"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" Movie Review

Updated on March 19, 2019
Sam Shepards profile image

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction and zombie movies. Pessimistic and survival films I also enjoy a lot.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is one of those classics that, by microcosming perfectly an aspect of our civilization, stands the test of time.

This is the story of the struggle of Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) with the system. McMurphy, far from being a model citizen, is a chaotic, hedonistic and anarchic recidivist. His latest brush with the law, a statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl (which he believed was of legal age), has sentenced him to a short prison sentence.

But even without freedom, McMurphy is looking for shortcuts and loopholes in the system. Wanting to avoid prison farm's hard labor, he manages to be transferred to a mental institution where he will be evaluated.

Although his original sin can't really be justified, the law is the law and it has it uses in these cases, what is striking is how the world will try to straightjacket you once you made a mistake. To quote Murphy:

"Telling me I'm crazy over here cause I don't sit there like a goddamn vegetable, don't make a bit of since to me. If that's what's being crazy then, then I'm senseless, out of it, gone down the road wacko, but no more no less, that's it."

Freud definitely would agree that all people would at least be neurotic and at worst become psychotic in a world when all coping mechanism and repression failes.

In the institution, McMurphy meets a gallery of troubled characters. From the stutterer and anxious Billy (Brad Dourif), the temperamental and childish Cheswick (Sydney Lassick) the delusional Martini (Danny DeVito) to the gigantic and silent Native American "Chief" Bromden (Will Sampson), McMurphy, the one-eyed among the blind, quickly becomes the leader of the pack. Like a force of nature, he starts to stimulate some fun, loud, messy situations.

To counter the chaos of a "bad influence”,nothing like the imposition of order. Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) is the stoic, firm and cold woman in charge of the ward. She is dedicated to her work and has a rigid routine stablished for her patients.

So, when McMurphy starts to defy her authority, the collision is imminent. Both characters have good intentions but are flawed and stubborn. Both cling to their ideals and furiously defend their position in the system. The passive-aggressive communication finally leads to a concrete destructive clash.

“Man, when you lose your laugh you lose your footing.”

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a great allegory of the American culture war of the mid-70s, with a post-Vietnam-war nation full of a disappointed new generation that hates the authority and distrusts the institutions. It's no coincidence that the character of "Chief"--the only one that manages to achieve freedom--is a native American descent who, at first, is considered deaf-mute.

But this Milos Forman's piece isn’t stuck on time. This film is still relevant because the battle between free will and social norms is timeless. Nurse Ratched is perceived as the villain because she embodies the order through the monopoly of power and authority. But Ratched is only properly fulfilling her role in the relationship of contract and domination of the institution. She is socially acceptable.

McMurphy, on the other hand, is unstable. In his arrival to the institution, a young psychiatrist asks him if he knows the old saying: ”a rolling stone gathers no moss". He, of course, evades the question.

For McMurphy is committed to the ultimate unforgivable crime. He rejects to embody his assigned role in society (or prison or mental institution for that matter).

McMurphy's only motivation seems to not following orders. And that, in our organized world is an immense threat that--apparently--must be horribly lobotomized if necessary.

Movie Details

Title: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Release Year: 1975

Director(s): Milos Forman

Actors: Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito,Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson, a.o.

5 stars for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

© 2019 Sam Shepards


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    • TheShadowSpecter profile image

      Jason B Truth 

      13 months ago from United States of America

      Shepards? I just read your article. I've never had the opportunity to see "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest." Throughout the years, I've heard a lot of good reviews about it, and I've heard about its plot in bits and pieces. However, until now, I never knew that the protagonist in that movie played by Jack Nicholson went to a mental institution to avoid going to the Big House because of a statutory rape conviction. Whoa!!! This movie, if remade, would even be timely today when you consider all the episodes of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" in which a defendant has copped an insanity plea to avoid prison in a statutory rape trial. What is so ironic about Jack Nicholson playing a role like this back in 1975 is that only two years later, his closest friend, Roman Polanski, was arrested for statutory rape inasmuch as he had sexual relations with a 13-year-old girl in Jack Nicholson's residence while Jack Nicholson was away. You just never know what's going to happen in Hollywood. Anyhow, I liked your article.


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