johnlink ranks ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975)

I recently realized that movie night at the Lincoln house started seven years ago. It started with my near-Uncle Paul telling me about the epics I needed to see, and with me agreeing that I was lacking in certain cinematic knowledge. So, it began that he, my dad, and I would watch movies on Thursday nights. We started with BEN HUR and TEN COMMANDMENTS and EL CID. Soon, Liz and John were added to our roster, along with whatever friends happened to be around that week (at least thirty people have participated at one time or another, with out highest total for one week being twelve). As the years went by, and as Paul could no longer attend, movie night became more about seeing newer movies we had missed, with the occasional classic. Liz and I were on our honeymoon, and movie night came up in conversation. We talked about how we should, along with newer films, be mixing in more of the older stuff that some of us never seen. The regular attendees were now her, myself, John, and my Dad with my mom watching approximately half of them, and some other friends making it intermittently.  The following week, as luck would have it, John and I had a conversation about Robert Parish, and I mentioned the nomenclature of his nickname, The Chief. This led to John telling me he hadn’t seen CUCKOO’S NEST, and the first movie night of what felt like a new era (since Liz and I hadn’t made it in a month plus due to wedding commitments) was decided there!

The film involves the mostly sane Jack Nicholson being admitted to a mental hospital where he makes some friends (including Brad Dourif, Danny DeVito, and Christopher Lloyd) and one major enemy named Nurse Ratched.

I watched ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975) at movie night on 6.18.09. It was my second viewing of the film.



I will begin with the negative, though it is minuscule: Some of the medium to close-up zooms feel forced. There. I said it. That’s all I got for bad stuff.

As for good, this movie has plenty. It feels claustrophobic at times (pre shock treatment) and immensely open at others (the boat ride). There are times where we can see why Ratched makes the choices she does, and others when they appear insane. We sympathize with the guards, then see them as brutes. We find the inmates to be crazy, then see their true blissful nature.

This movie came out during an era of cultural upheaval. The (Wo)Man was a stiff dickhead who needed to be choked. Unfortunately, his (or her) cohorts were always there to pull you off and, if you were too dangerous, to give you a lobotomy. To the preceding generation sexual freedom was akin to craziness. Those caught in the middle (between feeling natural urges and loyalty to their mother) might be caught in a no-man’s-land. And, most definitely, a man with leadership skills who had a tendency to drink, fight, and be otherwise loose, would certainly be a threat of the highest degree.

There is a lot of joy in the characters of this movie. It takes small moments to enthrall them. A simple imaginary baseball game will do as well as a real basketball game. A day out on the lake fishing will do as well as a night in with unfamiliar liquor. They are as happy in as out (mostly volunteering to be contained), until a certain something makes them otherwise. Most of them never find this something. Some find it in cigarettes, but lack the further willpower to actually leave. Others can’t comprehend that freedom at all and, so, stay with the truly crazy.

Ultimately, this film is about the dangers of allowing your life to be dictated to you. It is about how it is never too late to stand up and be heard from. And it is about how life sometimes requires a death (or two) to finally make you realize that you need to do something. SCORE: 9


I am proud to have coined the phrase ’70s slow’. It is not an insult. There are certain movies which really take their time to allow the audience to soak in what is happening. Movies today are, as a general rule, too afraid to do this. CUCKOO’S NEST has a prime example of ’70s slow’ in the moment when we last see Nicholson truly happy, right before he falls asleep during the night of debauchery.

For the most part, however, CUCKOO’S NEST is not of this ilk. It moves quickly. It makes you laugh more than you expect, and it unfolds swiftly. By the time the last act arrives (and that last act certainly gets 70s slow at times) it has earned its pacing, and has engulfed you completely so that you want to hang on every look and every long-lasting shot. SCORE: 8


It can be that the insane asylum is the perfect place for okay actors to be great. They can find some wacky thing to do and really let it loose. This is a movie which both relies on that idea, and rejects it. The background characters are less layered, but the ones we really care about are. Sure there are some cheap laughs, but there is also no misunderstanding or cheapening Martini’s happiness or Cheswick’s anxiety.

Nicholson is amazing in this film. But, without Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched, he wouldn’t have quite the room to play. It is no wonder that the both of them won bast acting Oscars. Their interaction is tense, yet never forced. We never quite see her break fully until the last major scene of the film. When she finally does (and she does so while not being loud and yelly like many actresses would), there are serious and deadly repercussions to her actions. Part of the reason she appears on many top villains list is because we, as an audience, never truly feel that she gets her due punishment. SCORE: 9


Don’t know what else I can talk about here that has not been alluded to above. This movie is at times witty, and at others poignant. It never fails to deliver on its early set ups. It has at least five spectacularly written scenes (the first interview with the doctor, the second baseball vote, the boat, the basketball game, the party). When film people talk about scripts not being like they used to, this is the sort of movie they are talking about. SCORE: 9





~ by johnlink00 on June 18, 2009.

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