One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975); R
When Randle Patrick McMurphy gets transferred for evaluation from a prison farm to a mental institution, he assumes it will be a less restrictive
environment. But the martinet Nurse Ratched runs the psychiatric ward with an iron fist, keeping her patients cowed through abuse, medication,
and sessions of electroconvulsive therapy. The battle of wills between the rebellious McMurphy and the inflexible Ratched soon affects all the
My review for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest will be quite different from the other films. For Film Appreciation this semester,
our final project was to do a study on a certain movie of our choice, and I chose this one. I watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest three times,
once with the commentary from the director and producers on. I will be answering the nine questions that could be answered in #4.
I believe the theme of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is the oppressiveness of controlled environments and how tyranny hates change. When the film’s protagonist, Mac, first comes into the mental hospital, he wishes to change things up and be a part of the outside world. However, the antagonist, Nurse Ratched, never wants her routine to be changed. She manipulates the patients into thinking that they do not want change and that their lives will be worse if her schedule is messed up. Mac’s wish for freedom threatens Nurse Ratched’s tyranny.
The universe in this movie is shown through the characters and setting. The majority of this film takes place in the mental institution. Also, the same nine patients, including Mac, are constantly shown throughout the film. These repetitive traits immerse the audience into the universe of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The audience feels trapped because the patients feel trapped, and when the patients get out and go fishing, the audience feels relieved and happy.
In this film, like in many other simple and realistic movies, there is not a big hook at the beginning. The story overall seems like an interesting plotline, however, there is not a gigantic moment when the audience is pulled into the story. I do not think that this makes the film worse, though. The entire movie, except for the ending, is quite calm. I think that if there was a family moment, it would seem different from the rest of the story and detract from the order in the movie.
The story cuts from scene to scene to progress the movie. I did not notice the cuts that much in the story. Once again, I think this adds to its simpleness and realness. I also think that there were not a lot of cuts or switches from scene to scene (compared to other films) because of how long shots and sequences were. A scene would maybe take a couple minutes, and then it would cut to another scene that is also quite long.
When I watched the first 20 minutes of this film, I followed along with the story quite well. When I rewatched the beginning with sound, there was nothing shocking to me about the plot that I did not realize without sound. Even though there was a lot of dialogue, I could tell what was going on based on character’s faces and reactions to one another. I think that if I watched this whole movie without sound, I could follow the story. However, the one element that does rely on sound is when Chief starts to talk. At the beginning of the film, it can easily be seen that Chief does not talk or associate with others. However, a big part of the story is revealed when Chief does eventually talk.
I think that close-ups are used very effectively. The editing is simple and real, and scenes take several minutes as the camera slides from reaction to reaction. One close-up I remember well is after the party Mac throws when Mac’s friend, Candy, and Billy are sleeping together. The close-up shot of Mac’s face lasts a long time. The audience can see Mac’s emotions throughout the whole shot. He is reflecting on the night he just had and is happy that he did Billy a favor. These shots focus in on the character and what they are thinking and feeling.
I believe that reaction shots are also used effectively in this film. The acting in the movie is superb, especially Jack Nicholson, and the audience can see the characters’ emotions through their faces. One excellent reaction shot is when Mac is strangling Nurse Ratched. The shot shows Ratched’s red face as she breathes less and less and her eyes are practically popping out of her head. This shot displays not only Ratched’s pain but also her resentment towards Mac.
I think that the ending of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest gets the point of the film across admirably. At first, I thought the ending was going to be disappointing when I saw that Mac did not escape from the mental hospital. However, after Chief realizes that Mac can no longer do anything in his mental state, he kills Mac out of mercy. Then, he pulls out a washing device from the ground to break the window and escape. This idea was originally Mac’s earlier on in the film. I think this symbolizes how, even though Mac did not get to escape Nurse Ratched’s oppressiveness, his friend, Chief, does. He uses Mac’s idea in order to leave the mental institution. The other patients cheer him on, showing their support, as he runs away.
I think that the ending scene is very memorable. As previously mentioned, Chief kills Mac out of mercy for his friend. This scene reminded me of similar occurrences in Of Mice and Men and Million Dollar Baby. It was very difficult to watch Chief suffocate Mac after seeing Mac’s lobotomy scars on his head. However, the shot that I will most remember is the one at the very end where the audience can see Chief running off into the sunset, free from the tyranny of the mental institution, living out Mac’s dream.