Tuesday, March 6, 2012

100 Movies - No. 67: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

67. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
Drama, 133 minutes
Directed by Milos Forman
Starring Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd and Brad Dourif

Jack Nicholson is one of my favorite actors and he can pull off anything from serious drama, to horror, or even comedy. I loved his portrayal of Melvin Udall in As Good as It Gets, but I think R. P. McMurphy is my favorite Nicholson character.

McMurphy is placed in a mental institution for evaluation, but he's really just trying to avoid prison and hard work. We know that he's faking it the whole time. His fellow patients are a weird mixture of oddballs. Some are dangerous, others merely insecure. McMurphy discovers that most of the patients are there on a voluntary basis and he observes that they are no crazier than the average person on the street.

There's a great scene when McMurphy arranges a road trip of sorts and we see how some of the others function when they are in the real world. It does raise an interesting point about mental illness. How much is a result of our environment? Can some of the problems be remedied simply by being placed in the right environment?

The characters have plenty of depth and we gradually learn some of their hopes and fears. The best moment in the entire film involves Juicy Fruit, but I won't ruin it for those who haven't seen the film. If you have, you'll know exactly what I mean.

McMurphy is perceived as subversive and potentially dangerous. When Nurse Ratched (Fletcher) refuses to show the World Series on TV, McMurphy whips the other patients into a frenzy by acting out an imaginary game.

The acting talent on display is seriously good. You can see early performances from the likes of Christopher Lloyd and Danny DeVito, as well as Brad Dourif's breakout performance as Billy.

The film contains a lot of humor as Nicholson pushes his role to the limit, but there are sad and frightening moments included in the mix. The mood can turn from peaceful to chaotic in the blink of an eye, and reflects the true nature of mental illness. The ending is particularly moving and can be considered both hopeful and desperately sad.

According to IMDB, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest became the first film in 41 years to sweep the major categories of Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best (Adapted) Screenplay. The accolades were thoroughly deserved.

If you like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest:

As previously mentioned, Nicholson played Melvin Udall in As Good as It Gets, which is also part of this 100 movies series. Another role showing Nicholson battling a mental condition is The Shining, which is among the best horror movies ever made.

Return to index of 100 movies to see before you die.

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  1. I think this is a very good movie but, I've got to say, I was a little underwhelmed when I watched it. I had heard a lot about Nurse Ratched and how she was epically evil but, as it turns out, she is not. She's just bitchy.

  2. I don't think she's exceptionally evil either.