Cult Classics: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

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Dani Klemes, web editor-in-chief

“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), based on the 1962 novel by Ken Kesey, is, quite simply put, a dramedy about a group of mentally ill patients who, led by a newly admitted inmate, revolt against their psychiatric hospital.

The film follows R. P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a seemingly sane 38-year-old criminal, after he is transferred from a prison farm for his statutory rape sentence to a mental institution in Oregon to be “evaluated.” McMurphy, upon arriving, immediately disrupts Nurse Ratched’s (Louise Fletcher) ward policy and sets the scene for the film–which is in essence, about the almost childish war between McMurphy’s tenacity and Ratched’s rigid composure.Photo from awardsdaily.com

The plot, overall, is very thought provoking and the adapted screenplay stays fairly true to the original novel. The film takes a lighter approach to heavy topics such as psychiatry and mental health, but includes deep undertones that shape it into a story about fishing and card games as much as one about diagnosed insanity.

Furthermore, the character development is well executed. Nicholson, known for his role as Jack Torrance in “The Shining” (1980), does an exceptional job immersing himself in his character, as does the rest of the cast. McMurphy evolves from a belligerent ex-convict to a genuine friend who shows his fellow inmates his sinful version of fun (which includes, but isn’t limited to, smuggled booze and sleazy women).

Maybe it’s strange to say, but there’s something alluring about the Muzak, pills and therapeutic discussion circles present in the ward. Nevertheless, the stale institution halls create a simple setting where viewers can focus on the minor details such as the editing, which is astounding. The frequent cuts between chaotic noise and silence provide a tension balance that carries the film along extremely smoothly.

Ultimately, the truly meaningful aspect of the film is that McMurphy views the inmates as normal individuals–people who are beyond what their illness defines them as. To McMurphy, Billy (Brad Dourif) isn’t a suicidal stutterer, Chief (Will Sampson) isn’t a mute Native American, and Martini (Danny Devito) isn’t a delusional man. The patients’ relationship with McMurphy is honest and sweet.

Overall, the film is, without a doubt, quality cinema, which makes it quite appropriate that it earned five Academy Awards, and a 9 out of 10 in my book.

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