I haven’t read a lot about One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, intentionally, for the first twenty-four years of my life. There is a certain lore to the performance and mystery to the allegory that intrigues the brain to either watch this film right away or to categorically forget it. I didn’t want to spoil my decision either way.
But as an impetus for this project, I decided to tackle this movie early on. My initial reactions are somewhat split: it might be a hangover from the campiness of San Francisco or I might just be dull to shock and awe, but I didn’t find the ending particularly powerful or Nurse Ratched to be particularly evil in the traditional sense. I want to explore these reactions in depth.
This movie is justifiable in its major oscar sweep, even among the movies nominated in 1975. Remember, five years after the release and idolization of Patton, the middle of the 1970s showcased the greatest density of the greatest movies ever made, and Cuckoo’s Nest is nested right in the chronological center. This affords it more than modest exposure – perhaps overexposure – and not just because of its shining performances from Milos Forman in the director’s chair to Jack Nicholson’s delightfully misanthropic R.P. McMurphy and Louise Fletcher’s domineering and understated Nurse Ratched. The story is singularly linear and does a perfunctory job developing all of the characters as a series of exposes – both demonstrating character strengths and flaws through the particular brand of Ratched’s evil.
But as for the lasting impression of Ratched’s evil? I’d argue she’s paradoxically too evil and not evil enough. She’s the head nurse at a small Oregon state mental hospital, in charge of the well-being of 18 patients with varying levels of mania. Some patients are self-committed, some state-mandated, like Nicholson’s McMurphy. But Ratched morphs her power as a caregiver into that of a caretaker. A minor distinction, sure, but to the absolute stature and reputation among the “Doctors,” she has the power to literally take and take and take, all for the sense of decaying the atrophy of the crazy. Her evil is seen through the lens of the general oppressor so relevant in the ’70s, off the heels of Cuba and Russia and especially Vietnam. Continue reading