Sunday, February 28, 2016

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Based on the novel by Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is the story of a criminal who pretends to be mentally ill in order to avoid jail time where he finds himself in a mental hospital where he deals with a world that is far crueler. Directed by Milos Forman and screenplay by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman, the film is an exploration of a small-time thief who hopes to take it easy only to deal with authorities who treat people in the most inhumane way. Starring Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, William Redfield, and Brad Dourif. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a tremendous yet engrossing film from Milos Forman.

Wanting to avoid jail time by staying in a mental hospital in the hopes that he can relax and have fun, a small-time criminal finds himself dealing with a very strict nurse who treats many patients in very inhumane ways where he rebels against her rules and the system in the hospital. Set in the fall of 1963, the film plays into a man that thinks he will be out of the hospital in 90 days and go back to doing all of the shenanigans he’s done though his crime was statutory rape where he had no clue the girl he slept with was 15. During his stay at this hospital in Oregon, Randall Patrick “Mac” McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) doesn’t just see a world where a group of sick men are being goaded and forced to unload into their own issues but also see that there’s a possibility that they might not get better. By being this rebellious figure who wants to watch baseball and go fishing, McMurphy would be this figure that would antagonize the orderlies and this head nurse in Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher).

The film’s screenplay doesn’t just explore this environment that is this mental hospital in Oregon but also the people who are there as many of them have trouble with the real world. Among these men that McMurphy meets include a young man with a bad stutter named Billy (Brad Dourif), a profane and confrontational man in Taber (Christopher Lloyd), a delusionist in Martini, an epileptic in Seflet (William Duell), a man prone to childish tempers in Cheswick (Sydney Lassick), a paranoid intellectual in Harding (William Redfield), and a quiet yet tall Native American that McMurphy calls Chief (Will Sampson). Many of them are revealed to be men with real problems but need the time to feel better as McMurphy helps them have a chance to live normal lives while being antagonistic towards Ratched and the other doctors who believe that McMurphy is dangerous but not entirely crazy until Ratched makes a decision that would change things for the film’s second half.

Especially when McMurphy knows more about the patients in his ward and what is happening to him where it raises a lot of questions into the state of inhumanity that he would endure. Especially as the other patients are also being tested against their will where McMurphy would have some revelations about his own and the people around him. It would cause a series of events for him to revolt and try to escape but also endure the growing state of what Ratched and the doctors at the hospital are doing where it is obvious that the men in the ward really need help and McMurphy is the one person that really seems to care and offer them a glimpse of a world without problems no matter how fucked up it is. Yet, it’s a world that is better and can be organized instead of being pressed on and treated like an animal in this abusive and controlling mental hospital under the control of this heartless bitch.

Milos Forman’s direction is quite intimate for the fact that it was shot largely in Salem, Oregon as well as nearby areas including the Oregon State Hospital where much of the film is shot. While there are some wide shots that occur outside of the hospital including a sequence where McMurphy and the gang go on a fishing trip with one of McMurphy’s girlfriends in a day of fun. Much of the film has Forman use close-ups and medium shots to play into the world of the hospital where it is very controlled as Forman’s compositions would have this sense of repression that looms throughout the film. Once the McMurphy character comes in, it’s as if the hospital is starting to come alive little by little as it also has an air of imagination where McMurphy looks into a TV that isn’t on where he comments about a baseball game.

The direction also has Forman find ways to balance humor and drama where the latter becomes very prevalent in the film’s second half as it relates to what McMurphy is dealing with and the outcome of what he has to endure. The usage of extreme close-ups do come into play it does feel very unsettling in terms of what McMurphy has to be put through as well as the other patients. Some of which are here because they actually need help but are being treated inhumanely. Even as the film’s climax that relates to McMurphy’s attempt to escape and throwing a party for himself and the patients would showcase a group of men needing an escape from their own problems and a chance that there is hope for them in the real world. Yet, it is followed by the harshness of reality in the form of Nurse Ratched who is pretty much a monster that needs to be taken down in the hopes that those who suffer from mental illness can be saved and treated humanely. Overall, Forman creates a riveting yet exhilarating film about a small-time criminal trying to buck the system at a mental hospital.

