One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) Poster

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10/10
Both uplifting and disheartening, sometimes both at once
pyrocitor14 January 2005
I went into this film with the knowledge that it had been the second film in history to win the 'top five' Oscars (for Best Picture, Best actor, Best actress, Best director and best screenplay) and has been praised as "one of Jack Nicholson's finest roles" and "one of the classics of the 70's". Naturally, after hearing all this, I had high expectations for One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. But nonetheless, I was surprised at how easily the film surpassed my expectations and easily led me to understand how it merited all that praise.

Based on the novel by Ken Kesey, the story follows Randle Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), who, in an attempt to get out of spending more time in prison, pleads insanity for his crime, and is therefore sentenced to time in a mental institution. This was McMurphy's intention, as he believes the conditions in a "crazy house" will be significantly easier to contend with than another harsh stay in prison. However, he quickly finds out that surviving the institution with it's desolate patients (including Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito, Vincent Schiavelli and an absolutely brilliant Brad Dourif as the stuttering Billy Bibbit) and the monstrously repressive Nurse Ratchet (Louise Fletcher, in a career defining role) is considerably harder than he imagined. McMurphy plays pranks, horseplay, and is generally defiant to the rules of the institution in an attempt to raise spirits. His constant optimism and reckless defiance to the out of date rules in the institution can be very uplifting, and often quite funny as well, but much of the movie can be very depressing - the generally decrepit state of the institution is a consistently (and intentionally) bleak background to a superb story with a truly bittersweet ending.

Jack Nicholson is at his best here, head and shoulders above other excellent performances such as in 'Chinatown' or 'As Good as it Gets'. McMurphy is an apparently unquenchable optimist, refusing to succumb to the defeated spirit of all the other patients. His livewire antics, inspiring the patients are generally uplifting, and when his indomitable spirit is finally broken, we really feel for him and his fellow patients. Nicholson conveys the essence of McMurphy to perfection, demonstrating his excellent understanding and interpretation of the character. When McMurphy announces that he is going to lift a huge stone fountain and hurl it through the window to escape, the other patients are so caught up in his intoxicating spirit of freedom that they honestly believe he can do it, despite the fact it would be impossible for a man much stronger than him. When McMurphy finally discovers that despite his best efforts, he cannot lift the fountain, he is so openly crushed that we can't help but feel for him. Beneath the frequent profanities and livewire antics, there are real human emotions, which come across as truly touching.

What can be said about One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest which hasn't already been said? It has an excellent storyline, top notch acting, painfully bleak visuals, perfectly setting the tone for the movie, and alternates between being truly uplifting to devastatingly depressing. It features perhaps the most memorable film ending ever, next to a man on his horse riding off into the sunset, and leaves the viewer beaten down by the conflicting emotions, unaware what to think of the picture next to reveling in it's glorious entirety. It's hard to produce a final outcome any better than this.

-10/10
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10/10
Touching and moving, a great cinematic experience
TBJCSKCNRRQTreviews3 July 2004
Jack Nicholson is a great actor. No, not a great actor, a spectacular actor. This is a film from fairly early in his career, as well as it is for several other actors in this film, who later have had long, great careers too, including Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd and Brad Dourif. The film has some unforgettable moments... who could forget Louise Fletcher's icy stare, Jack Nicholson's smart-aleck remarks or Will Sampson's impressive, almost entirely silent performance? The film portrays the horrible truth about how patients were treated in mental institutions back then, and tells the story of someone who desperately wanted to break out, to rebel, to change things, for himself and for the others. I was compelled by this film, from the very first frame. I never took my eyes off it, and I will definitely be thinking about this film for a while. I thought it was great the way one of the very first frames depicted the institution as something far more similar to a prison than a hospital. Milos Forman did a great job of making that contrast very powerful to the viewer. The film is very moving and a truly beautiful cinematic experience. Every single actor gives a stellar performance, every single character is perfectly written, every single line, every single frame is absolutely perfect. I wouldn't change a thing in this film. It has a great pace, you never lose interest, but it never seems to be rushing to get through it, either. It's simply perfect. I have not read the original book, but if I ever come across it, I might check it out. I have only seen this film once, but I will definitely watch it many times in years to come. I recommend this amazing piece of great cinema to anyone who has at least a slight interest in the drama genre, or any fan of any of the actors, as they are all in their absolute prime in this film. 10/10
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10/10
A great order vs. chaos tale that everyone can relate to
b1lskirnir18 June 2005
Based on the amazing novel by Ken Kesey, Randall Patrick McMurphy is an antisocial and dangerous man no different than a petty criminal, placed in a mental ward to have his behavior studied. He makes friends with lunatics and starts his own circle of admiration within the hospital, much to the dismay of Nurse Ratched, the central authority figure in the story and one of the greatest movie villains ever.

The movie exists to show not only how corrupt and poorly-constructed society's approach to the "mentally unstable" is, but it creates characters that we have all met in life and shows how the McMurphy-like figure that we all wish we had fights for freedom of choice and basic human rights. In addition to the movie's great spirit, the acting is fantastic. Jack Nicholson is at his best and Danny DeVito can be seen in his very first acting role ( which he absolutely triumphs in ). And of course, there's the unforgettable Chief Bromden. The directing by Milos Forman is very well-done, as the camera-work is excellent and follows the pace of the movie perfectly in how it is used. What really impressed me was the editing, especially as far as the use of audio goes: some parts just made me go "...wow."

My only complaint is that I believe the movie could've been slightly more effective if it were based more closely on the novel at certain points, but the modified point of view of the film does make a great point; anyone who has ever hated their job, been accused of something, had some person so self-righteous and convinced of their own authority and dependency on order get in your way, or attended the American public school system at any point in their life should be able to identify with this movie.
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10/10
"What an excellent movie" is all that went through my mind after seeing this masterpiece
Philip Van der Veken14 September 2004
What a movie, what an excellent movie!!! That is what first went through my mind after seeing this masterpiece. I've seen many movies, but there aren't much movies which had such an impact on me. Nowadays almost all filmmakers believe they can only make a good movie by adding loads of special effects and lots of huge explosions ... This movie is so good, so convincing without them. The actors played their roles in such a convincing way that you would think these weren't actors at all, but real psychiatric patients.

This movie may be 30 years old, but it hasn't lost any of its relevancy. OK, we don't put our mentally ill people in that kind of prisons anymore, the bars in front of the windows have gone and now we call it hospitals in stead of nut houses. But the treatment hasn't changed all that much. I once worked in such a hospital as a volunteer and still saw things like forced feeding, giving people so much medication until they no longer know who or where they are,...

