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Comparing Similar Movies, Part 1: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and the Shawshank Redemption

Atharva Deshpande lives in Nashik, Maharashtra. He is a cinephile and a bookworm. He likes to talk about books & movies that interest him.



Spoiler Warning

Of course,

I am going to break down two of the cult classics of Hollywood cinema.

Both these films are from the 19th century and if you haven't seen them yet

(well, shame on you),

but also major spoilers ahead.


There are so many movies being made in one single year around the world. We categorize films by genres, countries, and what not to understand the difference. Yet, there will always be films similar to each other. Some might be similar in plot, some might have similar source material or some might share similar themes.

Today, I wish to look at two classics of Hollywood and see if there's some similarity between them. These two classics are One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and The Shawshank Redemption (1994).

Let us compare these two classics with each other. How they are similar and how they are not.

Premise of both the films

  • One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest:

    A convict, Randal McMurphy, gets transferred to a mental institution (supposedly to avoid hard labor). Randal's rebellious nature clashes with the rules of Nurse Ratched, head nurse of the institution. The story revolves around McMurphy and his fellow patients.

  • The Shawshank Redemption:

    Andy Dufresne is convicted with double life sentences and sent to Shawshank prison. He befriends Red, an inmate, and they slowly explore life in prison. Dufresne's free spirit and Red's institutionalized behavior become the core of this film.

Andy Dufresne playing songs.

Andy Dufresne playing songs.

Two Free Birds In Two Cages

Both the films feature protagonists who are free birds even when in the cage.

Randall McMurphy is a rebellious convict. Throughout the film, there's a question about his sanity. We doubt if McMurphy is pretending to skip the hard labor. But, what's more, important is McMurphy's life during his time in the institution. He challenges authorities, demanding to watch a baseball match. The amazement of that scene can't be described in words. Whilst his request goes haywire, McMurphy doesn't need TV or Cable to watch a match.

On the other hand, we have Andy Dufresne. Dufresne is a cold and simple man. We don't see him speak many words, neither does he begin to challenge the system right away. He is a banker after all. Instead, Dufresne only tries to keep to himself until the opportunity presents itself. Dufresne doesn't rebel against the system rather uses his skills as a bribe. Still, his freedom can be seen in the scene where he plays the song.

Randal McMurphy making bonds

Randal McMurphy making bonds

Two types of Cages

As you must have noticed in the premise, both the films feature some kind of locked cells. In One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, mentioned as OFOTCN hereon, the setting is a mental institution. In The Shawshank Redemption, it's the Shawshank prison.

Now this distinction brings an interesting comparison. In OCOTCN, the mental institution patients aren’t convicts or criminals. They are just different from society and hence they end up away from society. In The Shawshank Redemption, the inmates all are convicts, criminals, murderers even.

But these two cages begin to mean more than just a setting when both the movies reach their peak. Near the climax of OFOTCN, Billy Bibbit is so afraid of embarrassment that the threat from Nurse Ratched pushes him over the cliff and he commits suicide. Something similar happens in The Shawshank Redemption when Brooks hangs himself due to the lack of hope in his life.

“They send you here for life, that’s exactly what they take.”

— Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding

An admirable friendship

An admirable friendship

A symbol of change

Both films feature a protagonist and their one friend. While the fate and personality of the protagonist have their own story, these friends actually become a symbol of change. When both these films end, I always have a heavy heart with a smile on my face. Both of them have such an ending.

OFOTCN features Chief, a tall American Indian who acts as a deaf-mute. He follows rules, stays quiet, and feels that he has lost hope. He isn’t the one to rebel against the authorities. He comes off as a rigid and stubborn man. Randal and Chief find a connection. It’s with help of Chief, Randal escapes the institution. Chief sees Randal’s behavior and starts to gain hope again.

This is the reason the finale of OFOTCN ends up being one of the most touching ones. Chief takes a step that he would have never without McMurphy. Chief escapes the institution by breaking the window with the hydrotherapy fountain. McMurphy couldn’t make it, but he left a burning fire in Chief’s chest that enrages him to hope for the outer world, to break the chains.

On the other hand, The Shawshank Redemption is told through the eyes of Red, the friend of the protagonist. Red is a person who can get things for the inmates at a price. Andy and Red form a friendship. Andy’s views about hope as the new inmate diagonally oppose the views of Red, an old inmate. Andy hopes that there’s a piece of him they can’t touch. Red is afraid to hope.

When, during the finale, Red gets bailed, he is again afraid. He is afraid to even pee without permission. Red worries he might be the next Brooks. But a promise to a friend keeps him alive. Red finds the letter by Andy and begins to hope. In the end, we see Red heading to an unknown fate, kind of similar to Chief running away.



Both the films end on a hopeful note. They ask you to keep your spirits high even in the face of depression.

That does it. My comparison of these two cult classics. I believe that these films have a similar message in their storytelling. This might not be your belief or opinion. Yet, there’s one thing we can agree upon.

Both, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and The Shawshank Redemption deserve your time. Both these films will be life-changing with brilliant performances, superlative screenplay, and direction. Both these films are harsh but uplifting, they are explicit but moving, they deserve all your time.

What do you think of these movies? Do you agree with me?

Let me know in the comments below which similar movies should I compare next.
Until then, Thanks for reading.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 Atharva Deshpande

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