Monday, May 10, 2010

1975 - One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

A colleague at work asked me the other day whether my wife was a nerd. My initial response was to suggest that she is as much of a nerd as I am. That is to say, only slightly. I then proceeded to list some of the slightly nerdy things we do together, concluding with the fact that we are currently in the midst of completing Lego Star Wars on the Wii. I paused to comprehend what I had just said. Lego. Star Wars. Wii.

Yes. My wife is a nerd. As am I.

Today, I concluded the review of the Best Picture nominees from 1975 with my watching of...

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
Milos Forman
Lawrence Hauben & Bo Goldman
(based on the novel by Ken Kesey)
Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, William Redfield, Brad Dourif, Sydney Lassick, Will Sampson, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Dean R. Brooks
Academy Awards:
9 nominations
5 wins, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Nicholson) & Best Actress (Fletcher)

Transferred from prison to a mental hospital for evaluation, Randle Patrick MacMurphy (Nicholson) stirs things up from the get-go. The subtly oppressive head of the ward, Nurse Ratched (Fletcher), almost immediately develops a strong dislike for MacMurphy, shooting down his suggestion to change the schedule in order to allow the patients to watch the World Series. MacMurphy's closest ally inside is the beefy but silent Chief Bromden and the two hatch a plan to escape to Canada, but not before causing some trouble first.

When I began watching One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, I had slightly miscalculated how much time I had in order to see it through to the end before having to leave home for a prior engagement. With about twenty minutes of the film remaining, I really ought to have switched the television off and come back to it later. However, so gripping is the film's final act that I literally could not pull myself away from the screen. Not an especially good excuse for tardiness, but gripping nonetheless.

Actually, the entire film is riveting, but those last few scenes are hauntingly powerful. When you despise a character as much as you despise Nurse Ratched - possibly the coldest bitch to appear on film - the conclusion becomes painfully tragic. Even though MacMurphy's methods are questionable, he brings excitement and adventure to the lives of his fellow patients, in complete opposition to Ratched's mind-numbing routine of emasculation. The one small consolation as a viewer is that whenever anyone calls Nurse Ratched by name, it almost sounds like Nurse Rat-shit. I'm juvenile, I know.

Despite other actors being offered the role before him, MacMurphy really is the perfect role for Jack Nicholson and he pulls it off with dangerous alacrity. On the surface, the character of Nurse Ratched seems like it does not require more than a soft voice and a stern look, but Louise Fletcher's simplicity is very effective. A young Danny DeVito gives a well-mannered performance as the delusional Martini. Christopher Lloyd (pictured) makes his feature film debut as the excitable Taber, although somehow, Taber doesn't seem half as insane as Doc Brown. Also premiering on the silver screen is Brad Dourif, delivering a spectacular performance as the young man with the most unfortunate name for someone with a stutter - Billy Bibbitt.

Cuckoo's Nest became only the second film to take out Oscars in all five major categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay) after It Happened One Night achieved the feat 41 years earlier. The Silence of the Lambs has since joined that very elite club.


  1. This is one powerful picture. I hadn't seen it in many years which led me to believe that it hadn't stayed with me that strongly. There are still a few sequences that I have difficulty with, but overall Milos Forman did excellent work adapting Ken Kesey's cult novel. Somehow, its themes seem to fit the 70s very well.

    I know that Kirk Douglas played McMurphy on stage and wanted to do the film, but he was just too old when it finally was filmed. Jack Nicholson was perfectly cast. In fact, if the film was made 10 years earlier, I'd guess that the role may have gone to Paul Newman.

    Louise Fletcher was outstanding as well, although her role seems more supportive than lead to me. The ensemble of supporting actors were all terrific.

    This is going to be a very tough pick. There isn't a weak link among the five contenders for 1975.

  2. Matt, I am not sure whether you are familiar with the UK comedy series "Spaced"? There is the most brilliant Cuckoos Nest storyline - an episode where Daisy, our heroine, is forced to work as a kitchen hand - its just a brilliant nod to Cuckoo's nest and as a result one of the funniest things I had seen in a long time. You should check it out if you haven't already - its UK comedy at its best - I think its my favourite tele of all time. Ahhh. X (I love that Matthleen are nerds. hehehe. You guys are the best!)

  3. A stunning film on so many levels ...