One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Randle Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is a lazy-wise-A criminal. So in order to avoid a sentence of hard labor and frustration, he claims insanity and hopes to live out the rest of his sentence in the more relaxed environment of a mental institution. There we are introduced to fellow crazies, Martini (Danny DeVito), Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif), Max Taber (Christopher Lloyd), Charlie Cheswick (Sydney Lassick), Dale Harding (William Redfield), and Chief (Will Sampson) – the deaf and dumb 7 foot tall Indian. The coop is run by Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) and she’s something. She humiliates, she degrades, she makes McMurphy’s life a living hell.
So guys. What makes this movie great? Let’s talk about all of the “before-i-saw-the-actual-movie” bits. First, it won the big 5 Oscars (directoractoractressscreenplaypicture). It’s ranked #20 on AFI’s top 100 movies. Jack Nicholson is IN it and he gets to be in a mental institution. An iconic classic of the ’70s. Everyone’s heard of the title even if you haven’t heard of the movie. So walking into this, my expectations were high. And, luckily, I actually knew a lot less about the plot than I thought I did. Except, naturally, that Nurse Ratched is a nazi-woman who is far crazier than her patients. (Seriously… AFI’s Heroes and Villains list really screwed up some things about movies for me… Maybe I should just stop looking at anything about movies until I watch every movie ever made. Eh, not worth it).
Everyone knows that Jacky boy is bad-A. He’s as hard core as they come. (And I just watched The Shining not too long ago…) Man is he great in this. He’s loud. He’s a leader of the pack. He’s an unrelenting optimist, refusing to succumb to the lows of the nuthouse. He frustrates Nurse Ratched enough to put a flicker in those calculating eyes. He embodies that role with more enthus than I thought possible and few are as good at wreaking havoc as he. What a guy.
What I didn’t expect was how attached I was going to become to every single other nut job. It’s so easy to connect with their childlike mannerisms and you have hope for their futures. Martini’s ever present grin, Billy Bibbit’s stutter, Chief’s admiration for McMurphy. You’re cursing Ratched’s name and you’re cheering for any small triumph they may have over her (and her name sounds like a cuss). At first, I couldn’t decide if all the buzz for Fletcher was legit, but her acting performance will always remain a triumph for she’ll forever be remembered as one of the sickest villains in history. Subtle and malicious.
I feel like the overall greatness is built up of small scenes of genius. Stealing the van… teaching Chief to play basketball…. McMurphy petitioning for the World Series to be displayed and consequently monologuing an imaginary play-by-play to show his inmates how to stick it to the man and stray from the norm… all brilliant. They, of course, build upon one another towards an ending but they also stand out as individual moments in which the audience could connect to the action. The penultimate scene with Billy and Nurse Ratched is particularly moving as heart breaking as it may be. Each scene is so perfectly constructed, and on emotional overload.
The music is solid, Milos Forman’s directing is without fault, the script is unforgettable, the cinematography is bleak, morbid, and stunning. The tone is an interesting mix between humor and misery, with tragic undertones to comedic exchanges; it’s barbaric how mental institutions actually used to be like that – electroshock therapy and lobotomy to boot. But in the end it’s about character growth. At first I wasn’t sure what to think of the ending but after thinking (like I usually do for hours after a movie as pivotal as this…) I recognize its poetic and beautiful wonder. But no matter what – the journey was worth it for these guys. And worth it for Chief. 9/10