Mental hospitals are scary business!
Screenplay By: Bo Goldman & Lawrence Hauben
Directed By: Milos Forman
It took me a while into the running time of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest to fully understand what I was seeing. This was mainly because the first hour of the film hid its true intentions beneath comedy and a mystery of whether or not McMurphy was mentally challenged. When it needed to be One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest was funny, very funny. During the first hour it was funny with pause, but once the true nature of the film began to creep in it was funny with dread over what the consequences of the laughter would be. The mystery of McMurphy is well handled, because there were various times during the first hour where I thought of him as completely sane and then completely insane. That thread remains murky till the very end and becomes a case where whether or not he is faking it is up to your interpretations.
At its heart One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is a power play between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched. Their play for control of the asylum can be seen as a straight humanistic tale, one man’s struggle to stay human in a world where all of his basic human rights are being stripped away. At the same time their power play can be viewed as an allegory for the struggle of the basic civilian versus the government/those in power. Either way the struggle stays the same, a group of people are having their basic rights taken from them and are trying to get them back in the only way they know how, by slowly gaining back power a bit at a time. All the while Nurse Ratched fights to keep them in their place, to beat them down by attacking their minds and degrading them every chance she gets. When all else fails its time for the good room where your brain is fried like a piece of chicken.
Louise Fletcher & Jack Nicholson are amazing, and I don’t want to downplay their importance to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in any way. But, I was most taken by the performance of Brad Dourif as Billy. Fletcher and Nicholson are a bit big in their parts because they need to be, they are the focal points of the power struggle. Dourif is allowed to play his role casually and he comes across as the most human of the bunch because of it. He is damaged but Dourif allows you to see how badly he wants to live yet how scared he is of what living entails.
The ending of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is powerful. Escape finally comes for McMurphy, but it’s no longer a true escape, rather it is an escape of the mind provided by a true friend. Nurse Ratched has won and McMurphy has been silenced forever, the system has beaten him down and removed his last shred of humanity. When Chief puts the pillow over his face he isn’t killing McMurphy, he is allowing the McMurphy that is trapped inside the shell that looks like him his freedom. It is a brutal scene, on par with McMurphy’s electroshock scene for the most powerfully effective moments of the film.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is an all-time classic for a reason, and its reputation is well deserved. It’s a compelling tale that also manages to work on a higher level. There are great performances to be found throughout the picture and moments of great power that affect you. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is a movie that you need to see, that’s really all there is to it.