Zack Looking Back: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Zack Looking Back ('09)/Eastside Entertainment Editor

About Zack Looking Back:

Eastside Entertainment Editor Zack Rosenblatt (’09) will watch, discuss and review films from the past that he has yet to see. Every genre, be it comedy, romance or horror will be reviewed at some point, and movies dating back as far as the 60s and 70s are fair game.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Characters/Cast:
Randall McMurphy-Jack Nicholson
Nurse Ratched-Louise Fletcher
Harding-William Redfield
Cheswick-Sydney Lassick
Billy-Brad Dourif
Chief Bromden-Will Sampson
Martini-Danny DeVito
Taber-Christopher Lloyd
Turkle-Scatman Crothers

Why I chose to watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest:
I had heard about the film before because many consider it to be an American classic, but I had never known what it was about or really anything other than the fact that Jack Nicholson starred in the film. But in English class, we were assigned to read the play version of Cuckoo’s Nest and I was simply blown away. The play was not very long, but that did not hinder its effectiveness at all. In my life, there has never been any sort of reading material (especially for school) that I could picture in my head so vividly. As soon as we finished reading the play I rushed out and bought the film on DVD.
Review:
Clearly, my expectations were sky high based on my reaction to the play and it was going to be tough for the film version to meet them. Nevertheless, the film version passed my expectations with flying colors. From start to finish, Jack Nicholson was spot-on with his portrayal of Randall McMurphy, and Nicholson firmly established himself as one of the greatest actors of his (or any) generation.

At the start of the film we are introduced to McMurphy, a criminal serving a short prison term for statutory rape (“She was fifteen years old going on thirty five, Doc, and she told me she was eighteen.”). He is transferred to a mental institution because of his “crazy” behavior, but it is clear that he just wants to serve out the rest of his sentence with ease. Despite being made in the 1970s and set in the 1960s, this is the type of lawyer maneuvering standard to today’s society.

McMurphy is introduced to a group of patients that have seemingly lost the ability to speak for themselves or make decisions on their own. The dictatorial Nurse Ratched enforces their feeling of isolation, and she imposes her will on these hapless loonies via unwanted medication and group therapy sessions. Once McMurphy is fully exposed to Nurse Ratched’s methods, he makes it his mission to thwart her dictatorship.

Initially, McMurphy came to the institution to finish his sentence, but he ended up developing friendships with people he never expected to. McMurphy fought for the freedom of others despite the inevitable detriment to his own freedom. McMurphy decides that he wants to help the inmates experience a normal life in spite of their circumstances. There is a scene where Nurse Ratched withholds the viewing of the World Series, clearly to spite McMurphy, and this results in one of the funniest, and heartwarming, scenes of the entire film. With a blank screen in front of him, McMurphy begins acting as a broadcaster of the game and speaking as if the game was occurring right in front of him. The excitement he conveys upon this non-existent game spreads to the rest of the inmates and they begin to join him in cheer. This rambunctious group is so deep in cheer that they can’t even hear Nurse Ratched over the loud speaker demanding they halt this display of affection.

Modern movie going audiences have gravitated towards the “superhero” genre to such comic book fare as Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk. Jack Nicholson has no superpowers here, but in the end it is clear that McMurphy is the superhero and Nurse Ratched the villain.

The cast of inmates and crazies was the backbone of the film, and their portrayals added comic relief to some otherwise serious situations. Even in their first major film roles, Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd gave arguably the best performances of their careers. Sydney Lassick also stood out in his role as the bumbling Cheswick. DeVito, Lloyd and Lassick were great, but Brad Dourif and his portrayal of the stuttering adolescent, Billy Bibbit, is the heart and soul of the film. Dourif, Nicholson and Louise Fletcher (Nurse Ratched) were all nominated for their performances, and rightfully so.

In conclusion, this film was perfectly shot and beautifully directed by Milos Forman. Jack Nicholson’s iconic performance is considered his best, but Lousie Fletcher’s portrayal of Nurse Ratched should not be overlooked. When the best villains of all time are bandied about, Nurse Ratched strangely is excluded. Thus, despite her Oscar win, her performance can be considered underrated since it has been largely ignored over time.

Grade: A+

Recent, Similar Movies:
Girl, Interrupted (1999)– Starring Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder
The Jacket (2005)– Starring Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley
Quills (2000)– Starring Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix and Michael Caine

Cuckooo Notes:
– 9 Oscar nominations, 5 Oscar wins
– 6 Golden Globes
– $380 million, adjusted for inflation, at the U.S. box office (according to boxofficemojo.com)
– Actor Michael Douglas (Wall Street, Traffic) was a producer on the film
– Ellen Burstyn and Jane Fonda were offered role of Nurse Ratched
– Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman were offered role of McMurphy before Jack Nicholson.
– Director Milos Forman wanted Burt Reynolds for role of McMurphy