One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

one flew over the cuckoo's nestBOT stands for Back on Track and this is this feature’s seventh post.

Last year I started a feature called Back on Track and I wrote six posts during Mondays, and the posts had limited feedback. Blame it on the day, blame it on what ever but I’m coming back to the feature because it is more meant for me rather than others anyway. As a reminder, BOT means watching classics such as The Godfather, 12 Angry Men and My Neighbor Totoro without actually giving them a rating but just enjoying the experience. An experience which was especially refreshing with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest nabbed five out of 9 Oscar nominations in 1976 including two for Best Leading role (actor & actress), Best Director, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Four other nominations included Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Original Score.

To be fair, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I watched One Flew Over… around the Holidays, except the well known fact that it was highly received by the Academy getting all together five Oscars. Not being aware what is going to happen is possibly the best way to watch a movie because it will mean knowing nothing and having to get to know everything by just watching. So, unknowingly I started watching One Flew Over…, expecting almost the same kind of feelings that I normally get with most classics I watch and without really realizing it, I was extremely sad by the end of it. If I had known, I would have probably skipped it, because I was alone and seeing One Flew Over… during the Holidays is not the best way to keep your mood elevated.

R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) gets sent to a mental institution for a psychological examination despite the doctors being quite certain of his sanity still being in-tacked.  He of course is seemingly normal with the exception of him having a rebellious personality that starts to come out when he is not getting the things he needs. Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) is the one denying him of his pleasure of enjoying a ball game which leads him to find other activities to do. One of my favorite scenes in One Flew Over… was definitely the one where McMurphy was teaching Chief Bromden (Will Sampson) basketball – it was the lightest moment of the movie especially knowing the events that followed. Although, the fishing scene was almost as delightful.

In the end, McMurphy had planned to escape the institution during a wild party he had organized but he thought to set up Billy (Brad Dourif) with a woman before leaving – still, he never managed to escape. Though the movie had a certain light to it, even despite the fact that the men were insane, they did seemed to enjoy themselves in numerous times, the events that followed the party were grim. The contrast was actually frightening with the scene that follows the joy of a drunken party: Billy took his life just minutes after Ratched had threatened to tell his mom about his fornication with a woman. It comes as a shock because Billy was previously shown as just a shy and a bit troubled boy, to be honest, most the men in the mental institution seemed to be portrayed as close to normal as possible. Maybe with the exception of Martini (Danny DeVito) who just didn’t seem to get things.

ofotcnAfter that sad scene, McMurphy shows off the side of him that has been hidden so far, the side that most likely got him into the mental institution in the first place – he gets extremely angry! It is a scene that turns his whole character from good to bad, yet, I can’t help to feel sorry for him in that moment when he sees Billy on the floor covered with blood. After his burst of anger, his actions will not see a light punishment (obviously) but the punishment he does get seems to be the cruelest of them all – he gets an operation which makes him into an empty shell. One of my fears, or more like a phobia, is to be taken to a mental institution because stating “I’m sane, I’m fine!” is not going to work there and the madness eventually will rub off as it did with McMurphy, be it naturally or by using a knife. So seeing the consequences of his actions in the end just got to me emotionally and it was unsettling to see a man that had so much life inside of him, to be as he was – mindless.

The scene where McMurphy’s sanity is shown to be gone to a place of unknown, Chief does what he knows McMurphy would have wanted – he takes his life because he cares for him and does not want him to live as a mindless being. Up to that moment, I had no idea of the actual point of the movie but as I had feared, it proved to be the same as my phobia, a sane person ending up in a mental institution will eventually be insane. One Flew Over… tackles that with such ease and lightness in the beginning of the film, it’s almost like we are supposed to feel humored and bright. For instance, when the director, Milos Forman, captures scenes with the basketball, watching television or playing a board game, the atmosphere he creates is always playful and fun. It is supported by the usage of light colors as white and blue dominate the movie, and also the calmness of the sea when the patients escape to go fishing, such elements lead to positive feelings towards the patients and their lives. They might be insane but they live their lives with a certain ease.

In the end that lightness is completely robbed from us, in addition to the situations where McMurphy gets his first shock therapy and Billy commits suicide, the final scene finally puts a shadow over One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and with good reason. There is something dark in mental institutions, despite their mindless joy and occasional bright situations, and that darkness will eventually get the strongest and the bravest minds like McMurphy had. And that is the scariest thing for me and will most likely remain forever as a  phobia of mine.

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14 thoughts on “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)”

  1. An amazing movie, which I rewatched last year. Such a powerful movie and I understand your phobia. Once you are in a mental institution it’s up to other to decide if you are healthy or not, even if you think you are healthy yourself. It is a scary thought.

    1. And everything you say will be thought as “insane” in most cases, in most movies I’ve seen.. how is that not the scariest thing to loose your sanity without actually loosing it.

  2. I love this film so much and am glad you got the chance to watch it! Your phobia is completely understandable. I feel so much sadness when watching/reading anything about mental institutions, especially when the person has been wrongly committed but even for those committed with “good” reason some of the treatments were just brutal.

  3. Nice review Ray. One of my favorites of all-time just because it not only inspires me to do right in the world, but be happy for what I’ve got, regardless how great or shitty it may be. That’s just the way of life, I guess.

  4. I can see this one being a bit of a Holiday bummer. I only wish McMurphy had succeeded in finishing of nurse Ratched, she had it coming.

    1. You know, I was a bit hesitant writing her as the bad guy in the review because she didn’t feel bad. She was just.. strict with rules but I didn’t see her being worth killing.. Though she did kind of push Billy over the edge but still. Not worth to die.

        1. Yea, well, rules are sometimes there for a reason. I mean it’s not like a prison but some of those men might be a danger to society due to their mental issues but it’s all about personal opinions. I totally understand the hate towards her!

        2. I’m just rattling your cage….

          sort of lol

          hey if you get a chance check out the film blog I’m part of

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