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One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

This film has much good, but tries to make points larger than it can. Thus, some of the characters' human qualities are lost. Making noble points about fighting the establishment is easier than observing how real people act in places such as mental institutions. Such observations are moments of brilliance that make the film worthwhile.

A classic outsider, R.P. McMurphy (Nicholson), a sane convict sent to the ward as punishment, charms and galls the other, drugged, lethargic patients, whose passivity is enforced by domineering Nurse Ratched. She lines them up for tranquilizers, then leads the stupefied group in therapy.((McMurphy, an extroverted, life-loving force of nature, lacks insight into mental illness, and sees other patients as teammates. He defies Ratched and the system she upholds by small, spontaneous, innocent rebellions: During exercise period, the patients mill aimlessly on a basketball court until McMurphy hilariously tries to start a game.

He organizes bets, dares, and basic political action: Ten of the 18 patients must vote to change the TV schedule so they can watch the World Series. Overcoming their indifference toward the show, the patients perk up. McMurphy's will comes through even among a defeated community, in a remarkable performance by Nicholson. Maniacally trying to teach basketball to an Indian (Sampson) who hasn't spoken in 12 years, he shows the movie's real meaning; the film works. If Forman had stayed at that - introducing characters, and making them real, then seeing how they encounter each other - "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" could have been greater.

An all-night orgy begins McMurphy's doom. He smuggles booze and women into the ward, everyone gets drunk, and hapless Billy (Dourif) is bundled into bed with a willing woman. He stutters, and can hardly talk, but he's engaging and smart. Next morning, Nurse Ratched surveys the mess; Billy at first defies her, but caves in when she threatens to tell his mother about it. He commits suicide, and his sad corpse is supposed to suggest the injustices, but it really shows an implausible turn in the plot. In obvious, necessary, sobering scenes - as when McMurphy tries to strangle Nurse Ratched - audiences have cheered and applauded. But the movie should be more than a simple anti-establishment parable, as when it focuses, in long stretches of very good film, on the characters.
Director(s): Milos Forman
Writer(s): Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman based on the book by Ken Kesey
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson, William Redfield, Brad Dourif, Sydney Lassi
Release Date: 1975   
Keyword: Ken Kesey; mental institutions; 1970s; Jack Nicholson; Milos
Target Age: 14+   Category: institutional issues
Documentary: no
Language: English   Reviewer's Name: Micah
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