‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’; Milos Forman’s 1975 movie is a tale of non-conformism… with a twist. 5*
Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is a sane guy who finds himself in tricky situations, the latest one being accused of statutory rape on a 15 year old; he tries to avoid the penance and is transferred to a mental institution to be evaluated. He finds it hard to conform to what he perceives as a flawed system, he injects his own personality in it and said system is brutal on him; he faces the authority figure – nurse Ratched – who is supposed to be here to help patients. It’s not by chance that Milos Forman chose to adapt Ken Kesey’s novel; born in Czechoslovakia, he often refers to communism as the Big Nurse (Forman never obtained permission from Kesey to use his novel, how very McMurphy style?). Rebellion against conformity, individuality; two central themes of this movie which are conveyed with great efficiency.
Pace variations, close-ups, intense performances, instances of deep staging (corridor shots) and dark cinematography help establish the reality of a 1960’s asylum. Switching from moments of temporary fun freedom (a boat trip with the “mental defective league”, an ‘enhanced’ Christmas party…) to depressive ‘1984 type’ authority, this movie does what it sets itself to do. It displays perfectly that a great idea is not necessarily applicable. However beautiful the core idea of communism may be, it never ends well… and Randle McMurphy gets the full journey.
It takes some time to understand where the story is going thanks to a total lack of exposition – which is a great thing – and you don’t see it coming. It being what happens in the last 10 minutes.
Jack Nicholson’s range is quite impressive here, the life he injects into his character is remarkable and the Academy agreed with that; he received his very first Oscar for that role.
Louis Fletcher as Nurse Ratched does the job, you can’t like her, which is kind of the point.
Special mention to Brad Dourif’s Billy Bibbit who really looked like he was temporarily taken out of a real institution to ‘be in a movie’ just being his deranged self. Also to Will Sampson as Chief, who leaves a lasting impression without having more than 10 lines in 2 hours.
This is the movie you don’t want to miss to see that Dany DeVito had hair at some point.