#33 One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

“I’m not just talking about my wife, I’m talking about my LIFE, I can’t seem to get that through to you. I’m not just talking about one person, I’m talking about everybody. I’m talking about form. I’m talking about content. I’m talking about interrelationships. I’m talking about God, the devil, Hell, Heaven. Do you understand… FINALLY”
Harding

Milos Foreman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest takes every opportunity to unnerve, and alienate the viewer.

The film tells the story of McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a con who pretends to be crazy in an attempt to get out of working for the remainder of the prison sentence he is serving for statutory rape.

Unfortunately for McMurphy, he is sent to a mental institution that is the home of the particularly vindictive nurse Ratchet (Louise Fletcher).

McMurphy’s antics are harmless enough initially.  Antics such as cheating in basketball games and attempting to stage a coup of the mental institution’s meetings are brushed off by the staff.  But, as tensions begin to grow between McMurphy and nurse Ratchet, small acts of defiance become simply not enough.

McMurphy, quickly escalates his escapades to include grand theft auto (and grand theft boat), knowing that his time at the institution is coming to a close.

Operating under the faulty assumption that when his jail sentence was over, he would be released from his new padded wall home.  Unfortunately for him, this is not the case.  He can be held as long as the medical professionals feel he is a danger to society.

The realization of this eventually drives McMurphy to a level of recklessness that nearly tears apart his mental fabric.

Right from the opening credits this film makes the viewers skin crawl.  The score, which could best be described as two cats fighting over a violin will make you squirm.

This is further continued by the film’s brilliant cinematography.  Haskell Wexler, the film’s cinematographer, does an amazing job of keeping a tight and narrow focus on his subjects, almost paralleling the tunnel vision of the asylum’s patients.  Unrelentingly this device makes the viewer feel as uncomfortable as Jack Nicholson’s snarky smile does.

Nicholson’s performance, as are all the performances, is spot on.  His character is not a likable one, but he is sympathetic.  You don’t want to cheer for him, but you don’t want to see him fail either.  This is a testament, obviously to the film’s direction, but also to Nicholson’s performance.

This film really is quite the achievement.  Every aspect of it is executed with expert precision, and most importantly, it is entertaining.