Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest stands out as one of the few movies that brought about a confluence of immense talent that has largely been unparalleled in cinema history. It had a holistic, flawless acting performance from every actor with Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher leading the cast with forceful Oscar-winning performances. Although the film can become mentally suffocating at times, I feel it is a worthwhile watch, for it offers viewers a thought-provoking vista into the stifling mechanical conformity and ruthless institutionalization that transpires in a mental institution.
As Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is virtually self-admitted to a mental institution to avoid penal labor for his crimes, he discovers the suppression that drives it. Headed by the uncompromising Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), the hospital forces each patient to lose his personal identity and take his place in the gray line of rigid institutionalization, symbolized by the all-pervasive nature of the daily routine. McMurphy stands out as a liberating force for his fellow patients and even manages to orchestrate a temporary escape with them, as he takes them fishing. With one final festive night at the hospital, the movie reaches a bitter-sweet conclusion as McMurphy’s liberation is left emblazoned in the patients’ routine of playing cards, while he himself has been left frail and tied to an ineluctable life in the hospital after undergoing electroconvulsive therapy. Chief (Will Sampson) kills McMurphy to free him from an unrelenting life ahead and breaks the hospital’s window with a hydrotherapy cart as he escapes, leaving the remainder of the patients with a collective sense of redemption.
Max Weber argued that scientifically justified and methodically laid out frameworks of behavior (Bureaucratization) would dominate modern society with the consequence that people would feel disenchanted and constrained within an iron cage. It is this very constraining lifestyle that McMurphy challenges, as he rattles the iron-cage and thereby encourages his fellows to do so. The staff of the institution hardens its approach towards the patients in how Nurse Ratched confiscates the patients’ cigarettes and rations them, yet McMurphy resists a stifling way of life that possesses no empathy for humans, who are treated as mere vessels to be filled with society’s value consensus. Thus, the movie offers us lessons to illuminate our medical practices with the notion of empathy in mind, as every person has a unique set of mental dynamics which must be assessed in the process of his/her development.
However, the film becomes disturbing at times such as in the scene where Nurse Ratched refuses to hand Charlie Cheswick (Sidney Lassick) his cigarettes and multitudes of uncontrolled outbursts crescendo together as a symbol of resistance against her rigid authority. The film is recommended for people who are 16+ and is certainly a must-watch for the ones who possess an interest in psychology or sociology as Erving Goffman’s proposition of identity being, “cut to the bone,” within mental asylums is the nucleus of the plot and most of its characters. Nonetheless, the movie is a timeless classic that will live on as a convergence of acting artistry to constitute a scathing criticism of life in a mental institution.