The Oscars Project: Movie #21

(Explanation of The Cinematherapy Oscars Project found here. The following post may contain spoilers!)

From 1975: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Summary: Randle P. McMurphy (played by Jack Nicholson in his first Oscar win after several nominations) went to jail for dallying with a minor girl but played crazy to get a transfer over to a mental institution which he thought would be an easier way to carry out the rest of his sentence. Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher, Best Actress winner), the oppressive head of the ward, does everything in her power to keep him down. She succeeds but not before McMurphy has inspired many of the ward's residents to embrace life.

Um, I really don't know where to start. I didn't particularly enjoy this film and was pretty lost by the end, but the more background and analytical material I read, the more I understand. So I'll start with the book that was the basis for the play which was the basis for the movie. (Sounds like the previous film discussed, except there's no singing.) I'm not familiar with it, but according to the handy Shmoop guide, I understand that the story was told from the perspective of (ironically silent) Chief Bromden. That's not the case with the movie, although the Chief (Will Sampson) does figure fairly prominently in the movie.

It is stunning that this movie swept the "Big Five" at the Oscars, but if I had to guess at reasons I think a big one was that the the cast really went all out in their roles. Maybe I thought McMurphy was a selfish, first class narcissist who indirectly motivated mental patients while getting the fishing and ballgames he wanted, but Nicholson sold it as the "straight man" of the entire story and I can't argue with that. It was a detailed film but didn't rely on flashy special effects (probably a sock in the gut to fellow Best Picture nominee Jaws) or costumes or music to get its point across.

I guess when it comes down to it, because we are in the 1970s chapter and the theme is "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," I could agree with Peske and West that McMurphy was like a father figure to his fellow ward-mates and took them "under his wing [to] teach" them to break the rules that otherwise held them back from living life to the fullest (p. 94).

Oh, and if you want more Jack Nicholson, definitely go visit Sheila to read her "Chronological Jack" series--the most recent one here (coincidentally containing a mention of Cuckoo's Nest).

Next up: The Sting


Annie Coe said…
I loved this movie when I watched it way back when it first came out. I am not sure how I would feel about it today which makes me think I should put it on my rental list to find out. Thanks for a wonderful review. xoxo
Kate P said…
It's a pretty wild movie, Annie. I think if I grew up in the '70s I might have a different perspective on it.
Anonymous said…
Well, admittedly, I've never seen the movie, but I really enjoyed the book. I'm intrigued now! And excited for The Sting :) Love that movie! I'm going to try to rewatch it before you post about it.
Kate P said…
Angela--I get the impression it would be different from the book, but not different in a bad way, if you know what I mean. And I am glad to hear you are excited for "The Sting"!

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