One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Updated: Jul 8

"One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," an investigation of life inside an American mental facility in the 1970s, is a classic film about mental illness. 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

It's a classic for a reason: it contains everything: laughter and heartbreak, drama and melancholy, feel-good moments, and sequences of sheer tragedy.

The film is an adaptation of a novel, but it is the script that elevates the tale aspects to perfection.

jack nicholson

The entire picture exudes an energy that is seldom adequately represented on screen.

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," based on Ken Kesey's novel, is both humorous and disturbing, innovative but completely convincing.

Throughout the film, McMurphy instigates problems in the hospital, but his amusing and theatrical plots gradually lead to increasingly severe treatments, and he is eventually forced to undergo shock therapy.

This punishment is the result of McMurphy's attempt to defend fellow inmate Charlie Cheswick (Sydney Lassick) when he becomes irritated when Nurse Ratched (Fletcher) rejects him a carton of smokes. 

Although McMurphy gets back on his feet in the following scene, he then spends more time looking off into the distance and reflecting on his life (or lack thereof).

based on Ken Kesey's novel

The way Forman describes the reasons for and effects of utilizing shock treatment makes us wonder if it is a genuine course of medication or simply a physical and psychological torment.

As the film draws to a bittersweet close, McMurphy sneaks beer, cigarettes, and women into the hospital for a tiny 'goodbye' party.

He intends to flee the following day with the monosyllabic "Chief" (Will Sampson).

However, the repercussions of being detected with that contraband are disastrous for everyone involved.

Further, required punishment finally takes its toll on McMurphy, whose terrible transition makes the question of his sanity irrelevant.

According to Pauline Kael, the film, based on Ken Kesey's 1962 best-selling novel, contained the prophetic core of the entire Vietnam period of revolutionary politics becoming psychedelic.

Vietnam period

Toned down for the 1970s as a fable about society's enforced conformism, it almost wilfully ignored the realities of mental illness in order to portray the patients into a set of cuddly characters suitable for McMurphy's cheering. 

We realize that the Chief is not really deaf, Billy did not really stutter, and others need not be paralyzed by anxiety or fear.

They will be healed, not by Nurse Ratched's medications, Muzak, or discussion groups, but by McMurphy freeing them to be guys: to watch the World Series on TV, go fishing, play pick-up basketball, get drunk, and get laid.

The advice to these despicable convicts is simple: Be like Jack.

It's American filmmaking at its very best.
The film's rudimentary approach to mental illness isn't actually a flaw because it's not interested in being about insanity.

It's about a free soul trapped in a suffocating system.

Nurse Ratched, who is so rigid, so blind, so certain she is correct, is Momism at its most extreme, while McMurphy is the Huck Finn who wants to break out from her notion of civilization.

Nurse Ratched

Bo Goldman's screenplay features great, honest dialogues as well as a well-developed and continually engrossing narrative.