I will say this upfront. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is my favorite film of 1975 and is in my personal top ten films of all time. It’s an American classic that was beloved upon release and forty years later, it still holds up well in terms of relevance and quality filmmaking. There is just so much to love about the movie. Just watching Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher go head to head is a delight to watch. Those two actors, whom won Academy Awards for their performances, make this movie into what it is. They are very special performances. People call this movie a comedy, but I’m not sure if you can call it one. There are comedic elements definitely, but this is more of a drama. A drama about losing everything for the benefit of others. Thanks to exquisite direction by Milos Forman and a array of performances from a diverse cast, this movie is one that is necessary to check out. Like right now.
J.R McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) has a storied criminal past. He has been in prison countless number of times. After his latest crime, he is back in trouble with the law. But in order to escape prison, McMurphy pleads insanity and he is sent to a mental hospital. In the hands of the wretched Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), he witnesses abuse and degradation towards himself and the other wards. In true 70’s spirit, McMurphy rallies up the other inmates in order to stand up against the wicked Nurse Ratched.
This film is all about the performances and characterization. Without these essential elements, this film would be half the film it currently is. McMurphy and Nurse Ratched are two iconic characters that will live forever in movie lore. McMurphy because of his unique rebellious character who seems like an ass on the outside, but somehow becomes close pals with the majority of the inmates. Then we have the Nurse Ratched. She is not evil in the sense one would think of evil. She manipulates people and uses the flaws of her patients to gain power. Her motives are generally clear to the audience, but she uses such a deceptively calm voice which irritates her patients. There is one powerful scene where McMurphy wanted to watch the World Series, but she uses an unfair voting system to make it clear he cannot do what he wants. In a sense, Ratched makes the perfect dominatrix with her calm demeanor, fishy motives, and that shiny nurses uniform. We also have a variety of important supporting characters. There is Chief Bromden, an intimidating Native American who lives in a shell by “being” mute and deaf, but he becomes a pivotal character for McMurphy. Then he have the likes of Billy Bibbit, a young man wanting sex for the first time (and has all the support of his mates), and Traber and Martini whom are more important inmates.
The performances are wonderful. Everyone plays off each other incredibly well. The chemistry between Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher was nothing short of brilliant. Jack Nicholson showed how talented he was in 1974’s Chinatown, but here he really shines and does more than enough to win his Academy Award statue. Louise Fletcher held a commanding screen presence by being psychologically evil. She just may be one of the more memorable screen villains of all time. Up there with the likes of Darth Vader or Jaws. The rest of the supporting cast did a fine job. We get great performances from many actors who would go on to have respectable careers such as Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, and Brad Dourif. Will Sampson was the man who portrayed Chief. I loved his character and how meaningful he was to the story. What he had to do for his pal McMurphy was an emotionally powerful scene which added greatness to the movie.
One interesting thing to point out is the score of the movie. Scores are used to evoke emotion out of the audience and I think Jack Nitzche’s music added something new and original. Apparently he composed the score with the aid of a eerie-sounding saw and some wine glasses. When you hear the score, you’ll know what I mean. I didn’t like it too much upon my first viewing, but it grew on me and I fell in love with it upon my second viewing.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a beautiful, beautiful film. This is a genuine American masterpiece and it features Jack Nicholson at his finest. His character embodies the stigma of loyalty, rebellion, and freedom. He wants to rid himself of evil, and in the process makes many friends. He endures everything from useless medication to shock therapy, but in the end his loyalty to others is what wins. McMurphy is the symbol of goodness. Nurse Ratched, on the other hand, is one of the greatest villains of all time. A mild complaint is how the film treats the women in the film. Not very well (outside of two girls used to give Bibbit the night of his life), but it works well with the plot. This film is expertly-written, masterfully-directed, and the performances are all genuine. Nominated for 9 Oscars, this is just an amazing piece of art.
My Grade: A+