphy.

McMurphy turns loose, straightens up and shifts his feet for a better position.


Giving up?


Just warmin’ up.

He grabs the levers again. His whole body shakes with the strain. For just a second we HEAR the cement GRIND. Then his breath explodes and he falls back limp against the wall. There’s blood on his hands. No sound but his rasping breath. He opens his eyes and looks around. Then pulls out a pocketful of IOU’s and tries to sort them out, but his hands are frozen into red claws. He throws the whole bundle on the floor and walks out. At the door, he turns back.


But I tried. Goddammit, I sure as hell did that much. Didn’t I?

McMurphy exits.

It’s better to fail than respect the status quo.


Sequence II: McMurphy challenges Ratched again, but he’s still unable to watch the World Series. He begins to call out a fictional game, which thrills the other patients. Ratched is not pleased.

43 – BILLY’S SUICIDE SETUP: Ratched humiliates Billy in front of the group, saying his suicide attempt was over a ill-fated relationship with a girl. Ratched represses Billy’s sexual identity.

44 – Cheswick stands up for Billy, asking Ratched to change the subject and vote on the World Series game again. All the men participating in therapy vote in favor of watching the game, but Ratched insists a majority must rule.

46 – McMurphy attempts to sway the most disturbed patients in the ward to no avail. Ratched brings the therapy and vote to a close.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Combat

48 – COMBAT: McMurphy talks Chief into raising his hand after Ratched put the vote to a close. Ratched refuses to turn on the television and turns up the classical music.

49 – WIth the television off, McMurphy calls out a fictional game, amusing the patients and lifting their spirits. Ratched is not pleased.

Sequence III: McMurphy highjacks a bus and takes all of the patients deep-sea fishing. The patients experience freedom and rebellion for the first time in ages, if ever.

51 – McMurphy’s brought up for an evaluation from Dr. Spivey. McMurphy complains that Ratched isn’t fair, but Spivey backs her as one of the best. Spivey then insists he believes McMurphy isn’t ill at all.

53 – McMurphy uses the Chief to help him climb the barbed wire fence. McMurphy escapes and makes Chief smile.

54 – As the patients wait in the bus for orderlies to come, McMurphy drives off.

55 – McMurphy picks up Candy at a trailer park.

58 – McMurphy commandeers a boat and takes all the patients fishing for the day.

60 – McMurphy has Cheswick drive the boat as he helps all the patients learn how to fish.

63 – McMurphy takes Candy into the cabin, while the rest of the patients do their best to fish. Martini spies on him and the others soon take notice. Cheswick abandons his position, sending the boat around in circles. McMurphy comes out of the cabin and into the chaos, but finds they have a few fish on the line.

65 – With no one at the wheel, the boat goes around in circles as the patients enjoy the moment.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Midpoint

66 – MIDPOINT: The boat comes into dock, with Spivey, law enforcement and the Coast Guard waiting. All the patients couldn’t seem happier, holding their fish like trophies.



Sequence I: Ratched persuades the physicians to treat McMurphy, not release him back to the prison. McMurphy subsequently learns he won’t be leaving anytime soon.

67 – Spivey meets with his peers and staff to discuss McMurphy. Ratched is the only one who stands up for McMurphy when everyone else wants to send him back to the work farm. Ratched does not want to help McMurphy: she wants to break him.

70 – The patients play against the orderlies. Chief finally gets active, running up and down the court, playing both defense and offense.

71 – At the pool, one of the orderlies harasses McMurphy, telling him he won’t be released anytime soon.


Sequence II: McMurphy learns the majority of the patients have voluntarily institutionalized themselves without a concern for their personal freedom.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Assumption of Power

73 – ASSUMPTION OF POWER: McMurphy discovers he’s only one of a few patients that are truly committed and that Ratched is the one who can release him.


