One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Reviewed on 2012 January 20
This is an amazing movie, horrifying as it is compelling, that uses an antihero to show what happens to the outsider or non-conformist.
Randall Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is a rabble-rouser and outsider, sentenced to a stint in the pen. McMurhpy is as shrewd in many ways as he is contentious; he decides to fake being insane to get out of jail, figuring a stretch in a mental institution would be an easier alternative.
He is very wrong. He is sent to a tiny pond controlled by a barracuda, one Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), a stickler for following every rule and doing things her way, regardless of who gets crushed in the process. The other inmates go along quietly, until McMurphy comes and shakes things up. Ratched hates him from the outset. No, I wouldn’t want to be in charge of McMurphy either, but some of the stuff he asks for is on the earth-shattering, daring level of letting the inmates watch a ball game on the TV.
Ratched is a combination of some of the worst traits a human can have: someone who likes to wield her bit of power like a club, and a control freak who likes saying “no” just because it’s easy. (I’m being gentle here; you need to see the film to truly appreciate her.) McMurphy picks up on this and slowly goes on a campaign to drive her crazier than any of the men, not just out of defiance but because he grows fond of some of his inmate buddies. Now, it’s just a matter of who wins.
I read the book in high school before I even knew that it was a movie, and here is an example of both being excellent. It’s based on the Ken Kesey novel, except the Chief is the narrator in the book, and here he’s more of a wingman to McMurphy. There are other deviations but the script is amazing, and so is the whole ensemble cast. Look for a young, smiling Danny DeVito as Martini. Everyone holds their own here, but the battles of will between McMurphy and Ratched are the stuff of legend, thanks to both Nicholson and Fletcher.
Four chocolate morsels.