The film that seems to be on every single Best American Film List ever is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Directed by Miloš Forman, based on the book by One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, starring Jack Nicholson, it is considered by critics to be one of the best films of all time and definitely, the best psychological thriller ever made. It is one of the few films ever to sweep all five academy awards.
The film is set in a mental institution (and was actually shot in a real mental institution) where a number of colorful patients are living in doom and gloom under the tyranny of a nurse, Ratched, who is shock therapy happy and high on power. The story centers around Randle Patrick McMurphy who has been in and out of jail and hopes to finish his current six-month jail sentence in the mental institution even though he is not mentally ill. McMurphy gets into a battle of wills with Ratched as she desperately tries to maintain power and he tries to spark some life back into the joyless patients.
McMurphy is played by Nicholson who does an amazing job. He’s one of the best actors of our time so there’s no real surprise there. But it’s like this role was made for him and his strengths. He doesn’t just play McMurphy, he IS McMurphy, and his performance is nearly impossible to look away from. Even though halfway through the movie I wanted to turn it off because it is fucking depressing. The stark white walls, the groundhog day that is their everyday, the complex, lovable patients who are being mistreated and not getting the help they deserve is all too sad and unfortunately all too real.
As someone who has struggled with panic, anxiety, and depression, I know how difficult it really is to get help from people who actually know what in the hell they’re doing. So many mental health professionals are terrible at their jobs and unfortunately, institutions have a long history of abusing vulnerable patients. Frankly, it made my stomach turn just thinking about the fact that during the time of shooting, in 1975, that people were actually receiving shock treatments, overmedicated, or being locked away unnecessarily. I’m also really grateful that we’ve come a long way since then in terms of treating mental health issues (hooooray meds!) but we still have a long way to go, too.
I also really struggled with the character, Billy. Sweet, innocent, anxious, Billy, with his stutter, reminded me of my younger brother who passed away in his early twenties. In a lot of ways, film triggered a lot of my own shit and that was no picnic. Although I guess the fact that it had any kind of emotional impact on me just speaks for the quality of the film, right? That’s the point of art, right? Inspire thought, produce feelings, yada, yada, yada.
Did you watch it (And I know, most of you probably watched it a billion years ago because I’m way behind)? Thoughts? Feelings? Rants? Tell me in the comments below.