Cinematographers Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler do amazing work with the film‘s cinematography from the look of the many interiors inside the hospital for the scenes set in day and night as well as some of the exteriors in the locations near Salem, Oregon. Editors Richard Chew, Sheldon Kahn, and Linda Klingman do brilliant work with the editing with its usage of rhythmic cuts to play into the drama and some of the film‘s humor while creating moments that are engaging in some of the livelier moments of the film. Production designer Paul Sylbert and art director Edwin O’Donovan do fantastic work with some of the minimal set pieces created such as the ward room and its bathroom that featured a prop that would be key to the story.

Costume designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers does nice work with the costumes design as it‘s mostly casual for all of the patients as well as the look of Nurse Ratched‘s uniform. The sound work of Mark Berger is superb for the atmosphere that is created in the ward with its usage of calm music to soothe the patients to the raucous sounds that would occur upon McMurphy‘s arrival and presence. The film’s music by Jack Nitzsche is wonderful for its low-key, folk-based score that plays into some of the elements of drama and humor as well as what is going on outside of the hospital.

The casting by Jane Feinberg and Mike Fenton is incredible as it features notable small roles from Nathan George as the attendant Washington, Marya Small as a girlfriend of McMurphy in Candy, Louisa Moritz as Candy’s friend Rose, Kay Lee as a night supervisor at the hospital, and Scatman Crothers in a hilarious performance as the night orderly Turkle who finds himself in big trouble. Other noteworthy small performances as some of the patients in the film include Josip Elic as the somewhat-catatonic Bancini, Michael Berryman as the deformed Ellis, Delos V. Smith as the hippie-like patient Scanlon, Willam Duell as the epileptic Seflet, and Vincent Schaivelli as the annoyed Frederickson. Dean Brooks superb as the hospital administrator Dr. Spivey as a man that is trying to understand what is going on while believing that McMurphy isn’t a totally bad influence despite Ratched’s opinion.

Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd are excellent in their respective roles as the delusional Martini and the aggressive Taber who both enjoy McMurphy’s presence while William Redfield is brilliant as the educator Harding who copes with the idea that his wife might be cheating on him. Sydney Lassick does amazing work as the child-like Cheswick as a man who has been repressed by his surroundings where he is fit to have tempers where McMurphy is the one person that can help him. Brad Dourif is phenomenal as Billy Bibbit as a young man with a bad stutter who is reluctant to enter the real world while being given the chance to live through McMurphy. Will Sampson is remarkable as the Chief as a tall and silent Native American who is an observer as well as this mysterious being that McMurphy befriends as well as someone who seems to revel in McMurphy’s presence.

Louise Fletcher is great as Nurse Ratched as this head nurse of a ward that is trying to maintain control and oppress everything as there is this coldness to her along with the fact that she is really just a straight-up bitch. Finally, there’s Jack Nicholson in a tour-de-force performance as Mac McMurphy as a small-time criminal who goes to the hospital to avoid jail time only to find himself in bigger trouble by antagonizing Nurse Ratched as it’s a performance that is manic but also one filled with depth as Nicholson creates a character that we all can root for.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an outstanding film from Milos Forman that features great performances from Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher. Along with a phenomenal supporting cast as well as a compelling screenplay, the film isn’t just a unique study into madness and oppression. It’s a film that also showcases a world of men being treated inhumanely by an unjust world that was supposed to help them only to make them less human. In the end, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a spectacular film from Milos Forman.

Milos Forman Films: (Black Peter) - (Loves of a Blonde) - (The Fireman’s Ball) - (Taking Off) - (Visions of Eight) - (Hair) - (Ragtime) - (Amadeus) - (Valmont) - (The People vs. Larry Flynt) - (Man on the Moon) - (Goya’s Ghost)

© thevoid99 2016


keith71_98 said...

Really is a good one. And Nicholson just kills it.

ruth said...

I didn't realize MIlos Forman also directed Amadeus, I quite like that one. I have a huge blind spot in regards to Jack Nicholson's earlier movies. Not really interested in this one though, there are others I'd rather check out, i.e. Chinatown.

thevoid99 said...

@keith71_98-Damn straight he did. I think his best work was in the 70s as well as a few things in the 80s and most of all, About Schmidt.

@ruth-Oh you need to see this one. It's a classic while Chinatown is also incredible as you can't wrong with a lot of the films Nicholson did in the 70s.

Brittani Burnham said...

Great review! Sounds like you enjoyed this just as much as I did.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-Thank you. It was better than I thought it would be. While I think Nashville and Barry Lyndon were better films that year, I can stand by this film as a Best Picture winner as I think it's currently in my top 20 Best Picture Winners.