Monday, July 19, 2010

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1976)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1976) was the first, what I would deem, modern movies I’ve watched on my quest to view all 82 winners and the first one in color! Additionally, it was the first movie that I watched starring someone that I had grown up watching on the big screen. I’d heard of a lot of the other actors that starred in the films I’ve watched, but for the majority of them their Oscar winner was the first time I’d ever seen them on film. Not so with the great Jack Nicholson, who I’ve seen in just about a million movies. I’ve also heard from lots of people that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a great film. While I enjoyed this movie, I didn’t think it was spectacular. The message was great, the acting was amazing, but it lagged to the point where there were times I wished it was over. You could definitely tell this film was based off a book; at times I felt like I was watching a book on my screen.

Jack Nicholson plays Randle Patrick McMurphy criminal who is a repeat offender. He was sentenced to time in prison for statutory rape and has been transferred to a mental institution for evaluation. It seems like Randle has been faking mental illness to avoid the hard labor sentence of prison. At the mental institution Randle’s floor is run by a hard-ass nurse named Nurse Ratched. She’s pretty much a dictator, which is in direct contrast to Randle’s anti-authoritarian attitude. They are like oil and water from the beginning.

Ratched runs group therapy sessions with the patients on the floor that boarder on humiliating. It seems as if almost everyone on the floor is slightly brainwashed by her which is how she maintains order. Randle finds that the other patients, all male, are more focused on their fear of Ratched than they are on getting better and returning to the outside world.

One of the best parts of the movie is the cast of characters that live in the mental institution. There’s the stuttering Billy, the delusional Martini (played by Danny DeVito), Chief who is an enormously tall Native American, and a few others. Chief and Randle become the closest, as most people think Chief is mute, but Randle talks to him and treats him as an equal.

Randle becomes the de facto leader of the floor, causing as much trouble for Ratched as possible. Power begins to turn towards Ratched though when Randle learns that he cannot leave the mental institution but all of the others are their voluntarily. This news seems to knock him off his feet a bit.

One day Randle helps the other men on the floor escape for a day to go deep sea fishing. Ratched’s reaction is to double down her humiliating sessions and attempt to break Randle. The hospital attempts to give Randle electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) which does not work in settling him down. After his ECT session Chief opens up to Randle and speaks to him, bringing the two of them even closer.

Randle sneaks girls into the hospital one night and throws a party on the floor. Billy (the stutterer) and one of the women spend the night together while the other patients drink themselves to sleep. Nurse Ratched walks into the hospital to see this scene and tries to embarrass Billy by telling him she’ll call his mother. Billy is so distraught that he kills himself. Randle is so upset by Billy’s death he tries to choke Ratched with his bare hands. Randle is taken off the floor.

He returns later that night and it is clear that something has happened to him. Chief sees that he is unresponsive and it becomes clear that the hospital has given him a lobotomy. Chief, who can’t stand to see his friend like this, smothers Randle to death with a pillow. He then breaks a window and escapes from the hospital.

The end is the movie is incredible touching and is truly a testament to the power of friendship. The movie really does make you think about what crazy actually means. My interest was also sparked enough to want to read the book. It’s deep and I wouldn’t watch it if you’ve had a rough day. 

Here's the trailer.  I don't think it does the movie justice.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest won the top five prizes at the Oscars (Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay). It was the second movie to ever do so, after It Happened One Night (1934). According to AFI it is the 20th Best Movie of All Time out of 100.

I’ll give this one four out of five statuettes. Definitely on the “Watch Again” list.

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