One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, directed by Milos Forman, has a brilliant cast with stellar performers such as Jack Nicholson in the role of R.P. “Mac” McMurphy, Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched and Christopher Lloyd in his film debut playing a trouble-making sadist, Taber. With twisted wit and ironic hilarity, the carefully contained inner workings of the hospital begin to unravel as the clash of wills intensifies. These intricately detailed characters exemplify the battle of freedom vs. establishment, setting this film apart with its unique spin on the definition of normalcy.
The opening scene introduces the systematic operations of the hospital prior to the arrival of rule-bending McMurphy. Controlled and orderly, the subdued atmosphere of the Oregon State Hospital is ingeniously turned on its head as Mac, with his liberally open-minded views, jumpstarts a pioneering journey of determination to overthrow the lofty harridan, Nurse Ratched. The rivalry for dominion is indisputable as Mac relentlessly challenges Ratched’s authority, rallying for the support of his allegedly unstable peers. Magnetized by McMurphy’s vibrant flare, the ward begins to oppose Nurse Ratched, joining forces to contest the antiquated ordinance. However, undaunted, indomitable Ratched disallows the persistent crowd of offenders to succeed, even in the slightest of battles. After a valiant revolution attempt, McMurphy is fatally defeated and stripped of his variegated vibe in the final victory; a lobotomy cages the bird that once sang of freedom. Ironically, McMurphy escapes through the soul of a fellow inmate, Chief Bromden, who mercifully releases Mac from life and liberates himself by breaking out the window.
McMurphy is transported to the mental health facility to be evaluated after several citations of violence, initially imprisoned for statutory rape. Claustrophobia settles in as the camera explores the confined enclosure holding the various inmates captive to their own device. White, sterile walls, barred windows, leather restraints & indistinguishable mumblings paint an eerie representation of this democratically inhibited world. Into the scene comes Nurse Ratched, whose presence bleeds inarguable authority. No one disputes her position until Mac demonstrates the need for change. Suddenly, the rules are bendable; the schedule becomes flexible in their eyes, although Ratched is determined to keep things in order.
While Mac & Ratched are the pivot points of the storyline, the film would not have been successful had it not been for the supporting actors. Chief Bromden, played by Will Samson, adds an element of mystery when his silence is broken over a piece of juicy fruit gum. Furthermore, his weak inner stature in contrast to his enormous outward physique makes for an interesting irony.
The greatest aspect of this film is its portrayal of clinical insanity vs. normal behavior. Forman has taken a very critical, serious issue and given it a comedic twist by integrating Cheswick, the voluntarily confined insecure neurotic, along with other mentally disturbed characters, who make McMurphy seem surprisingly normal. When Mac kidnaps the inmates for an impromptu fishing expedition, it’s easy to forget that any of the men are considered unstable.
Overall this film is captivating in its portrayal of freedom vs. establishment. The struggle for independence that’s been squashed by the oppressors creates a joyous reaction as the last scene closes on Chief Bromden making his escape from captivity. With the help of Mac, he found on the inside what many are searching for; the ability to believe in yourself and fulfill the dream of unobstructed sovereignty.