Nobody does crazy like Jack Nicholson. Cuckoo isn’t his only kind of crazy – you recently saw him on the SuperScreen in The Shining – Extended Version, cutting it up with an axe. Still, where Stanley Kubrick examines the effects of isolation and the persistence of the past, Milos Forman questions our very perception of what it means to be mentally ill. Through group therapy and a structured social environment, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) is a groundbreaking film that really changed the landscape for filmic presentation of mental health issues. It’s also an indictment on the structures of society and our inability to properly or effectively care for the wide range of individuals who attempt to co-exist within its strict confines, walled by harsh, prescriptive rules.
When Randle Patrick “Mac” McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is moved to psychiatric facility for evaluation, following a short stint on a penal farm for the statutory rape of a fifteen-year-old girl, he believes the rest of his sentence will be a cakewalk. When asked upon arrival if he suffers from any mental afflictions, he responds, “Not a thing doc, I’m a goddamn marvel of modern science!”
Despite the steely Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), McMurphy is all laughs taking it upon himself to be the leader of the group who – to him at least – appear to be “no crazier than the average asshole out walking around on the street”. Perhaps none of them deserves to be in there at all? Certainly they don’t deserve to be confined to boredom by a killjoy nurse – or so McMurphy thinks; he commandeers a boat for a playful outing, introduces prostitutes and other illegalities to his new-found friend-followers, protesting the stale, clinical conventions of the institution and indeed the broader social structures responsible for his incarceration. Still, the questions remain: who is actually bound by these conventions and who chooses to be?; who is free and who simply believes that they are?
Not everything is as transparent as it first appears. Sometimes the fight is much bigger than what is directly in front of your face. Sometimes not all of the rules are visible.
Adapted from Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel of the same name, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was the second film to ever win all five major Academy Awards; Best Picture, Best Actress in a Lead Role, Best Actor in a Lead Role, Best Director and Best Screenplay – Adapted (the first was It Happened One Night in 1934.) Considered one of the greatest American dramas of all time, with a truly sensational performance from Nicholson, supported by the likes of Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Brad Dourif, William Duell, and Will Sampson, this is a big screen must-see, now returning in remastered 2K DCP format, with 5.1 surround sound.
Written by Tara Judah for the Astor Theatre.