“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is a drama released in 1975 which was directed by Milos Forman, starred Jack Nicholson & Louise Fletcher, and was based on the book of the same name by Ken Kesey. The movie is about a clever and charismatic con-man named R.P. McMurphy (Nicholson), who gets transferred from prison to a mental hospital after tricking the state into thinking he has a mental illness so he can get out of work detail. Initially he thinks he will have a more peaceful experience in the hospital than in prison, but he sees how poorly the patients are treated by the head nurse, Mildred Ratched (Fletcher), and decides to fight against her to give the patients a freer environment. This movie not only won five Oscars including Best Picture, but it is also one of the best movies ever made, and one of my favorites.
In today’s culture where everyone is so incredibly sensitive, I’m sure some people would find this movie to be offensive without reading a synopsis or watching the trailer. People jump to conclusions, and if this was released today, I believe there would be a lot of controversy over the film just because it features fictional mental patients. When “Joker” came out in October 2019 there was controversy over that film, with many news reporters saying that it was “dangerous,” even though it was depicting a mass murdering comic-book character and no one was hurt as a result of the film. If that would be controversial, then this certainly would be too. The author of the novel wrote the book based off of his experiences working at an actual mental hospital and his conversations with the patients, so it wasn’t as if the author knew nothing about mental health and was making fun of people with mental disorders. In fact, I would say that this movie has one of the best themes in a film of all time, which is that society needs to take better care of people with mental disabilities, give them respect, and treat them like normal people instead of children or monsters. With that said, let’s continue.
Firstly, the screenplay of the movie is brilliant, because the movie is able to balance so many characters and give all of them their own qualities and moments in the spotlight in a runtime of 2 hours and 14 minutes. What adds onto the story is Milos Forman’s haunting direction. Whenever something shocking or inhumane or frightening happens, Forman makes sure that it is completely in camera and as disturbing to the viewer as possible. There is one painful scene involving electroshock therapy, and another scene with a character being choked, both of which are examples of how powerful and uncomfortable the movie can be, and when the viewer is that affected, you know there is an extremely talented director behind the camera.
While the film has a beautiful, well-written story and brilliant directing, the main reason this movie is so fantastic is its ensemble cast. The acting is superb (especially Nicholson’s and Fletcher’s) and the cast might be the best ensemble of any film. The film depends on the performances of the cast more than anything else, especially since a lot of the qualities of the characters are shown visually rather than through words. For example, Danny DeVito’s character, Martini, has a constant smile on his face even in melancholy times, Will Sampson’s character, Chief Bromden, doesn’t speak for most of the film, and Nurse Ratched’s evil can be seen through her cold eyes.
Speaking of which, Louise Fletcher’s performance as Ratched is, in my opinion, the best performance by an actress of all time, and her character is one of the best villains of all time. Period. At first glance, Ratched looks like a kind woman, but if the viewer looks deeper, he/she will see the scheming look on her face and her cold eyes. Fletcher played Ratched with a hauntingly calm voice and an emotionless demeanor. What is dangerous about her is that she is a nurse who lacks emotion and sympathy. She has no boundaries and isn’t afraid to say things extremely sensitive to her vulnerable patients, eventually causing one of them to have a terrible fate at the end of the film. Ratched likes everything to have order and she doesn’t want the patients to have a lot of freedom, so she is really what the conflict of the movie depends on. I can watch Ratched stare someone down for an hour and not get bored.
This is one of those movies, like “The Godfather,” “Star Wars,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Schindler’s List,” and others, that pushes the boundaries of storytelling and proves how effective movies can be. It’s important that this movie stays relevant due to its important themes and its masterful filmmaking behind and in front of the camera. As soon as you finish reading this review, please go watch this movie. You won’t regret it.