When the movie first came out, some people were shocked because when you watch the movie, you can't help it feeling more attached to the patients than to the doctors and nurses. This movie shows that cinema can make a difference. It can help to open people's eyes. If there is a movie that should be seen by everyone, this sure is the one. I give it a well deserved 10/10.
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10/10
Poetic - Powerful - Simple: The Greatness of Cuckoo's Nest.
Donald J. Lamb22 January 2000
The opening shot of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST is a bleak glance at an Oregon morning. Stirring, haunting music plays gracefully on the soundtrack and a car approaches. Inside the car is one of film history's most remarkable characters. "Randle McMurphy" is about to bring hope, humor, and a glimmer of reality to some disturbed people in a mental hospital. Jack Nicholson as "McMurphy", is something of a paradox. Is this guy crazy or is he really the lazy, conniving criminal most believe him to be? That is the magical mystery and start to a journey into mental illness and the effect this man will have on some truly messed up men.

Milos Forman directs this all-time classic, which swept the Oscars deservedly, and holds up so well 25 years later. It is a simplistic film about small people living in their own small worlds. Manic moments are mixed with poignant acting all leading to an astounding climax. Not before or since CUCKOO'S NEST has a collection of different characters had such an impact on me. You could write a book report about each of the patients in the ward. The two most important people here are, of course, Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher.

Nicholson has his greatest moments in this picture. One brilliant scene has him doing an imaginary play-by-play commentary of the 1963 World Series to the group, who are not allowed to watch the game on TV. It is a poetic sequence and Nicholson goes crazy with his delivery, describing baseball with colorful anecdotes and profanity. "McMurphy" immediately makes an impression on the crazies and shows them how they don't have to stick to the "normal routine". He knows their names right away, he sprays them with water, he makes impossible bets with them, he introduces them to fishing, and he even gets a suffering young kid (played well by Brad Dourif) a "date".

Louise Fletcher plays one of the more reprehensible human beings in film as "Nurse Mildred Ratched". She is a hardened woman, one who makes the daily meetings with the group a contest to see who will win. Her stubbornness and lack of compassion for the poor guys is rather one dimensional. That's perfect because that is exactly who she is. Her strong will to keep things monotonous leads to a final showdown with the free spirited "McMurphy" in what is easily one of the most shocking and disturbing climaxes in recent memory.

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST does not try to make a statement about mental illness or how the unstable should be treated. Rather, it is a very simple portrait of the long days and hilarious scenarios that can come about when a mixed bag of suffering people are thrown together. Mental illness is nothing to laugh about, but the fact that Nicholson is not really crazy (at least in my opinion) allows us to be amused. He seems to love his compadres in the hospital. He is mislead, however, into thinking he can do as he pleases.

There is no denying the power of CUCKOO'S NEST. The two main powerhouse performances are golden, the cinematography is morbid and gritty like it should be, the "Chief" is great as Nicholson's right hand, ah, protagonist, and you care a lot about what will happen as the film moves on. The famous, final shot ironically happens to be an exit of a major character into that bleak, Oregon morning.

NOTE: I have never read the book and I find it hard to believe author Ken Kesey has never watched the filmed version. Comparing a book to a movie is impossible. They are 2 distinctly different artistic methods of story-telling.
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Jack Nicholson Finally Wins the Oscar
tfrizzell11 September 2000
Warning: Spoilers
Jack Nicholson had been nominated four times, he had lost four times. Each time he probably should have won, but he never did. Just when you thought there was no justice in the world, Jack finally came through with "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The film is exceptional in every sense imaginable. Nicholson stars as a prisoner who is sent to an insane asylum. While there, Nicholson creates an atmosphere which gives his fellow inmates a sense of self-worth and a glimmer of happiness. Throughout, it is never made clear whether Nicholson is truly insane or just acting crazy to get out of manual labor at the regular prison. Whatever the case, Nicholson is creating a place that head-nurse Louise Fletcher (Oscar-winning) is finding unsuitable for the other patients. She is quietly evil and amazingly cruel to those within the asylum. Nicholson and Fletcher are getting ready for a head-on-collision that will prove to be the decisive factor at the end of the movie. Will Sampson, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, and Brad Dourif (Oscar-nominated) are all great in supporting turns as Nicholson's fellow inmates. An excellent film. 5 stars out of 5.
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9/10
Jack Nicholson at his finest
Agent1013 August 2002
It's tough to really judge this movie. Is it Milos Forman's greatest directorial masterpiece or Jack Nicholson's best performance. Tough to say, but the marriage between both director and actor are quite phenomenal. From the first time we see Jack Nicholson to the sad, yet uplifting ending, one cannot escape the sheer power of the film. When a film is parodied as many times as this one has been, typically, greatness can be associated. Well, greatness was achieved, and let's hope this one never falls through the cracks.
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10/10
Best film of its era
MisterWhiplash15 April 2000
Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a landmark (one of the few I might add) in cinema. Pretty much everything in this film is at or close to perfection. And rightfully so, it became only the 2nd (1 in 3 films in history along with It Happened One Night and Silence of the Lambs) film to win the top five Oscars- Best Picture, Actor (Jack Nicholson), Actress (Louise Fletcher), Director (Forman), and Screenplay (Bo Goldman).

The story (based on Ken Kessey's astounding, though not too similar, novel) focuses on a rowdy misfit named Randle Patrick McMurphy (Nicholson) who is put in a mental hospital with other people (some voluntarily in) who are not all there. Some of these guys include Danny DeVito (in his first role), Christopher Lloyd, Brad Dourif (in his Oscar nominated role) and the never forgettable Will Sampson who played the Chief. The film, It's actors and scenes will always be terrific achievements in cinema and is one of my favorites.
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9/10
A perfect mixture of entertainment and drama.
Boba_Fett11386 August 2005
Czech director Milos Forman seems to be obsessed with rebellious characters that don't like to go with the flow. Just think about Larry Flynt in "The People vs. Larry Flynt" or Andy Kaufman in "Man on the Moon", in the two most recent movies of Forman. The central character in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" played by Jack Nicholson is also one of those characters, that wants to break the routine and even starts a revolt against the staff and nurse Ratchett in particular, in a mental institution.

The movie is perhaps more comedy and entertainment than heavy drama. Still that doesn't mean that the movie isn't filled with some powerful emotional sequences. The tension between the patients and the staff gets more and more notable and grows throughout the movie, which eventually leads to a 'wonderful' ending which I'm not going to spoil.

Yes, Jack Nicholson is truly splendid in his role and it seemed like he was improvising all his lines and actions during the entire movie. It was a really Oscar worthy performances, which he also received. Another Oscar winner for her performance was Louise Fletcher, which in my opinion is a bit too much credit. She plays her role well but nothing more than that. She did not deeply impressed me or anything. This movie also marks the debut for some today well known actors such as Danny DeVito (he looked so young and different!), Christopher Lloyd and Brad Dourif, who also received an Oscar nomination.

