Saturday, December 18, 2010

1975: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Randle P. McMurphy was in jail, but there is some question about his mental health status, so he is sent to a state mental institution for evaluation.  While there, McMurphy creates as much mayhem as he can, stirring up the other inmates and waging war against cold, calmly dangerous Nurse Ratched.  It becomes clear that he isn't mentally ill, but the mental hospital decides to accept him anyway.  McMurphy is proud of himself for beating the system, but he soon discovers that some places are worse than prison.

I think this is one of the most profoundly disturbing films I've ever seen, especially towards the end, which I won't spoil for you in case you haven't seen it yet.  It's a very uncomfortable story, but it's told extremely well.  The character development is fantastic; every minor character has clearly defined traits, and the main characters are utterly fascinating.  McMurphy isn't a very nice guy, and I probably wouldn't like him normally, but one can't help preferring him to Nurse Ratched, who is pretty much inhuman.  The dialogue is very realistic, though the profanity is a little excessive.  The camera work and editing are brilliant, making an uncomfortable story even more so with an unusual amount of close-ups.  I literally backed away from the screen a few times.  This isn't a fun film to watch, but it's powerful and very well put together.

This is the second of three films to win all five major Academy Awards (the first, if you don't remember back that far, was It Happened One Night in 1934).  Louise Fletcher certainly deserved her Best Actress Oscar for her brilliantly eerie portrayal of Nurse Ratched.  Jack Nicholson is an amazingly talented actor, and his performance as McMurphy is one of his best.  Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director were equally well-deserved, in my opinion.  This film is certainly well worth watching, but not if you're in the mood for a feel-good movie.  I guess it's kind of fun to recognize some of the patients, like Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd when they were younger, and there are a few upbeat scenes, but mostly this film will just make you glad that you're not under the control of Nurse Ratched.

Coming up next: Rocky

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