One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) (R)
One of the most dynamic pieces of film in cinema history, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is know simply for being 'that crazy movie'. It's impossible to have a discussion about insane characters in films without mentioning this picture numerous times. Its unflinching and uncompromising look at an asylum prove the power of movie making by humanizing and dehumanizing just the right amount.
I doubt you could find a better film that balances the ideas of good and evil so equally above the viewer's head. Who are the villains? Who are the heroes?
The AFI seems to think, as do much of the popular world that Nurse Ratched is the evilest of evil, played maliciously cold by Louise Fletcher. They have her listed as #5 on their 'best villains' list. But everything she does is out of concern for routine, mental heath, and to prove that her authority cannot be questioned. Does she have a problem with hubris? Most certainly, then again, so does her adversary...I'm getting ahead of myself.
The movie's opening, which shows a cold, bleak, beautiful morning, presumably in North-Western America, is disrupted by the machine...a car. Driving a patient named McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) to a mental hospital, the car seems to make a smooth journey and McMurphy is placed in the care of mental healthcare professionals.
We've all heard horror stories, in fact "American Horror Story: Asylum" was in part about the monstrosities that occurred in asylums and similar places. Exaggerated no doubt, it proves a valid point: we still have a hard time grasping the idea of a mental hospital in the years where science was carried out by the end of a blunt instrument. The ECT procedures that films love so much still seem like a form of torture; but the bitter fact that we don't like to face is that they are still performed today and they can be extremely beneficial to a patient.
McMurphy is the cowboy type, the rootin', tootin', not caring for the rules type. This is how he is portrayed in the book of the same name by Ken Kesey and in the movie as well. The doctor at the hospital thinks that McMurphy could be faking his 'mental illness' to escape the harsh hand of the prison yard. In the movie, McMurphy is portrayed more like a rebel without a cause.
Now having to fit into the strict regime of Nurse Ratched, McMurphy makes it his personal goal to annoy the nurse as much as possible. His verbal and non-verbal defiance doesn't help him make new friends with Nurse Ratched.
A fairly simple premise that gives way to stunning movie making. Milos Forman, the director, placed his actors inside an asylum and demanded that insanity flow. The result was detrimental to some of the men's mental health; but the show must go on. Forman demanded that everything feel natural. He pulled out the most notable performances from all of his players.
Though the film won the "big five" Oscars, what is astonishing about the movie is its supporting cast. Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito, Will Sampson, and Sydney Lassick all give tremendous performances; but the shining star of the picture is Brad Dourif as a stuttering, shy boy.
"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is often condensed as "man versus nurse" or "man versus the machine"—this is much more overt in the book where characters saw cogs and gears in the very walls—but I think the film is more about personal demons. Each man has to wrestle with himself in some way and each one wins some and loses some.
The ending statement of the film could be the biggest inner victory on film; but it's up to you to decide.
Forman crafts here a masterpiece. It's small moments are more revealing that when the music swells or the fights break out.
An unchangeable drive is built up in the picture, the constant zooms, and the sometimes too fast pans show this. We are being pulled towards the ending.
I can't emphasize how wonderful this movie is. It's never dull, full of hard truths, and loving in the most unusual way.
This truly is one of the greatest films ever made.
Posted by Micah Jones