Really one of those movies that you must have seen at least once in your life.

9/10

http://bobafett1138.blogspot.com/
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10/10
One Flew Over One of the Best Movies Ever Made!!! (And that person was me)
MovieFan98319 March 1999
First thing's first, while I watched this movie, I found myself stunned. This movie so entertained the viewer, as it did fascinate, and inform. A chilling, disturbing, and revealing look into the mental institutions as seen through the eyes of a con. Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Brad Dourif, Danny DeVito, and Christopher Lloyd, round out the excellent, and very well casted cast.

Jack Nicholson brilliantly plays Randall Patrick McMurphy, an ex-con, who fakes being mentally insane, to enter the institution. As he goes to the hospital, he doesn't realize, that the people, and the atmosphere there is so out there. The patients are really psycho, and creepy. Randall, must try and survive these days, before he has to go to Jail. He has to entertain himself while at the same time, find good in this place of craziness.

Lousie Fletcher plays Nurse Ratched, a soft; but strong willed nurse, who will not take anything from anyone, or put up with misbehavior. She watches Randall, and notices something different about him, he's not as psycho as the others, but he is a little out there. Her job is tough indeed, having to put up with all these men, who don't listen, some go crazy and throw fits, and others just sit there and don't do anything.

Randall meets many new friends in this place, Brad Dourif who plays Billy Bibbit, is a mentally unstable, but voluntarily institutionalized person. Danny DeVito plays Martini, a slow but charming and sweet man, who means know harm in what he does or say. Christopher Lloyd plays Taber, a man, who also voluntarily institutionalized himself. He also meets Chief, a big 'dumb, and deaf' Indian, who happens to like to play basketball. Randall must try and survive these days with his new friends, and the hospital, as well as an everlasting war as to which they can watch the world series on TV. Put up with Nurse Ratched, and the other patients, doctors, vistors, and nurses. Ultimately leading up to a dramatic finale, that makes you want to stand up and cheer.

I think what was best about this film was the realism. I had no problem believing that this was happening. Almost like a documentary, it was striking and powerful, making the viewer not want to stop watching till the end. Some of the sequences are memorable as the basketball game, and the fishing trip. Jack Nicholson, who as always plays his character absolutely excellent, and makes the viewer want to hand him an Oscar himself.

The supporting cast, Louise Fletcher, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, and Brad Dourif also give terrific performances. Danny, Christopher, and Brad's careers all were made with this superb movie. It's all sentimental, funny, dramatic, intense, chilling, disturbing, diverting, and tragic. The finale leaves the viewer stunned and sitting there thinking about what he just saw. See this film, and believe it. I think you will find, its one of the BEST ever.

The second film to win all five major Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor (Nicholson), Best Actress (Fletcher), Director, and Screenplay. And it deserved all of them.

Rated R for language, violence, sexual content, and brief nudity.
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7/10
A good movie, but a little flawed
matthewr607 July 2000
This movie is directed by one of my favorite directors, Milos Forman. When I saw it, I expected it to be a great film. Indeed, throughout most of the film, there was a strong theme being presented, and the film was well-made. At the end however, I expected there to be a great conclusion or a big pay-off. But really, it kind of turned out to be an "Of Mice and Men" kind of story where two guys dream of going far away and living good lives. This did not really fit in with the movie. However, another part of the conclusion was good where the main idea of the movie was strongly portrayed. I won't say what it is because I don't want to give any thing away, but it involves someone other than the main character dying. So, I would say that the movie is good, but not great. It does not measure up to Milos Forman's other films like Amadeus, Man on the Moon, and Hair.
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6/10
Underwhelming...
mitch_e3326 June 2011
'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' (1975), based on the novel by Ken Kesey and directed by Milos Forman, centers around R.P McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) a prisoner serving time for the statutory rape of a 15 year old, among other things. In an attempt to escape from the work yards in the penitentiary, McMurphy fakes a mental illness, leading to him being admitted into a mental hospital. There, he befriends many of the other patients in the ward and attempts to break them out of the strict and monotonous routine set by Head Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher).

OK, first of all, it has to be said, I had quite high expectations for this movie. It came highly recommend by both my parents, is number 8 on IMDb's Top 250 list, and won the grand slam at the 1975 Oscars (Best Picture, Director, Actor and Actress). However, I was left extremely disappointed with this film.

While the first 20 minutes seem promising, showcasing Nicholsons immense talent, the film drags for the next hour, trying to convince you to love McMurphy and loathe Nurse Ratchet, unsuccessfully, I will add. Which brings me to my first and largest problem with this film. On the back of my DVD case it states that "…Nurse Ratchet is among the coldly monstrous villains in film history". Based upon that assessment, I expected numerous unnecessary, unethical punishments, and a complete lack of care for her patients. Well I did not receive that, no instead we got a firm, cold, woman that takes charge of her ward, filled with mentally unstable and perhaps dangerous people, with an iron fist, being nothing but a true reflection of the mental health system at the time. That being said, I am not in anyway completely condoning her behavior. She is far too cold to be an effective nurse and her use of manipulation would not be accepted in today's society. However to asses her as being the one of most wicked, evil, heartless is completely and utter over exaggeration and unfortunately paints the film in a 'State vs Rebel' way.

Which leads also to my other major problem with this film. McMurphy, is not likable. At least not to me. He is an arrogant, self-centered 'rebel', who has made the rather laughable decision to get himself committed to this mental hospital as he is tired of the prison work yard. But no, we are supposed to cheer him on in his attempts to rid the ward of rules and boundaries, in other words, 'fight the system'. Perhaps it was 'in' to rebel against the state in the 70's? To me this film reeked of this ideology, spoiling much of it.

There are certainly positives to 'One Flew Over…' and I can understand on one level why is rated so highly by many critics and audiences. It is well directed, the acting by the two leads, regardless of my objection of the use of their characters, is extremely well done but I do not believe it to be Nicholsons best work, as many praise it to be. There are genuine funny moments to be had and a certain scene revolving around cigarettes is the perfect example of acting at its best. The last 20 minutes is also very well executed and left me somewhat vindicated.

