One flew East . . . One flew West.
The 70s produced some of the most interesting and worthy Hollywood movies. Before the era of blockbusters, and ever increasing dumbing down of the cinema art by the Hollywood power-brokers and greedy moneymakers, there was this short but truly amazing window of time that produced many timeless gems. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, directed by the great Czech director Miloš Forman and released in 1975, is the 2nd of the 3 great films from 1975 that I’m reviewing (the first was Barry Lyndon). The third will be reviewed in 2 weeks time.
Based on the novel by Ken Kesey, the story follows Randle P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), who, in an attempt to get out of spending more time in prison, pleads insanity for his crime, and is therefore sentenced to time in a mental institution. This was McMurphy’s intention, as he believes the conditions in a “crazy house” will be significantly easier to contend with than another harsh stay in prison. However, he quickly finds out that surviving the institution with it’s desolate patients (including Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito, Vincent Schiavelli and an absolutely brilliant Brad Dourif as the stuttering Billy Bibbit) and the monstrously repressive Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher, in a career defining role) is considerably harder than he imagined. McMurphy plays pranks, horseplay, and is generally defiant to the rules of the institution in an attempt to raise spirits. His constant optimism and reckless defiance to the out of date rules in the institution can be very uplifting, and often quite funny as well, but much of the movie can be very depressing – the generally decrepit state of the institution is a consistently (and intentionally) bleak background to a superb story with a truly bittersweet ending.
Jack Nicholson is at his best here, in one his two great signature roles (the other is as Jack Torrance in The Shining). McMurphy is an apparently unquenchable optimist, refusing to succumb to the defeated spirit of all the other patients. His livewire antics, inspiring the patients are generally uplifting, and when his indomitable spirit is finally broken, we really feel for him and his fellow patients. Nicholson conveys the essence of McMurphy to perfection, demonstrating his excellent understanding and interpretation of the character. When McMurphy announces that he is going to lift a huge stone fountain and hurl it through the window to escape, the other patients are so caught up in his intoxicating spirit of freedom that they honestly believe he can do it, despite the fact it would be impossible for him to do it. When McMurphy finally discovers that despite his best efforts, he cannot lift the fountain, he is so openly crushed that we can’t help but feel for him. Beneath the frequent profanities and livewire antics, there are real human emotions, which come across as truly touching.
Matching Nicholson is Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in one of cinemas truly great villainess roles. But here there is no chewing the scenery or histrionics but a cold, heartless and pitiless tyrant; Nurse Ratched has become a popular metaphor for the corrupting influence of institutional power and authority in bureaucracies. We see this displayed in the following clip and notice the final shot of her look of quiet anger and resentment at McMurphy.
Miloš Forman’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is a landmark in cinema. Pretty much everything in this film is at or close to perfection. And rightfully so, it became only the 2nd film (one of three films in history along with It Happened One Night and The Silence of the Lambs) to win the top five Academy Awards – Best Picture, Actor (Jack Nicholson), Actress (Louise Fletcher), Director (Miloš Forman), and Screenplay (Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman).
What more can be said about One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest which hasn’t already been said? It has an excellent storyline, top notch acting, painfully bleak visuals, perfectly setting the tone for the movie, and alternates between being truly uplifting to devastatingly depressing. It features one of the most memorable film ending ever, next to a man on his horse riding off into the sunset, and leaves the viewer beaten down by the conflicting emotions, but enthralled by its glorious entirety. It’s hard to produce a final outcome any better than this.
and the tease for next weeks post . . . I think it would be fun to run a newspaper.