Classic Film Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

And the Oscar Goes to:

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975

Directed by: Milos Forman

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, William Redfield, Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito


Jack Nicholson in a leading role, Danny DeVito (Terms of Endearment) and Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future) in back-up, an Oscar-winning performance by Louise Fletcher and produced by Michael Douglas, was there ever a doubt that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was going to be a brilliant film? Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson, Terms of Endearment), a convicted felon (rape and battery), is sent to a psychiatric hospital for a psyche-evaluation, although not actually mentally ill, all because McMurphy believes serving the rest of his sentence in a psychiatric hospital would be an easier ride than at the prison farm he was previously at. While there he tries changing the system (including gambling and trying to force a baseball game to be put on the television despite it changing the schedule) and is constantly opposed by the strict Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) who subtly suppresses the actions of McMurphy.

Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher were brilliant in this film. Both acting opposing forces really well, and the support cast, not surprising looking at the names, also played their part. Jack Nicholson, I find, is best when he plays these angry unstable characters (much like in The Shining). Even though he was good in Terms of Endearment (a drama), Mars Attacks (a silly, but hilarious, comedy) and The Departed (a gangster film), proving he certainly can play multiple roles, it’s these roles where I believe he excels. It can’t be easy acting as a mentally ill patient but they all pulled it off superbly. Much like The Silence of the Lambs, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of three films to take the ‘Big 5’ Oscars (Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and Screenplay), and, much like The Silence of the Lambs, it failed to pick up any Oscars outside of those ‘Big 5’.

There were a few issues I had with this film (albeit only minor issues); one was why they went fishing: it came across as farfetched and unnecessary, and while I liked the story of them catching the fish which was played out from the start with the doctor being an avid-fisherman, it took away from the claustrophobic state of being locked in the psychiatric hospital. And, speaking of being locked in, they found it far too easy, in my opinion, to escape. Escaping for fishing first then bribing the guards and stealing his keys later on, they could have escaped whenever they wanted, and this contradicted the feeling I feel they were going for when McMurphy realised he could be kept there indefinitely until his psychiatric disorders are fixed. It’s hard to sympathise with that situation when he can escape whenever he wants. And there were a few camera angles I disliked: the main one being a weird threatening zoom into Nurse Ratched for no reason; there was no dramatic music or a dramatic moment in their conversation and it struck me as completely odd (that and not remaining in the confines of their psychiatric hospital throughout are why its presentation score is only 3*).

However, those minor issues aside, everything else plays out brilliantly: McMurphy’s anger grows at a steady rate throughout, and he eventually connects with the group, and there is a couple of emotional moments (and a brutal fight scene) that keeps you thoroughly entertained in the action. Two moments toward the end were each emotionally impactful, that for the most part it left the film with quite an upsetting feel, despite a perceived happy ending, and those opposing feeling, as well as the opposing feeling on how we should care for a rapist who’s faking being in a psychiatric hospital to avoid working, both make the film brilliant.


Plot: * * * *

Acting: * * * * *

Writing: * * * *

Presentation: * * *

Overall Rating: * * * *


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