Overall however, the particular framing of the 2 leads left me simply annoyed with this film and as such, I was left underwhelmed.
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10/10
Get Mad If You Want To! This Is Very Realistic!
dataconflossmoor14 August 2007
This is undeniably one of the best films ever made in the history of movie making.. In 1975, "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" swept all four major academy awards... Best Actor (Jack Nicholson) Best Actress (Louise Fletcher) Best Direstor (Milos Foreman) and, of course, Best Picture!! Only on very rare occasion does this occur... Only a handful of films may lay claim to such an honor!! "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" is a stunning portrayal of mental illness, and how even the most affluent nation on earth (The U.S.A.) is totally unequipped to deal with it properly!! Jack Nicholson's performance in this movie is one of the greatest performances ever by an actor... The array of all the psychologically debilitating diseases was itemized to a flawless state of depressing realism.. The emotional explanations for the dysfunctional dispositions with everyone in "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" were so astutely broken down that it evoked a concise indication that not just any producers, directors, actors or actresses could partake in this film!! Such a depiction upholds the proverbial contention that if you are not mentally disturbed when you go into the "Booby Hatch" you will be when you get out of it!! In the case of Jack Nicholson's character, he seemed relatively non-culpable for any intense psychiatric affliction, it was a matter of slight discrepancies!! It is as if he was severely punished for not finishing his cereal at breakfast time!! The talent in this movie is incredible.. I liked the television show "Taxi" and it stands to reason why... So many of the actors who starred in "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" were in the T.V. Show "Taxi" too!! The gripping conversation which dealt with a man who was impotent was perhaps the single most poignant part of this film!! The line I remember in particular was "Do me a favor and don't be on my side, okay"... In the "normal" world, the average person is burdened in his ability to communicate with someone else due to a conflict of interests!! In the case of a poorly funded mental health facility, this apocalyptic predicament manifests itself horrendously, and thus has an intolerable proliferation!! Authorities in the mental hospital are restricted by a serious lack of funding, so they are quick to generalize!! The overall situation which garners societal sympathy at a mental health facility is categorized as "sad" and platitudes such as "we will do all we can" are everybody's precarious form of consolation!!! Mental illness gets a generic label, and, from there, becomes something which is basically swept under the rug!! Here is where the film "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" expounds on their abysmal dissertation concerning mental illness!!

"One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" was based on a true story!! Mr McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) was a lone rebel from start to finish with this film!! Whatever the orderlies or the nurses would say, he would disagree with!! It was always an issue that could not be looked at rationally by one patient or the other that compounded the dilemma of mental anguish... Such a plight became the culprit to a lack of thorough communication, and thus invoked an overreaction from the administration of the hospital!! You are branded mentally ill and that is all anyone has to know!! The total lack of egalitarian commiseration with administration was why McMurphy was so belligerent!! The status quo was to subject patients to grave consequences for their actions... Are the nurses and administrators wrong for doing this? Usually not!! It was the gray matter in this film that made it so intellectually riveting!! Mental health patients are often times aware of the fact that they are vilified in the same manner you would a bunch of seven year old kids for not doing their school work!! Their self respect gets relegated to a bureaucratic mandate, and all of this is subconsciously and consciously demoralizing!! If someone were to have a conversation with Charles Manson, they would realize so many depraved patterns of illogical behavior to him, however, if Charles Manson were to say that two plus two equals four, the correct answer does not get changed to five!! What is the point of this example? Mental health patients are not inaccurate in every assessment that they make, just because they are labeled mentally challenged!! What was Mr McMurphy's contention with so many issues is that he would assume a premise of mutual self respect when engaging in an argument with an orderly... This is not a case of defiance, rather an instance of a one on one debate... How quickly the administration would then resort to the cop out of "Well!!" "What do you expect!!" "This guy is mentally ill"

I have never seen a film like this one!! "Woman Under The Influence" which was made around the same time was incredibly spellbinding as well... "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" however, is something which should be put in a category all by itself!! Director, Milos Foreman articulates cerebral despondence to a state of dissonant plausibility with this film!! This becomes an avenue for political debate... Foreman's movie breaks ground on mental illness being one big cacophony of our nation's failure to communicate!! Louise Fletcher is tremendous as Nurse Ratched, her dedication to the tenets of disciplinary policy became vicariously ruthless, her devotion to this standard was extremely deep rooted!! Nurse Ratched's insolence was an aspect of infuriation that was in of itself amazingly thought provoking!! As I have previously mentioned, Jack Nicholson was excellent as McMurphy, the mental health patient who reoriented the ideology of what it means to deal with mental illness... Tremendous film, maybe the best American film ever made... Do you think that sounds strong? Watch the movie first and then tell me I am exaggerating!! REMARKABLE!! UTTERLY REMARKABLE!!
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10/10
Jack Nicholson's best yet!
Paul Smuts19 June 2014
I cannot overrate this movie. I watched it last night so I'm writing this review with it still fresh in mind. I had high expectations knowing all the rewards that rained down on it, but the film and Jack Nicholson's performance in particular still managed to surprise me.

R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is transferred to a mental institution for evaluation after given a short sentence on a prison farm for statutory rape charges. He tries to make the most of his suspected short stay in the hospital and challenges the head nurse (Louise Fletcher) at every chance he gets.

Anthony Hopkins has done a great intelligent psychopath, but no one does crazy better than Nicholson. I loved his performance in "The Shining" and am ashamed to say I have yet to see "As Good as it Gets" (one of three movies he won best actor Oscars for). He delivered an average performance in "The Departed" and isn't getting any younger, but I do hope he gives us at least one more role that comes close to the show he put on in Cuckoo's Nest. Watching his interaction with the other patients made me believe on some occasions I was seeing a comedy, but the movie quickly reminds us it can be just as depressing as it is funny.

It's hard to find fault with "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". Louise Fletcher did a great job as the leading actress and strong performances by all the supporting characters made the movie brilliant. Good screenplay, good directing and the music by Jack Nitzsche played nicely with the film.

I've seen some hate about the ending, but in my opinion it couldn't have been better. McMurthy could have jump out of the window when he had the chance and I think most of us were rooting for him to do so, but what he does next shows the strong bond formed with his odd friends inside the hospital.

The movie left me emotionally blank for a while and then I just felt sad. I'm not going to drop any major spoilers on this site as I know some of you still haven't seen it, but it's one of the few movies that have truly left me staring at the end credits in awe.

Conclusion:

It ranks as one of the best in my book alongside "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Pulp Fiction". See this movie with the highest expectations and chances are it will surpass them!

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10/10
One of the greatest movies and life lessons of all time
sac_94 September 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Not many movies have won the "big five" in the academy awards. It's enough to win just best picture for a lot of movies. This movie portrays every film element to the highest degree, from the beautiful panoramic shots of the mountains outside of the mental institution to the story of ultimate redemption McMurphy and Chief find at the end.

