Updated: Jul 8, 2022
"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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Bo Goldman's screenplay features great, honest dialogues as well as a well-developed and continually engrossing narrative.
From Sampson's Chief's quiet to Nicholson's McMurphy's rowdiness, the whole group blends together to make one of cinema's finest ensemble performances. From the sets to the costumes to the soundtrack to the photography, every element of this film's production design is outstanding.
Simply put, it outperforms in every category.
This film isn't "enjoyable" in the lightest meaning of the word.
Nonetheless, it is a really delightful and immensely fulfilling piece of film. Nicholson performs, in my opinion, the best performance of his incredible career. DeVito is truly captivating in his debut theatrical performance.
While Fletcher never found another part that demonstrated the greatness of this performance, she was simply forceful and dominating in this role.
"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is a disturbing film, a sad film, and yet it is also a celebration of life, freedom, and community in many ways.
It's a film that will stick with you long after you've seen it, and you'll remember the lines, the faces, the looks, and the emotions.
The film might be interpreted as a metaphor for the emergence of America's counter-culture movement and the heavy-handed techniques needed to keep these renegade elements in line.
Forman's meticulous portrayal of the American psychiatric system generates a distinct atmosphere (and ambiguity) throughout the film.
At the same time, the flawless direction brings to the forefront delicate thoughts, concerns, and moral quandaries.
Was McMurphy crazy? We'll never find out.
Author: Akash R. Ekka
Editor: Rachita Biswas