Directed By: Milos Forman
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Brad Dourif, Danny DeVito
Tag line: "If He's Crazy, What Does That Make You?"
Trivia: The role of McMurphy was originally offered to James Caan
While I can't say for sure, I'm guessing I've seen One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest about two dozen times. I’m as familiar with the characters in this movie as I am with any ever made, yet despite this familiarity, the film's often funny, occasionally tragic story never fails to move me.
In order to determine if he’s mentally fit, prisoner Randall P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is transferred from work detail to the state’s psychiatric institution, where many, including the administrator (Dean Brooks), believe he's faking insanity to escape the rigors of prison life. As for McMurphy, he's quite content with his new situation, and quickly befriends his newest bunkmates, including Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif), a young man with a speech impediment, and a tall Native-American deaf mute he affectionately nicknames “Chief” (Will Sampson). But in this particular ward, Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) is in charge, and she maintains a firm grip on every patient under her care. To stir things up a bit, McMurphy initiates a power struggle between himself and Nurse Ratched, challenging her authority at every turn, and in so doing gains the respect of his fellow inmates.
One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an effective blend of comedy and drama, telling the story of a man who fights a stifling system from within. A free spirit, McMurphy inspires the rest of the patients by standing up to the tyrannical Nurse Ratched. This is a key reason the film has remained timeless, and though freedom and rebellion weren't exactly original topics for films made in the '70s, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest had something the others didn't: R.P. McMurphy. In McMurphy, we're given a central character who isn't so much rebelling against a cause as he is a state of mind, and while many of the social issues from this time period are now relegated to the history books, this particular fight remains relevant even today.
McMurphy represents true independence, which he tries to impart on his fellow inmates. Take, for example, the scene where he shuttles everyone off on an unauthorized fishing trip. As they’re in the middle of the ocean, getting ready to bait their hooks, McMurphy shouts encouragement to his cohorts, telling Mr. Martini (Danny DeVito) “You’re not a goddamn looney now, boy. You’re a fisherman!” By affording these men the opportunity to live their lives as opposed to simply examining them, McMurphy proves, in no uncertain terms, that the world can do with a lot less analysis…
...and a good deal more fishermen.