The movie is seen through the eyes of Randle McMurphy (Nicholson). He is sent to the mental institution because he would rather be considered "insane" and live in "luxury" other than being a jailbird in prison. Once he gets into the actual living area where the insane are, he looks up at this tall, native looking man they call "Chief". McMurphy's initial reaction to Chief was his little Indian dance he did to mock him, but once Chief didn't react McMurphy asked him if he played football and says to chief, "God damn, boy, you're as big as a mountain." Little by little, you could see their friendship start to unfold out throughout the movie.

In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the title "villain" would definitely belong to Nurse Ratched. She gave threats to the patients, she was even friends with one of the patient's (Billy) mom. She also tries to toy with McMurphy's mind by trying to get him to conform with the customs of mental facility. It doesn't work out for her as planned. Including a classic scene where Nurse Ratched's threats cause little Billy to commit suicide. In rage, McMurphy has seen enough and actually chokes her out. This causes McMurphy to go through a lobotomy and become a vegetable at his stay at the clinic.

I know many people probably disagree with this but, I think Chief killing McMurphy at the end was beautiful as much as it was heartbreaking. It symbolized that McMurphy, still had a chance to redeem himself and become a hero, even if it were death. It also gave Chief clearance to finally "escape" the premises and "fly from the cuckoo's nest", and how he did it at the end was classic. That's what makes this movie one of the greatest of all time, not only because of the sensational acting and the sociological significance, but because of the message and symbolism of the story.

The directing by Milos Foreman was phenomenal, not only with the memorable acting by Jack Nicholson, but with the camera shots he used in certain scenes. For example, the scene before McMurphy was about to get electro-shock therapy they show a very close up angle of him to show the intensity and crowdedness he had to go through while getting the shock treatment. Nicholson also makes it pretty believable that he is actually getting shocked, by making "gurgling" noises and such.

They actually go back to the "lying down" closed angle shot at the end of the movie when Nicholson passes away. I thought it was very brave of the director to keep that long shot of McMurphy's dead self, because by making it last as though it were a still shot, to me it seemed more and more believable that McMurphy was actually dead. I don't know how Nicholson just lied there stiff as a board. I know he may have won his Oscar because of his heroic and charismatic character, but how he dealt with himself in those two scenes is what tickles my fancy.

The ideology of this film is, in my opinion, what makes it one of the greatest of all time. The story brings up the question of who's actually the insane; McMurphy and his patients, or Nurse Ratched and the staff? Clinically, McMurphy was not insane. Even the doctors and professors stated that, but since he didn't follow the norms and the dictatorship of Nurse Ratched, he had to stay at the sanitarium longer. I also loved the allusion of Chief, by acting deaf and dumb. He played the omniscient or "god-like" role of hearing and seeing everything, yet not saying anything himself. It almost seems as he was the narrating the story until he befriended McMurphy.

I don't know if I could think of a more evil villain in a movie other than Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). The evil looks she gave to her patients when they were doing something wrong was as cold-hearted as one could get. Also her audacity to tell Billy's mother about his sexual deviance is as sinister as you can get. She knew that it would hurt Billy deeply, which was a major reason he was "insane" is because of his relationship with his mother. He eventually killed himself, angering McMurphy.

I never thought I would cheer out loud when a grown man was choking out a little woman, but I did here. This scene did a fantastic job of not making it taboo, but making you want her dead even more. This did change Nurse Ratched however, it made her a little nicer to the patients at the end and made her realize that if she abuses her power as a nurse, it can come back to haunt her.

The meaning of this story is wonderful and helped Jack Nicholson set the bar for acting. The symbolism of Chief's and McMurphy's redemption serves as a corner stone for many many movies today. Whether it be the costumes of the patients, the crazy acting, or even the beautiful classic shot at the end of the movie where Chief runs out to freedom; This movie will never be forgotten. And it serves as a good lesson for everyone out there who feels left out can all come together and get freedom. I advise anybody who says they love movies to watch this film, because it will not only change your views, it will change your life and you can't say that about a lot of movies.
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9/10
You have to be crazy to hate this movie! This movie is a masterpiece
ironhorse_iv8 March 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Put a straightjacket on me, because I think this movie is insanely good! Based off, Ken Kesey's novel of the same name and directed by Milos Forman, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest tells the story of Randle P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a convicted criminal admitted to a mental ward, when he pleads insanity, to escape labor duties in prison. Once there, the rebel, wild-man, McMurphy bump heads against the authority figure, and head administrative nurse, the oppressive Nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher) on the way, she treats her patients. McMurphy believes that they should be treated like real men with more personal freedom, while Ratched couther his argument by stating that any more freedom, would lead to chaos, anarchy, and death. In my opinion, while she play as the villain, she's in fact, she was somewhat, right and correct by her judgment, but the way, she enforced order on the mentally disable in highly crude and inhuman. In fact, by egging McMurphy on, she made things much, much worst. One might view this movie as anti-institution, anti-religion or anti-government. One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest was written in 1959 and published in 1962 in the midst of the civil unrest. It deeply changes to the way psychology and psychiatry were being approached in America, while also challenging, how government should treat its people. By the end of the 1960s, the controversial movement towards deinstitutionalization has become, a real deal, while trust in government officials were in an all-time low. When 1975 came, most of the mentally ill found themselves, untreated and living in the streets and government being highly criticism for corruption and overused of power. The 1970's were bit anarchism at the time. It wasn't until later, that things became more balance and confinement. In a way, social institutions do serve a purpose; and the movie serves as allegory tale, showing how things like order vs chaos can become really off-balance. The movie really goes into deep detail on how different authorities, McMurphy and Ratched control individuals through subtle and coercive methods. A supporting character like the Chief (Will Sampson) talks about 'the Combine' in reference to the mechanistic way, both manipulate and process individuals. Nurse Ratched controls the inhabitants of the novel's mental ward through a combination of emasculation and subtle shame. While, McMurphy controls his fellow men by encouraging them to be wild men and challenge conformism. It was no surprise that both Louise Fletcher and Jack Nicolson won Best Actor/Actress at the Academy Awards that year, as both delivered such a gripping, gritty, and genuine performances. The movie has just as good, supporting cast with several unknown actors of the time, stars like Christopher Lloyd, Danny Devito, and Brad Dourif helping in. I like how the movie was shot. Forman's direction is dead-on, as he manages to capture the monotony of routine on the ward without allowing the film to drag. You get how eerily quiet it is. Order is impose on the patients with almost religious cult-like rigor. When the medicine is delivered. It's like communion. It's so zombie-like. The animal running along a man-made chain fence- representing wild vs civilize. The movie is full of hidden gem themes like those examples. Yet the movie was missing a few things from the novel such as the Fog which symbolize a lack of insight and an escape from reality and McMurphy's Moby Dick Boxer Shorts, which interpretation as a phallic symbol and blatant sexuality. It can also represents the pervasive evil that inspires Ahab's obsessive, futile pursuit. Both Ratched and McMurphy is trying to humiliation the other, by exposing the faults of each other's gender. A third interpretation is that Moby-Dick stands for the power of nature, signifying McMurphy's untamed nature that conflicts with the controlled institution. Although it's hard to find fault, it's certainly possible. Overpowering women are seem to evil by the writers and weak women are shown to act like sex object. It's somewhat noticeable that the movie is a bit misogyny. Another thing, is the movie's love letter message to society anarchy and black and white approach when it comes to, the hospital vs the patients. Another fault of the film is how the Chief was cut down as the narrator and put into a much smaller role. Much of his life prior to the hospital was not shown. You see a lot of Native-American themes throughout the film, despite that. The music by Jack Nitzsche, sounds something out of a western. It's represented the struggles of true freedom over confinement. Despite its dark and strong drama undertones, there were some comedic tendencies. It was a lot of fun to watch, as the drama slowly evolves into tragedy toward its conclusion. It's wasn't slow and painful. It was a very entertaining, well rounded film. The movie has aged well, with newer DVD copies, putting out the best quality for it. Overall: The film is powerful, and moving. It's a must-watch. I recommended it.
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10/10
The Ultimate Backfire
bkoganbing15 January 2009
It took a dozen years for One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest to make it to the big screen from Broadway. In 1962 Kirk Douglas made his one and only return to Broadway to star as Randall P. McMurphy on stage with Joan Tetzel as his nemesis, nurse Ratched. Douglas bought the screen rights, but by the time anyone was interested in doing the film version, Kirk was too old for the part.

