One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: “Goddammit, at Least I Tried” | Transcript

In this iconic 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' scene, McMurphy's rebellion against the mental hospital system is a powerful symbol of resilience
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest: “Goddammit, at Least I Tried”


This scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a pivotal moment in the film, encapsulating several themes and character dynamics.

First and foremost, it highlights the indomitable spirit of R.P. McMurphy, portrayed brilliantly by Jack Nicholson. McMurphy is a non-conformist and a troublemaker who refuses to be subdued by the rigid rules and oppressive environment of the mental hospital. His plan to break out and watch the World Series symbolizes his yearning for freedom and normalcy in a place where individuality is suppressed.

The dialogue between McMurphy and his fellow patients reveals the contrast between those who have resigned themselves to the hospital’s control, like Billy, and those who are willing to challenge it, like McMurphy himself. Taber’s bet and Martini’s dime wager demonstrate the skepticism of some patients regarding McMurphy’s audacious plan, while Harding’s $25 bet reflects a deeper belief in McMurphy’s capabilities.

The unsuccessful attempt to lift the hydrotherapy cart becomes a metaphor for the futility of resistance against the institution. McMurphy’s determination is admirable, but it also underscores the overwhelming power of the system that institutionalizes and medicates individuals to conform to society’s norms.

The Chief’s silent observation throughout the scene is noteworthy. He represents the voiceless and marginalized patients, and his presence hints at a potential shift in the balance of power as the story unfolds.

Overall, this scene masterfully captures the central themes of the film, including the struggle for autonomy, the clash between authority and rebellion, and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of oppressive systems. Jack Nicholson’s iconic performance and the intense dialogue make it a memorable moment in cinematic history.

* * *


R.P. McMurphy (Nicholson) is telling his fellow patients about his plan to break out of the mental hospital and head into town to watch the World Series.

McMURPHY: Fuck Sefelt’s head… I don’t need Sefelt’s head. [He motions to the hydrotherapy cart fastened to the shower floor] I’m gonna take this fucking thing, I’m gonna put it through the window and me and my buddy Cheswick, we’re gonna go out through the hall, downtown, sit down in a bar, whet our whistles and watch the ball game. That’s the bet. Now, does anybody want any of it? Huh?

TABER (Christopher Lloyd): You’re gonna lift that thing?

McMURPHY: Yeah, that’s right.

TABER: I’ll bet a buck.

McMURPHY: [writing in his notebook] Taber, $1.

MARTINI (Danny DeVito): I’ll bet a dime.

BILLY (Brad Dourif): Mac, you can’t… you can’t lift that thing.

McMURPHY: Anybody else want any of it? Hard-on? Hmmmm?

HARDING (William Redfield): I’ll bet $25.

McMURPHY: $25, Hard-on.

BILLY: Mac! Mac, no… Nobody could ever, ever lift that thing.

McMURPHY: [to Billy] Get out of my way, son. You’re using my oxygen, you know what I mean?

He walks to the unit and places his hands on either side. He tries to lift it, face turning red with the effort. Nothing gives. He stands back.

HARDING: Given up?

McMURPHY: No. Just warming up. Warming up. Warming up. This’ll be the one.

He catches his breath. Goes in again.

McMURPHY: Alright, baby…. COME ON!

He yells, and really puts his back into it, the veins on his neck bulging. The men, including the Chief (Will Sampson), watch in silence. But the cart won’t budge. McMurphy gives up. He walks through the men. As he reaches the door, he turns around.

McMURPHY: But I tried, didn’t I? Goddammit, at least I did that.

He leaves the room, kicking out as he goes.


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