The 70s era of cinema is known for two things: The birth (and death) of the American New Wave and independent filmmaking; and the audience-appealing megahits from directors like Spielberg, Lucas and Coppola. In between those two factions is the ultimate film that bridged those two gaps, a nut-filled but perfectly baked slice of pie: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And I don’t even like pie!
Set in a mental institution, Nest captures on film the greatest battle known to man. No, I am not talking about Russell Crowe versus a tiger, or Keanu Reeves versus a million Hugo Weavings (those are a close second, though). I’m talking about the battle between the free-spirited masses and the tyrannical dignitaries who seek to keep them down, symbolized in the characters of Randall McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) and Nurse Ratchet (Louise Fletcher) and their battle over the innocent souls in the hospital. I know, it’s totally epic.
This fantastic brawl is done not with fists (but he does choke her, which is…better?) but with McMurphy’s constant array of antics designed to show Ratchet she can’t bring him to his knees, man. Whether it’s breaking out for a fishing trip or a late-night kegger, each action McMurphy takes against Ratchet is hilarious, free-spirited and empowering.
Nicholson’s performance as McMurphy is the exact definition of “born to play this role”. He could play it at any age and nail it. His wild charisma, the devilish look in his eyes, his enthusiastic spirit, but above all, his desire for freedom illuminate what is perhaps the greatest example of an anti-hero. It’s the perfect performance from a perfect performer.
Fletcher is stoicism encompassed as Ratchet, whose subtlety and quiet anger begin to show as McMurphy’s actions chip away at her authority. Though she “wins” in the end (spoiler…40 years late) the job has been done. She will never forget the man Randall McMurphy.
Actors like Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd and Brad Dourif round out the rest of the crazies (a politically incorrect term, buts it’s kinda funny), whose amazing portrayals help illustrate one of the movies main points: Are these men insane living in a sane world, or are they sane living in a world gone insane?
Hilarious, riveting and stunningly acted, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an unchallenged classic that makes one thing abundantly clear with each scene and each McMurphy shenanigan: The battle against oppressors by the oppressed will never end. It will exist in every generation until everything explodes, and Cuckoo’s Nest will always be there leading the charge and basking in the flames.