That may have been a break for the movie fans because as much as I like Kirk Douglas, I can't see anyone but Jack Nicholson doing this role as the free spirited McMurphy. McMurphy's a low level career criminal type who statutorily raped a girl as he put it '15 going on 35'. He decides to fake a crazy act while in prison to get out of the work farm he's assigned to.

So Nicholson's goes to the mental hospital where he meets an odd assortment of people whom he discovers voluntarily checked themselves in there, mainly because it's easier to stay there and not take all your psychological baggage into society. That's a crucial difference that Nicholson finds out the hard way, his new friends most of them can pack up and leave anytime they want. He's sent there by the state and the state determines when he's ready to go even if it's past the allotted jail time he was sentenced to.

The state in this case is Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched, one of the great Dickensian names ever given a movie character. Louise is the ultimate control freak and these people who've shut themselves away from life are her ultimate tools. When Nicholson comes in, he hasn't given up on life like the rest of these poor souls, he becomes a threat to Fletcher's little empire.

It's hard to believe that such a smart guy like McMurphy would not have known the rules about commitment. Still it doesn't detract a bit from the overall quality of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.

Though the topic is not a fixed one to any era, the script does leave many oblique references to the Sixties in the film. The electroshock treatment and the lobotomy operations depicted here were by 1975 no longer in use. They were pretty barbaric and the mental health profession discarded these, but not before too many lives were shattered with them.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest swept the main Oscar categories, it won for Best Picture, Best Director for Milos Forman, Best Actor for Jack Nicholson, Best Actress for Louise Fletcher and Best Adapted Screenplay to Lawrence Hauban and Bo Goldman. Brad Dourif was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but he lost to George Burns in The Sunshine Boys.

Louise Fletcher never got the career mileage she should have for playing Nurse Ratched. It took her years, but she did get another career role in television as the ruler of Bejor, Kai Winn on Star Trek Deep Space Nine.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is one timeless classic, it will be popular a millenia from now.
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6/10
Fantastic acting but on the whole a disappointment
1320LL26 January 2001
Having watch this film once, I felt I must have quite drastically missed a major point to the film. Being in the IMDb top 250, I felt I owed the film further viewing, but this was only to disappoint me again! Don't get me wrong - I can appreciate the perhaps cutting edge setting of the film, & the raw emotional issues it tackles (in a particularly quirky way!), but I felt the screenplay overall was somewhat lacking. On the plus side, Nicholson & Fletcher fully deserved their Best Actor & Best Actress academy awards, with superb support from fellow inmates (noting especially Lloyd & Dourif, in what I believe was Dourif's first film?). Please feel free to e-mail me & discuss, especially if you disagree with any comments, but One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest; a disappointing 6.
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9/10
The spirit of freedom vs. the spirit of legal-ism
Wuchak21 October 2012
"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975) is a film you'll appreciate more as you mature. I saw it a few times when I was younger and, while I thought it was good, I didn't 'get' a lot of the insights the film conveys. Viewing it again recently, I 'got' it.

Set in the early 60s, the story involves R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) and his arrival at a mental institution in Salem, Oregon (where the film was shot). He plays the "mental illness" card to get out of prison time, thinking it'll be a piece of cake, but he's wrong, very wrong. Everything appears well at the hospital and Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) seems to be a benevolent overseer of McMurphy's ward, but there are sinister things going on beneath the surface.

The movie criticizes the way institutions deal with mental illnesses. Their "therapy" is futile and only makes the patients dependent on the institution itself, thereby creating its need for existence (at the taxpayer's expense). McMurphy is a threat to the establishment and therefore must be "dealt with."

A lot of people criticize the film by suggesting that Nurse Ratched "isn't that bad" or that "she was only trying to do her job", etc. I had the same reaction the first couple of times I saw it. This reveals an aspect of the film's brilliance: Ratched's malevolence is so subtle that the filmmakers allow the possibility for complete misinterpretation. Yes, from an administrative point of view, she seemingly does a good job, she's authoritarian without being sadistic, and she cares for the residents as long as they follow the rules (more on this below). Yet she is absolutely demonic as a robotized arm of a dehumanizing system. She maintains the residents in a state of oblivion and marginalization; they are deprived of their dignity because the system sees them as subhuman.

The filmmakers and Fletcher make Nurse Ratched a more effective antagonist by showing restraint. Compare this to, say, Faye Dunaway's portrayal of Joan Crawford in "Mommie Dearest," which pretty much turned her into a cartoon villain. Ratched isn't such an obvious sadist, yet she uses the rules to tyrannize the men and reduce them to an almost infantile state of dependency and subservience. Her crowning achievement is Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif).

McMurphy, despite his obvious flaws, is the protagonist of the story. Although he's impulsive and has a weakness for the female gender, which got him into prison in the first place, he has a spirit of freedom and life. His problem is that he needs to learn a bit of wisdom; then he can walk in his freedom without causing unnecessary harm to himself and others.

