A detailed look at… One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) (SPOILERS included)
*** Since I included a full synopsis it goes without saying that you will come across spoilers. So be aware 😉 ***
Five times Oscar winning Drama One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, directed by Milos Forman in 1975, who is also well known for the movies Hair, Amadeus and The People vs. Larry Flint, tells the story of a man running away from doing time in prison by playing insane to get checked in into a mental institution where he encourages the patients to stand up against the tyrannical Nurse Ratched, and learns that living against the rules isn’t always fun but can be very dangerous.
Randal Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is a rebellious man, who is sentenced to Jail for having sex with a 15-year old girl, however he is soon sent to a mental institution for he has shown signs of being mentally instable, even though everyone thinks he is faking this condition. Arriving in the institution he finds himself in a very unfamiliar situation: He has to follow the orders of Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who each patient seems to be intimated by, can’t leave whenever he feels like or even watch TV. He instantly builds up a strong connection to Billie Bobbit (Brad Dourif), a troubled young man in his twenties, who stutters, and appears to be very sacred of his mother, and an enormously tall native Indian McMurphy simply calls “Chief” (Will Sampson), who is ignored by everyone, since he is supposedly deaf and mute.
Upset that Nurse Ratched doesn’t allow him to watch the World Series on TV, McMurphy soon starts to animate the patients to speak up against Ratched, which starts with Charlie Cheswick (Sydney Lassick) questioning her therapy methods during their meetings, when she confronts Billie with his suicide attempts even though he doesn’t want to talk about it. In another meeting Cheswick asks for his ration of cigarettes, which the nurse keeps in her office, but she tells him to wait until the meeting is over. Cheswick insists and starts to scream and shout; to save the situation McMurphy breaks the window of Ratched’s office, grabs the cigarettes and passes them to Cheswick, which causes him, Cheswick and the “Chief” getting electro shock treatment, but no one is seriously harmed. While McMurphy and the “Chief” are waiting on their treatment, the “Chief” reveals that he can actually speak but pretends to be deaf and mute, so people leave him alone. They both plan to escape together.
Everything escalates when McMurphy sneaks two women in the ward of which one Billie ends up having sex with. Nurse Ratched catches them and threatens Billie to tell this whole incident to his mother; for only seconds out of sight, Billie cuts his wrists and dies. Furious about this tragedy McMurphy attacks Nurse Ratched and almost chokes her to death; he gets taken away by two orderlies and disappears for a while. Then finally one night someone brings him back; the “Chief” wants to talk about their escape but he notices that McMurphy has completely lost it. It appears that they performed an extreme kind of shock therapy on him. Not willing to leave McMurphy behind, the “Chief” suffocates him with a pillow and breaks out by himself.
The movie One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is based on the novel of the same title and said to be shot in sequence which means they didn’t jump between scenes; sometimes directors decide to film the end scenes first because of time allowance and then shot the first scenes later, but this wasn’t the case here. The good thing about shooting in sequence is that the movie hardly needs editing, since the scenes are already in order. When I did research on the movie I came across this nursery rhyme, and I believe the title of the movie was based on it:
Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn;
Wire, briar, limber lock,
Three geese in a flock.
One flew east,
And one flew west,
And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.
I was drawn to the movie from the very first moments, the Native American music and the drums – which hint that the focus needs to be on “The Chief” later on – the atmosphere was very suspenseful, and I wanted to know what is going to happen.
Jack Nicholson played his character insanely well – yes I said insanely; an irresponsible man, who doesn’t show any desire to grow up, has no one to worry about but himself, but also has a heart of gold and stands up for the ones he cares about.
Miss Louis Fletcher was amazing, too; the face that almost looked like it was made out of marvel and couldn’t crack, that devilish little smile and the calm voice that was yet so provoking at some point, her stiff posture, her attitude that wouldn’t allow any changes in the ward, was perfect and so believable, and she deserved the Oscar for that master performance, just like Jack Nicholson.
The other roles were also cast very well, I could feel each character’s struggle, and I wanted them to stand up against Ratched. Besides Will Sampson I was probably the most impressed by Danny DeVito’s performance of Martini, even though he played only a little part. The way he acted so immature and shy, and kept giggling like a little boy, was just adorable and sometimes even hysterical.
During the movie I noticed that they didn’t use any music besides the vinyl that they play in the ward, and the Indian drums in the beginning and the end scene. Many movies couldn’t live without music because it sets the tone and creates each scene’s mood. But it really wasn’t missing in this movie, as the actors did such a great job that it wasn’t needed.
I am very impressed by this movie, and I am sure when I watch it again, I will discover more interesting angles that I haven’t noticed the first time.