One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

R   |    |  Drama


One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) Poster

A criminal pleads insanity after getting into trouble again and once in the mental institution rebels against the oppressive nurse and rallies up the scared patients.

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  • "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" Jack Nicholson 1975 United Artists
  • Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
  • Jack Nicholson and Scatman Crothers in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
  • Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
  • Jack Nicholson and Will Sampson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
  • Michael Douglas and Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

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22 January 2000 | Don-102
10
| Poetic - Powerful - Simple: The Greatness of Cuckoo's Nest.
The opening shot of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST is a bleak glance at an Oregon morning. Stirring, haunting music plays gracefully on the soundtrack and a car approaches. Inside the car is one of film history's most remarkable characters. "Randle McMurphy" is about to bring hope, humor, and a glimmer of reality to some disturbed people in a mental hospital. Jack Nicholson as "McMurphy", is something of a paradox. Is this guy crazy or is he really the lazy, conniving criminal most believe him to be? That is the magical mystery and start to a journey into mental illness and the effect this man will have on some truly messed up men.

Milos Forman directs this all-time classic, which swept the Oscars deservedly, and holds up so well 25 years later. It is a simplistic film about small people living in their own small worlds. Manic moments are mixed with poignant acting all leading to an astounding climax. Not before or since CUCKOO'S NEST has a collection of different characters had such an impact on me. You could write a book report about each of the patients in the ward. The two most important people here are, of course, Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher.

Nicholson has his greatest moments in this picture. One brilliant scene has him doing an imaginary play-by-play commentary of the 1963 World Series to the group, who are not allowed to watch the game on TV. It is a poetic sequence and Nicholson goes crazy with his delivery, describing baseball with colorful anecdotes and profanity. "McMurphy" immediately makes an impression on the crazies and shows them how they don't have to stick to the "normal routine". He knows their names right away, he sprays them with water, he makes impossible bets with them, he introduces them to fishing, and he even gets a suffering young kid (played well by Brad Dourif) a "date".

Louise Fletcher plays one of the more reprehensible human beings in film as "Nurse Mildred Ratched". She is a hardened woman, one who makes the daily meetings with the group a contest to see who will win. Her stubbornness and lack of compassion for the poor guys is rather one dimensional. That's perfect because that is exactly who she is. Her strong will to keep things monotonous leads to a final showdown with the free spirited "McMurphy" in what is easily one of the most shocking and disturbing climaxes in recent memory.

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST does not try to make a statement about mental illness or how the unstable should be treated. Rather, it is a very simple portrait of the long days and hilarious scenarios that can come about when a mixed bag of suffering people are thrown together. Mental illness is nothing to laugh about, but the fact that Nicholson is not really crazy (at least in my opinion) allows us to be amused. He seems to love his compadres in the hospital. He is mislead, however, into thinking he can do as he pleases.

There is no denying the power of CUCKOO'S NEST. The two main powerhouse performances are golden, the cinematography is morbid and gritty like it should be, the "Chief" is great as Nicholson's right hand, ah, protagonist, and you care a lot about what will happen as the film moves on. The famous, final shot ironically happens to be an exit of a major character into that bleak, Oregon morning.

NOTE: I have never read the book and I find it hard to believe author Ken Kesey has never watched the filmed version. Comparing a book to a movie is impossible. They are 2 distinctly different artistic methods of story-telling.

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