I mean, you guys do nothing but complain about how you can’t stand in this place here and then you don’t’ have the guts just to walk out? What do you think you are for Christ’s sake, crazy or something? Well, you’re not. You’re not. You’re no crazier than the average asshole out walking around on the streets, and that’s it!

79 – Cheswick erupts into anger about Ratched’s rationing of their cigarettes, due to McMurphy’s gambling ring. Cheswick finally stands up for himself, but goes overboard. In an effort to calm him down, McMurphy punches through the nurses’ station window and steals a carton of cigarettes to Cheswick.

McMurphy has inpsired the patients to question authority.

80 – Cheswick’s breakdown quickly escalates into chaos, forcing the orderlies to intervene. Attempting to help Cheswick, McMurphy gets into a fight with an orderly, but Chief saves him. More orderlies rush in and subdue both McMurphy and Chief.


Sequence III: Before he’s administered electroshock therapy, McMurphy discovers Chief has faked his ailments to disconnect, and the two men make a pact to break out.

83 – McMurphy, Cheswick, and the Chief are brought into another ward together, all in restraints. Cheswick is dragged away by orderlies screaming for his life.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest End of Act Two Turn

84 – END OF ACTION TWO TURN: McMurphy gives the Chief some gum and the Chief says “thanks.” Chief admits to faking his condition to disconnect from the ward.

85 – DECISION: McMurphy and the Chief make a pact to break out.

87 – McMurphy is given electroshock therapy.

90 – McMurphy enters group therapy like a zombie, but it’s all a joke — he’s perfectly fine. McMurphy seems to inspire hope.



Sequence I: McMurphy bribes the night security guard and throws a party in the ward. When Billy expresses interest in Candy, McMurphy arranges for them to have sex. While they wait, the booze and pills take effect and the patients pass-out.

92 – After the nurses leave for the evening, McMurphy makes a phone call and instructs the person on the other end not to forget “the booze.”

94 – McMurphy confesses to Chief that he’s breaking down.


Chief, I can’t take it no more. I gotta get outta here.


I can’t. I just can’t.


It’s easier than you think, Chief.


For you, maybe. You’re a lot bigger than me.


Boy, Chief, you’re about as big as a goddamn tree trunk.


My pop was really big. He did like he pleased. That’s why everybody worked on him. The last time I seen my father he’s blind in the cedars from drinking. And every time he put the bottle to his mouth, he didn’t suck out it, it sucks out of him, until he shrunk so wrinkled and yellow even the dogs didn’t know him.


It killed him, huh?


I’m not saying they killed him. They just worked on him, the way they working on you.

96 – McMurphy bribes TURKLE, the night security guard, to let Candy and Rose in.

98 – McMurphy and Candy wake up the patients from the nurses’ station PA, serving alcohol as the night’s medication. The party begins…

100 – The night supervisor checks in on their ward. She becomes suspicious after a noise provokes anxiety in Turkle. Turkle dodges further interrogation when Candy opens the door to the nurses’ office, hinting at an inappropriate relationship. Hook, line, and sinker, the night supervisor instructs Turkle to have Candy leave immediately.

101 – Turkle drinks away his sorrows as the patients continue their party.

106 – Billy dances with Candy.

108 – Moments before leaving, McMurphy notices Billy’s attraction to Candy.


It’s too late.


Do you want a date with her?

Billy grins from ear to ear.


Jesus, I must be crazy to be in a looney bin like this. A date, huh? Well, it’ll have to be a fast date, I tell you that.


Not now.


Not now? When, then?

109 – While the other patients grab Billy, McMurphy asks Candy to have sex with him. They then put Billy in a room with her.


Sequence II: The following morning the patients are woken by the staff. After discovering Billy naked with Candy, Ratched represses Billy’s newfound sexual freedom, insisting she must tell his mother and Billy breaks down. Seconds from his escape, McMurphy is alerted from a nurse’s screams and discovers Billy has killed himself. Acting as a judge, jury, and executioner, McMurphy attacks Ratched, nearly strangling her to death before an orderly intervenes.

