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Critic: movieman1214 Movie: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) Rating: A+ Rank: #1
`One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' is the only movie that I can be spellbound and in awe after watching it for the tenth time. It is included on more than fifty Top 100 lists just on this site alone, and it graces my number one slot as well. Not to mention, it currently fills the number 8 spot on this site's top 200 best films, and the number 12 spot on IMDB.
Originally written by the stereotypical hippy, Ken Kesey, `One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' has been interpreted as a symbol for the way a sixties hippy would have seen America, as a giant metaphor for an American society that crushed and did not accept the highly liberal lifestyle of the times hippy. After this explanation, all of the characters seem to have a different meaning, Nurse Ratchet would symbolize a crushing American society, all the patients would be hippies who are now considered crazy and are put into their place by traditional society, and Randle would be the rebel that does not want to give in. `One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' also has a literal interpretation that is, at times, more widely accepted: it could have been some sort of an autobiography of the when the author worked as an orderly in the psychiatric ward of a VA hospital. This interpretation seems to make more sense, but I would not doubt if the first is just as correct given the author's background.
`One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' became an instant success among both critics and the public. Narrated by the Chief, the book proves to have noticeable differences from the movie; but this not a new thing for adaptations. The title proves to be misleading for the film. At first we naturally assume that the `One' from `One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' is meant to be the films protagonist, Randle. Although, after that final scene when the Chief dramatically pulled the bathroom water basin out of the ground and threw it through the window, achieving to do what Randle could not, we suddenly realize that the `One' from `One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' is not Randle but instead the Chief.
The book's rights were eventually bought by one of the fans of the book, Michael Douglas. When he bought the rights to the book he had the play version in mind. Just about everyone knows that there was a play before there was the movie, but what some people don't know is that the first stage version featured the then nobody actor, Gene Wilder, as Billy Boy Bibbit. The play only ran for five to six months then shut down because of lack of interest from the actors.
It is not hard to see that `One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' the play, and `One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' the movie hold some very close ties. After all almost the entire film takes place in or around the mental institution, with the exception of that one scene where Randle takes everyone fishing. Not to mention that another tie that the movie shares with the play is the same producer, Michael Douglas.
One of my favorite aspects to this film is simply that is does not have a real antagonist. Some will put up the argument that Nurse Ratchet was the films antagonist but this is not entirely true. Nurse Ratchet is the opposing force, yes, but she does not mean to be. She is simply doing her job as she thinks best; she is not out to get Randle or any other patients on the ward, she is not purposely being the opposite force. Although she was technically the antagonist she was not meaning to be, I don't believe that it is right to give her the title of antagonist. Most people will come to the conclusion that she is the film's antagonist, given the scene where she refuses to talk about the cigarette ration with one of the patients until he sits down. She comes across as a menacing snob that could care less about the people on the ward; although Louise Fletcher plays the part of Nurse Ratchet in such a way that it comes off as if she was just doing what she thought was best for the patients.
What makes this film great is the fact that every patient on the ward, although crazy, did not give in to stereotypical `crazy' roles. They were all playing a person with a different mental disorder. Most of the credit for this can be given to the director, Milos Forman, for making the actors pair up with someone with the same disorder the character was supposed to have. The characters were by far the strongest aspect of this film.
The movie was filmed inside a real Mental Institution, the actors were forced to stay in character until they left the set to go home, and because so much of the film was shot inside this made a sort of ambience of isolation that put the film on a higher level. The casting of the various patients on the ward proved to be harder than it seemed. The director wanted to cast unknown people for the parts in order to get the feeling of newness when you watch the film. He went about his auditions by putting them all in the therapy format and he would play Nurse Ratchet. He would then expect the actors to improve the scenes based on the questions he was asking.
Jack Nicholson won his first of three Academy Awards for his role of Randle McMurphy, but he was not the first person the director or the producers thought of when they were casting `One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'. Amazingly, he was last on all of their lists. Before him were such people like Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, and Burt Renolds. It was because of Jack's earlier films that they did not think the part was right for him, only when they saw him in `Five Easy Pieces' that they finally realized the man's acting ability. When they tried to cast him he was working on another film at the time, and it was either wait for him, or make it with out him. They chose to wait.
When it was time to cast Nurse Ratchet, Louise Fletcher was, like Jack Nicholson, at the bottom of the list. The difference between her and Nicholson was that she was not playing the part like the producers and the director wanted it. It was not until Milos Forman realized that making Nurse Ratchet unknowingly evil would make the film more powerful, so he cast Louise Fletcher. As for casting the Chief this was the biggest of their problems. It had not occurred to them that there were very few large Indians. So they had a hard time finding someone, until a car salesman, and a friend of Michael Douglas', found this big Indian. He came into his car
lot wanting to buy a car but instead was given a role in a movie.
Milos Forman was the main reason why this film is such a classic. He was one of the few foreign directors that made it big in the United States. He directed two Academy Award winning films, the first being `One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' and the second being `Amadeus'. Milos Forman originally got the job of director for being a director both Saul Zaenty and Michael Douglas respected, and for being cheap. The film was on such a low budget that they could not afford a big name director. His directing style was not a normal one. He made sure all of the actors stayed in character by filming without even saying action. He shot the entire film, with the exception of the fishing scene, in sequence. He paired the actors playing the patients on the ward up with real patients that had the same disorder their character had.
`One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' won a total of five Academy Awards and became the second out of a total of three films in Oscar history to sweep the `Big Five': Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best (adapted) Screenplay. The only other two films that accomplished this were `It Happened One Night' and `Silence of the Lambs'. In addition to its five Oscars it also won five Golden Globes, various English Academy Awards, and Jack Nicholson personally won five different awards for his role as Randle McMurphy.