Nurse Ratched, on the other hand, represents legal-ism, which is an authoritarian spirit obsessed with laws or rules. This is clearly seen in the World Series sequence: Even though McMurphy gets the final vote he needs for his ward to watch the Series Ratched refuses to allow it on a technicality. When McMurphy then PRETENDS to watch the game and works the guys up into a state of euphoria, Ratched reacts with sourpuss disapproval. That's because legalism is the opposite of the spirit of freedom, life and joy. Legalism is all about putting on appearances and enforcing the LETTER of the law (or rule). The problem with this is that "appearances" are not about reality and, worse, "the letter kills."

Despite his folly and mistakes, McMurphy does more good for the guys in his ward than Ratched and the institution could do in a decade. How so? Not only because he has a spirit of freedom and life, but because he loves deeply, but only those who deserve it – the humble – not arrogant abusers. When you cast restraint to the wind and love with all your heart you'll reap love in return, as long as the person is worthy. A certain person hugs McMurphy at the end because he loves him. McMurphy set him free from the shackles of mental illness and, worse, the institution that refuses to actually heal because it needs mentally ill people to exist; it only goes through the motions of caring and healing (not that there aren't any good people in such institutions, of course).

No review of this film is complete without mentioning the notable character of Chief, played effectively by Will Sampson.

The film runs 2 hour and 13 minutes.

GRADE: A
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Storytelling that Imprisons
tedg30 December 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

This film is hypnotic. The actors lead with skill, Nicholson is just right, the story is very accessible and the combination hits home. Why should I be unhappy?

Because I know the book. Now, I have no illusion about books and translation into film. But it bothers me when I think about why I am drawn into this film, and the book helps me understand why.

Kesey's work was from the perspective of the damaged mind of the Indian. It was Nabokovian in dealing with created realities, realities that did not exist but were confabulated as an artifact of us entering some diseased eye. The whole point was there is no anchor of right and wrong.

Forman is a talented storyteller, but before he is an artist, he is a Czech. And Czechs (at least in those days) live in only one world: a world where some forces in society unjustly imprison the rest in ways that imprison all. It is a real world, a dark broken world illuminated only by brief flashes of tenacious individualism. Self-immolation. Svankmajer stuff -- check him out.

The problem with this vision of 1975 is that it uses the very same techniques it rails against: there really is a good -- it says -- there really is an institutional bad in Forman's world. Cartoonish films are as common as grass, but this one rankles. The institution of Hollywood selfishly changed the ambiguous, morally shifting world of Kesey into a simple morality play knowing that we would be hypnotized with its very clarity. Shame I say -- where's the sink?

You want fine Nicholson? You'll find him in the ambiguous, multilayered Chinatown.

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 4: Has some interesting elements.
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9/10
Oh Nicholson
brogan-stanford7 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Jack Nicholson's mere presence in this picture was enough to bring this production to the screen, after the novel written by Ken Kesey was dubbed as 'unfilmable'; once Nicholson had his name on the contract, Hollywood took over. Nicholson's performance granted him an Oscar with acknowledgements that he was born to play the role of a misfit gone crazy when admitted into an insane asylum. The picture was moving yet simple and funny and was labelled as a dramatic masterpiece as it highlighted society's distorted outlook on the 'mentally unstable' and eventually won the 'top five' Oscars and was the second film in history to do so. This could never have been achieved if Nicholson's reputation had not got the ball rolling on this project in the first place. This picture was rightly the definition of the character that Nicholson should play and made him the top choice to play Jack Torrance in The Shining and the Joker in the 1989 interpretation of Batman.
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7/10
Not as good as the book
floydfan459 February 2007
I am an avid reader, and adhere to the belief that books paint a much more beautiful portrait than a movie ever can. And so when I finished reading One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, I rented the movie, because I heard that it is one of the greatest films ever made. The characters are well cast and Nicholson's performance is haunting, but I was too distracted by all the deviations from Ken Kesey's novel to enjoy it fully. I recommend this film, but would strongly suggest that anyone touched by it should read the book afterward. In this way a deep meaning can be imbibed from the film, and by reading the book, the meaning will be reaffirmed and solidified on a more grandiose scale.
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6/10
Heavy Handed
ianwestray27 March 2000
I found this film to be quite heavy-handed. Even Jack Nicholson's edgy free spirit routine didn't convince me much.

The portrayal of Nurse Ratched in particular is extremely disappointing; giving the character some depth, any glimmering of conscience or conflicted motive, might have redeemed the film. As it is she's little better than an extremely well-performed Disney villain, malevolent and rigid to the end. I can check out The Little Mermaid if I want that.