112 – The next morning, all is quiet, but the window is open. Nurse Ratched and the orderlies find the ward in complete disarray.

113 – Bullying the patients, the orderlies do a head count and find Billy is the only one missing.

117 – They find Billy in a private room with Candy, both completely naked. Billy comes out, unashamed of his time with Candy and speaks for the first time without his stutter. Nurse Ratched is furious, insisting she will tell Billy’s mother of his antics. She emasculates Billy, exploiting his weakness in an effort to control him.


Aren’t you ashamed?


(without stuttering)

No, I’m not.


You know Billy, what worries me is how your mother’s going to take this.

119 – Billy bends to Ratched’s pressure, insisting that McMurphy had him forcibly thrown into the room for the night. Begging on his hands and knees, Billy begs Nurse Ratched to not to tell his mother. As she has him taken away, Billy begins punching himself in the face.

120 – McMurphy uses the keys to unlock the window and knocks out the orderly who tries to stop him. Moments before his exit, one of the nurses, covered in blood, screams as she exits an office.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Billy's Suicide

122 – BILLY’S SUICIDE PAYOFF: McMurphy rushes to the office and discovers Billy has killed himself.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Point of No Return

123 – POINT OF NO RETURN: McMurphy explodes with rage and begins strangling Nurse Ratched. He nearly kills her, knocked out by an orderly at the last possible second.


Sequence III: McMurphy is lobotomized for attacking Ratched. Chief escapes the asylum, taking McMurphy’s spirit with him.

124 – The patients go about the regular routines. They hear a rumor that McMurphy had knocked out two guards and escaped. One of the patients speaks up, saying McMurphy’s “as meek as a lamb.”

126 – The Chief wakes to two orderlies escorting what seems to be a heavily-drugged McMurphy to his bed.

127 – After the orderlies leave, Chief rushes over to McMurphy’s bed…


Mac, they said you escaped. I knew you wouldn’t leave without me. I was waiting for you. Now we can make it, Mac. I feel big as a damn mountain.

127 – With McMurphy unresponsive, Chief lifts his head and discovers two scars on either side of his forehead: McMurphy has been lobotomized.

129 – The Chief hugs McMurphy, whispering in his ear, “you’re coming with me.” Chief then takes a pillow and suffocates him.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Climax

131 – CLIMAX: Using all the strength inside him, Chief breaks the marble hydrotherapy console from its base, carries it through the ward, throws it through a window, and makes his escape with McMurphy’s spirit.


as Bromden crosses to the heavy machine which McMurphy had once tried to lift, sizes it up, then bends over and takes hold and heaves. The GRINDING WEIGHT is HEARD as Bromden exerts all his strength, slowly lifts the machine off the floor, balances it above his shoulders, then crosses out of the tub room.


as Bromden comes around the corner and past the sleeping night attendant in the nurses’ station. Bromden lines himself up with the window across the room, then starts toward it, picking up speed as he goes. Then, at the last moment, he stops and, with an enormous effort, he hurls the machine through the security screen and the window.


One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Closing Image

132 – CLOSING IMAGES: The ward cheers as Chief escapes into the dawn.

132 – THE END.

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Showing 5 comments
  • Kathryn

    Reading through this beat sheet makes me want to view this phenomenal film yet again.

    • Rob Rich

      Thanks, Kathryn. It had been awhile since I’d seen it. If you get a chance, check out the screenplay. It opens on the prison work farm with McMurphy threatening suicide from the top of a water tower. This fishing trip is a different, too — a Coast Guard Cutter catches them at sea (Candy is not on the boat). Ratched brings McMurphy in for all the patients to see after his lobotomy. They definitely made a lot of little changes while filming.

  • StoryMapsDan

    Excellent work, Rob!

    • Rob Rich

      In Story Maps we Trust, Mr. Calvisi. In Story Maps we Trust.

  • Suz C

    Wow! An incredibly helpful tool. Many thanks!

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