Wednesday, June 27, 2007
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; drama, USA, 1975; D: Miloš Forman, S: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, William Redfield, Brad Dourif, Christopher Lloyd, Will Sampson, Scatman Crothers, Danny DeVito, Vincent Schiavelli
R. P. McMurphy, a lazy small time crook, pretends to be insane in order to be transferred to a comfortable mental institution instead of a prison. He does, to a institution run by the cold and ruthless nurse Ratched, and quickly makes friends with the patients. He also starts rebelling against the dictator like conditions of nurse Ratched, even escaping with the patients in a bus to go fishing. One day he starts a fight with a male nurse and gets punished with electroshocks. McMurphy and Chief Bromden manage to open the window of the institution and let two of his girls in, letting one of them have intercourse with the timid patient Billy. When nurse Ratched sees the chaos the next morning she vows to Billy that she is going to tell everything to his mother, upon which the young lad commits suicide. McMurphy attacks her, but is captured by the ward and punished by a lobotomy. Chief suffocates him with a pillow and breaks away from the institution.
In one hilarious scene from the film, the main protagonist McMuprhy (a very good Jack Nicholson) is in the mental institution, trying to play poker with his colleagues, the patients, but he is getting more and more irritated by the annoying, loud music coming from the control room. Finally, he snaps and goes into the control room demanding the music to be appeased. But nurse Ratched tells him to leave the room first and then tell her his complaint. He does and repeats his demand but she simply rejects him telling that the music has to be this loud since many old patients wouldn't be able to hear it. This is one of the crucial sequences in the story that caused many to interpret it in this way - McMurphy is a revolutionary and the patients are a symbol for average citizens in a state (mental institution), while the evil nurse Ratched represents the cold government that is making their lives miserable through bureaucracy, lies, oppression and dumb laws. McMurphy is fighting against that oppression, but all of his attempts are tragic because they don't make any difference, no matter how he tries. It's even more subversive than that: as soon as someone is labelled mentally ill, he is immediately stripped of his usual rights.
Even democracy is subtly ridiculed as useless in a police state in the scene where McMurphy wants all the patients to vote to watch a baseball game on TV, but many of them are simply too afraid to raise their hand in front of nurse Ratched. As a subversive reaction to a lot of turmoil in the '60s and '70s, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" became very popular and won 5 Oscars, 6 BAFTAs and 6 Golden Globes. Miloš Forman directs the film in a very objective way, with raw, wild energy and sense for bizarre humor (during a basketball game the tall Indian Chief raises his arm to close the net and throw the ball of the enemy out of the basket, McMurphy stops the snoring of a patient by blocking his nose with his fingers...), but in a way he also made some solid mistakes. The whole escape and fishing sequence doesn't work, and near the end McMurphy and Chief open the window of the institution in the middle of the night in order to escape - but for some reason they don't and as nurse Ratched finds them the next morning, they suddenly for some illogical reason try to escape again - what where they waiting the whole night?! Louise Fletcher is amazing as the tyrant, stubborn nurse Ratched, a mix between Margaret Thatcher and Carla Del Ponte, but her character is simply a one dimensional bad guy. Also, despite the fact that the climax is powerful and chilling, it's also slightly transparent. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is a slightly overrated film, but it's still a powerful metaphor of an individual who had to become mad in order to fight the madness of a rigid system.