If you want to feel oppressed by inherently corrupt authority figures, here's your movie. If you expected something that presents you with a moral dilemma, you'll come away disappointed. In particular, anyone who's read the book will have the sensation that it's been stomped flat in the process of being adapted for the screen.
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8/10
Amazing and Unforgettable
thewillt0828 November 2012
Would you go to a mental hospital to avoid a prison sentence? One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a story of patients in a mental hospital and how their life was changed by R.P. McMurphy. McMurphy, played by Jack Nicholson, arrived in the ward to avoid going to prison or working on a work farm and he made an impact. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a memorable story that goes down in history as one of the best. Let's start with the characters. Nicholson plays R.P. McMurphy, a criminal who has history of violence and aggression. He was sent to the asylum after acting erratic on the work farms. He isn't really mentally insane, but he fakes it to avoid going to prison. He thinks he can serve his sentence in the asylum and life will be easy. In the asylum we have Billy Bibbit, a nervous stuttering man with depression and anxiety. Cheswick is a nervous man who also struggles with anxiety. The actor who portrays him did a great job in playing the part. Danny Devito, yes little Danny Devito before he really went nuts, plays Martini, a lovable character. Then there's the Chief. Chief is a 6'5" mute who everyone thinks is dumb as a rock. He turns out to be one of the most important and influential characters. McMurphy originally goes into the ward to avoid prison but he eventually helps the patients in there. He thinks some of them could survive in the real world and he ends up giving the other patients confidence and a type of therapy. Billy eventually stops stuttering for a little bit. Harding has more self control and Cheswick learns to stick up for what he believes in. An example of McMurphy's "therapy" is the fishing trip. McMurphy climbs over the fence and steals a bus with the patients from his ward. He takes them to a fishing boat and takes them fishing. McMurphy had his own agenda but he also helps the patients. He gives them an experience a normal man would have and they have fun. One of the best aspects of this movie is the accuracy to the time period. Men with mental illnesses were put in asylums like the one we see in the film. They experienced the different types of therapy. They took drugs such as anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and anti- depressants. Any means to help them relax and make them acceptable for society. They experienced group therapy, which we see often throughout, and something I've never seen before in hydrotherapy. Unfortunately, during this time period there were a lot of problems. If people were overly aggressive or considered dangerous they would undergo electroshock therapy. Basically, doctors tie you down and put conducting gel on your temples and a rubber mouth guard in your mouth so you don't bite your tongue. Then they literally send a shock through your temples into your brain. The idea was to reset the brain and make you more relaxed and in control. The audience witness's electroshock therapy in the film and it is a little disturbing to watch. You can see the suffering on their faces. Finally there is the lobotomy, where doctors drill into the skull or go through the nose to scrape out a piece of your brain. This turns a man into a vegetable who can barely survive on their own. It is illegal today but back then it was common. Character relationships are important for a successful movie and not many compare to the relationship McMurphy had with the vile Nurse Ratched. Nurse Ratched was the head nurse in the ward. She controlled the groups and she was in charge. Her character is difficult because I couldn't ever really tell what her intentions were. Sometimes she tried hard to help the patients and other times she acted like she wanted to make them worse. A prime example is the one therapy group when Cheswick wants his cigarettes and Nurse Ratched just ignores him. Cheswick grows a backbone and stands up for himself and Ratched tries to put him back in his place and treat him like a dog. That scene really changes the movie and the major events of the movie unfold from there. McMurphy and Ratched would clash all the time. McMurphy would get under her skin and she under his. It made the movie really entertaining and a little comedic at times. Now no movie is perfect and I did have a few problems with it. Mainly it was the ending. It was a fine ending but I feel like it was a little too drastic. I don't want to give it away but it was one of those moments where you smack your forehead and go, "you idiot." When you see the movie you will know what I mean. Also what happens to one of the patients is completely unnecessary. I understand he was upset but he didn't have to do what he did. It was a little ridiculous and I can't see it really happening. Overall, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a great movie with excellent characters, a well written script, an interesting, and entertaining storyline. It deserves all the credit it got and will go down as a career making movie for Jack Nicholson. He did a fantastic job and deserved the Oscar he won. This is not what I would call a "background movie." Meaning, it is not something you can watch casually. You need to sit down and watch it and pay full attention. That's my advice and without a shadow of a doubt, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest gets the WillyT Seal of Approval and is something I can watch again and again and enjoy every time.
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10/10
Flawless as an example of cinematic craft; unparalleled as an examination of corruption and how the mind works.
Science_Fantasy_Guy24 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Released in 1975, Milos Forman's staggering film of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (adapted from Ken Kesey's equally brilliant semi-autobiographical 1962 novel) remains arguably the most relevant, accurate and powerful cinematic analysis of mental illness and corruption of power ever. It became just the second film ever to win the five major Academy Awards and was shown in Swedish cinemas for 12 years, which remains a national record in Sweden. Yet at the time the critical reception of the movie was still rather uneven (though deservedly that's improved over time), and Kesey vehemently refused to watch it as the story wasn't told from the point of view of Chief Bromden like it is in the novel.

But what a film it is. After fighting for more than a decade to get the film made, producers Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas (largely influenced by his father Kirk, who first acquired the film rights) had developed a strong affection for the story and once they had the financing they hired Czech director Milos Forman, the only director they encountered who shared their affection for Kesey's story. It isn't hard to see why, and as Forman spent the majority of his formative years and the early part of his career living under a totalitarian regime in Czechoslovakia after losing his parents in Auschwitz and Buchenwald as a child, Forman proved to be the perfect director to bring to the screen this story of silenced and very often misunderstood people existing in such circumstances who are slowly inspired to take a stand. Forman's direction is a thing of sheer mastery: tender yet honest in the sequences involving McMurphy's (Jack Nicholson) relationship with his fellow patients, raw in the sequences revolving around Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), a usually calm but unknowingly corrupt and dictatorial woman who thinks she's doing what's in her patients' best interests and how she runs the ward and treats her patients, unflinching but sympathetic in its depiction of the ravages mental illnesses inflict on those who suffer from them, and all those qualities in the emotionally draining yet tremendously inspiring climax. Forman simply outdid himself here.

But of course, every director is only as good (or bad) as the cast and crew they have to work with, and Forman's is flawless. Starting with the cast, he garners three of the most perfect displays of acting in cinematic history. McMurphy was the role Nicholson was born to play, and while he's a force of nature in the scenes involving McMurphy squaring off with Nurse Ratched, his more subtle scenes where he depicts the changes in him caused by the institution and his fellow patients in whom he provoked a change first are the ones that truly assure him a place among the true all-time legends (and the fact that he and Forman had a fiery relationship just makes his turn even more unbelievable). He's never been better before or since, and as brilliant as Al Pacino is in Dog Day Afternoon I'm firmly in Team McMurphy. Fletcher is every bit as good as the sadistic Nurse Ratched who tries to clip the free-spirited McMurphy's wings – it's an incredibly controlled performance, because while a lesser actress would have played her like an overbearing battleaxe, Fletcher is chilling because of her sincerity. Yet even despite how truly frightening Fletcher is she also manages to make the viewer feel a small amount of sympathy for Nurse Ratched by simultaneously playing her as a woman who's really just trying to do her job even though she's oblivious to the negative impact she's had on those in her care. Also, Brad Dourif pulls off one of the most astounding supporting turns in movie history as Billy Bibbitt, a stuttering (and thus exploited) teenager who proves to be the catalyst for Nurse Ratched's downfall at the hands of McMurphy, and William Redfield (who sadly died shortly after the movie was released) and Sydney Lassick are also superb as the schizophrenic Harding and bipolar Cheswick.

Bo Goldman and Laurence Hauben's screenplay is one of the few that, I think it can be said, against which most others are measured. With great eloquence, insight, power and intelligence (and no cheese or sentimentality) they collectively crafted a screenplay that never waters down the ugly things that are mental illnesses, gives the viewer/reader a greater understanding of the effects (both negative and also positive) they have on those who suffer from them and also what causes corruption, it celebrates the rebels of the world who fight the establishment for the greater good as well as themselves, and perhaps most importantly it shows the mentally ill not as not as complete caricatures (because often such depictions of the mentally ill are, it must be said, accurate ones), but as people who can achieve anything (even if they need a little guidance).

Two other enormous bright spots are Jack Nitzsche's amazing score which is somehow mesmerizing in its musical simplicity (and it surely would've scooped the movie's sixth Oscar had Jaws come out in any other year) and Haskell Wexler's beautifully evocative cinematography.

Countless similar films before and since have explored rebellion against corrupt authority figures and the inner workings of the human mind what makes us all tick, but One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest will forever be the cinematic depiction of life in a "loony bin" (as McMurphy puts it) to end them all. After more than thirty years it remains an absolutely flawless, definitive, knockout masterpiece, and one of the five most deserving Best Picture Oscar winners of all. And is that the greatest climax of a Best Picture winner ever or is that the greatest climax of a Best Picture winner ever?
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