One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Review

Posted: April 15, 2013

A classic look inside the mind of a mental patient

Rebellion is often depicted through this archetypal lens: a cabal of young, yet strong-hearted soldiers riot against the tyranny of destructive overlords and their army of lethally loyal troops. Whether it’s the empire’s subtle command in Star Wars or Pirates of the Caribbean’s portrayal of a type of people striving to survive in a dying world against the throne, acting against the higher power and overruling is one of cinema’s favorite way of giving the audience an obvious side to root for. It would be near disastrous to present a film that had an indistinguishable good and evil.

Maybe that’s what makes Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest a psychedelic stronghold of cinema. Based on the 1962 novel by Ken Kesey, the film combines a series of mutinous intentions with unknown motivations and the question of whether there’s clean-cut good and evil present in the story.

Set in the mid-’60s, the story starts with a new patient being admitted to a mental ward. He goes by the name of McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), and his eventual path to becoming a symbol of confidence and leadership among the other men causes the ward to grow from blandly peaceful to triumphantly disorderly.

But both the doctors and staff in the hospital consider McMurphy’s high dosage of optimism a hazard, specifically the head nurse, Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). The rivalry between the two becomes a gambling challenge of wits, and McMurphy begins to question her role as the boss in the ward and begins to defy her through his uprising of the others living in the ward.

Although the emphasis of the original novel is focused mostly on McMurphy, what Forman (as director) did with the character of Nurse Ratched is what makes the movie a separate interpretation of the novel rather than simply an adaptation.

Originally, Kesey’s book represents Ratched as an iron-fisted, stern dictator who got her way consistently and stubbornly. And while the movie still draws concern over the dictatorship of the character, there’s a higher level of sympathy and moral in her portrayal by Louise Fletcher, who won the Academy Award for best actress, which was well deserved as it’s a difficult character to both understand and stimulate strong emotion from.

McMurphy’s shift from the book to the film is not as drastic as Ratched’s. Questionable and high-strung, his situation in the ward is prominent in the overall plot. The viewer must decide whether his insanity is real or feigned, and if that’s what makes him more of an anti-hero than a true protagonist. His motivation is skeptical and his quirks cause him to be both likeable and unreadable. Nicholson, along with Fletcher, won an Academy Award for his performance as the rowdy, gambling McMurphy.

When novels are converted into film, there are two distinct sides quarreling on how a director handled the process. Either they must be heavily faithful to the original material or they must branch out and use their creativity to make their own work. A mutual agreement between the two is the desired outcome, and that’s what Forman was able to do with Cuckoo’s Nest.

The analyzing process can be tedious, equivalent to a struggling high school senior working to finish a term paper. But unlike the student, Forman’s interpretation isn’t riddled with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and senior slide syndrome. Instead it’s a profound work of art that illustrates the various points of view that are present in the story.

Still considered a triumph in cinema, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest illustrates a new way to bring the world of novels into the universe of cinema and its various platforms.

You may also like…

Film review: Oppenheimer

Nolan combines technical brilliance with riveting storytelling On July 21, Christopher Nolan released his twelfth feature film, Oppenheimer, which may prove to be one of the greatest feats in cinema over the last decade. The film follows the life of the “Father of...

Future of the ice arena decided

Arena's fate doomed by increasing costs, declining use In March 2023, the Minnehaha Academy Board of Trustees made the official decision to remove the ice arena located at the lower school campus. While the rink has had many renovations over the years, it has been a...

Elaine Ekstedt: A half-century at MA

Tracing her path to a golden year Fifty years ago, the average gas price was 39 cents per gallon. Fifty years ago, The Godfather won Best Picture at the Oscars. Fifty years ago, the Watergate trial was underway. Fifty years ago, the U.S. ended its involvement in the...

Student businesses: an alternate option

Summer is just around the corner and so are work hours. Many students dread getting a job, but find the idea of starting their own business attractive. In a study conducted by CNBC (a news network), it was reported that 60% of teens wanted to start their own business....

Destinations around the neighborhood

Some people prefer lemonade. Some people enjoy horchata. Others caramel lattes. And the occasional person who just drinks water. With about a third of the MA community restricted to transportation by foot or by pedal, the locations accessible from school are limited....