Classic Movie Thursday: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Review

So I watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest…


As always procrastination is King in my life and film is the King’s favourite sacrifice. So instead of actually sitting down and studying for my Psych final, I thought it would be better to sit down and watch a film about people in a psychiatric hospital. I mean, that comes up in tests right?

Okay, basic plot: Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) – a chronic offender – is transferred from prison to a mental institution to be evaluated for possible mental illness. McMurphy is a hooligan who’s thought to be faking his symptoms in order to escape the hard labour of prison life. McMurphy makes it his mission to tear apart the hospital he’s been evaluated in and have as much fun as possible. This causes him to come to blows with Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) – the steely head of the ward who’s more than prepared to go toe-to-toe with the wild McMurphy.


This film disappointed and enthralled me in equal parts. It is a funny movie with great entertainment value but it isn’t the explorative look into mental illness that I thought it would be. I thought its humour and story would be crafted from the mental illness – and subsequent symptoms – that its characters suffered from. I didn’t expect this to be an informative feature that would leave me with a deeper understanding of psychiatry; but I did expect a humorous look at disorders of the mind. The film is funny but it doesn’t make full use of the fact that it’s set in a psychiatric hospital. The humour is far too vague and so generalised that you wonder why the setting was even chosen?

Another glaring problem this film has is that its characters lack definition. They become swept up in the comedy and events of the film, so much so, that they never become memorable. With the exception of Nurse Ratched and McMurphy, the rest of the characters are nothing but caricatures of their respective diagnoses. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, since the film doesn’t explore or showcase the world of psychiatry, these caricatures implode and add nothing to the story.


It’s such a shame because this film’s cast is terrific! This is a role handmade for Jack Nicholson. The brash, arrogant, bordering on insane quality of the character is perfectly suited to Nicholson’s acting style. Nicholson has always had this wonderful ability to play a sleazy character but still make him likeable and charming while never losing the menace of the character. Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched is also another standout who brought tremendous amounts of life to the blunted character. Ratched is a very miserly and passive-aggressive kind of person and if Fletcher had miscalculated she could have come across as apathetic instead of cold and steely. Luckily Fletcher walks the line perfectly and her and Nicholson are good value for their Academy Award wins.

The Academy Awards didn’t stop at the acting with Miloš Forman picking up a statuette for his work in the Director’s chair; and Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman winning for their script. This film is a little over two hours long but the work these three put in makes that time fly by in a breeze. Hauben and Goldman write a screenplay that is funny and engaging while Forman creates a film that is evenly-paced and constantly in motion. I will say, however, there are times when the film feels like it lacks direction.You’re never quite sure what McMurphy’s end goal is but maybe that’s the point. He’s a rebel without a cause; a man destined to destroy himself through self-destructive and self-gratifying behaviour.

Overall, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a film that’s as good as it bad. Fortunately, the moments where the film is brilliant more than make up for its flaws. It’s extremely funny and Jack Nicholson gives one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. It’s worth watching but don’t break your back trying to get it.

4 star



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