One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Milos Forman, 1975)

08Mar10

Randle Patrick McMurphy. Never have I seen someone with such a lust for life in the real world, never mind on the silver screen. To explain how much energy Jack Nicholson generates through this character, and to give an idea of what a towering force McMurphy is, is almost impossible. Just how in awe of him one leaves the film feeling is beyond words.

The stage is a mental institution, which McMurphy finds himself in as an alternative to hard labour in prison for statutory rape. He isn’t crazy, and nor are most of the other men. The difference between them and McMurphy lies in the fact that while he considers himself young and desirous to be out there watching the football, enjoying life and ‘bulldogging chick and banging beaver,’ they have resigned from life out of their own cowardice and weak will, and prefer a controlled, trivial existence to the vulnerabilities posed by the outside world.

A tension such as this between characters of entirely different natures is only exacerbated by the dominance of the ward’s nurse. Nurse Ratched embodies deontological rule-obedience, bureaucracy, and everything else essential for keeping these men blissful and content. McMurphy arrives and turns her world upside down. He runs a bookies and organises blackjack; he arranges a game of basketball, which provides the most joyful scene of the movie. He manages to take the men on a fishing trip. In short, he injects life into a place with none left. And in doing so, he liberates. It comes at a great cost, but McMurphy gives meaning to the film’s title. Just watch One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and you’ll tragically see why. Even if it comes after a million of the sweetest laughs in cinema history.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest was one of only three films to so far do the ‘Oscar Slam.’ That is, win all 5 major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay.

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