1 Year, 100 Movies: #33 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

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For 1 Year, 100 Movies, I will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year- and will complete a goal on my 2013 Manifesto. Come along on the ride with me- oh, and please pass the popcorn!

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” won the Big Five at the Academy Awards in 1975. Best Picture, Best Director (Milos Forman), Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Actress (Louise Fletcher), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman). Contrary to the awards, the critics of the day were not impressed. Since then it has been received with much more acclaim- rightfully so in my opinion. It is a masterfully directed film that translates the novel upon which it is based to a timeless tale.

The film begins when R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a criminal sentenced to a work camp, gets transferred to the regional psychiatric hospital. They suspect he is faking his illness to get an easier assignment. Nurse Ratched is in charge of the patients well-being and therapy on the ward McMurphy is placed in. She instigates chaos during the therapy sessions, thinking that the outbursts are helpful and a part of the healing process, but we can see that the patients are wounded by the therapy. McMurphy refuses to dismiss anyone as crazy or lost, and (whether or not he belongs on the ward himself) becomes a therapist for the men himself. One of his friends is the apparently deaf and speechless Chief (Will Sampson). McMurphy continues his mission to harass and annoy Nurse Ratched. The two begin a battle of the wills, and each make only small advances.

Nurse Ratched has protocol and the strength of the orderlies on her side. McMurphy’s greatest weapon is his own imagination and the will to right the wrongs committed by the staff at the hospital. Chief finally finds finds his voice, and warns McMurphy of the consequences for throwing a party in the ward. Chief’s warning is prophetic, and when the day staff returns to find the aftermath of the party, McMurphy has crossed the final line. Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif), the stuttering woman-shy young patient, kills himself when Nurse Ratched tells him that she must inform his mother about his carousing with Candy, a prostitute and friend to McMurphy that they snuck in through the window. Because he has come to really care about the men on the ward, McMurphy stays to defend the other patients, instead of fleeing. When he attacks Nurse Ratched, he dooms himself. He is taken away for ‘treatment’ and comes back a shadow of himself. Chief won’t let McMurphy live on as a lobotomized shell, and so he suffocates him- allowing his legend to live on.

The director, Milos Foreman gives us a human drama about a man who tries to take on an unjust system and what happened to him for his trouble. There are moments of true joy from the experiences that McMurphy provides for the patients. Everyone can draw connections to other stories or moments in our own lives. “Cuckoo’s Nest” is a personal and powerful film.

In my humble, non-professional, average movie-goer opinion this movie earns:

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