One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

||Genre: Drama||Year: 1975||Duration: 2h13min||Director: Lawrence Hauben||Stars: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Michael Berryman ||


3.5 Stars


Murphy, a freewheeling compulsive lawbreaker, pleads insanity to sidestep jail and is consequently brought by the police to this psychiatric hospital. The names, the backstory, and what have you, haven’t much relevance. Important is what happens in, once he crosses the threshold of the institution, as the film draws a bead on his time inside, where he sets about inciting the patients and goading them into rebellion.
Having set off with high expectations- making no bones about it- I felt quite a bit underwhelmed by this oh-so lionized classic.  It’s just it could’ve been so much more. Having also read Ken Kesey’s work previously, I have no qualms whatsoever saying the movie doesn’t live up to the book and doesn’t do it justice. And I’m not beating the drum for the book either. A terrific book, sure, but it most certainly has its moments and its fair share of lulls with respect to action, when it seems fairly drawn out and, calling a spade a spade, borders on tedium. That’s what happens when nothing happens. Or almost nothing. But a swell, imaginative and rousing book nonetheless. I’m getting carried away. Back on topic, I wish I only found the movie disappointing because of the book, which was such a stirring read. But upon finishing the movie, I realized I had actually seen it before. And didn’t remember seeing it. I gather this speaks volumes about the impact the movie’d had on me the first time around.

Brass tacks. My main gripe about the film, I guess, is its not going off the beaten track. Against all expectations,everything about it is just plainly mundane. There’s no getting around it.  Given that the backdrop is a psychiatric hospital, you expect one or two twists and some turns. You expect the movie to  mess with your head and lead you down the garden path, proving you mistaken, and rubbing your nose in it, every time you try second-guessing it and fail by a long shot. Too bad, the movie does no such thing. It’s just unduly simplistic and struck me as a garden-variety picture. In the book, everything happens from the perspective of the “chief”, who narrates everything, from McMurphy’s being brought in to his smothering McMurphy with a pillow, following the lobotomy and his thus being rendered a vegetable. This is extraordinarily intriguing, as it makes for one unreliable point of view, of a narrator having more than a screw loose. He imagines stuff that isn’t there and we are given a glimpse in what it is that goes on in the mind of a loon. The movie instead goes for the plain old objective perspective and everything is just what it seems to be. No gape between essence and appearance.
On a different note, it’s only to be expected, a great deal of scenes in the book are left out in the movie. A healthy number of pivotal things were overtly altered, as the movie takes conspicuous licence with the original story. Not that I was simply fond of them, but they were crucial to understanding the characters’ motivation and who it is they truly are. Moreover, the film struck me as failing to forge that bond between audience and character. I found those in the book relatable and absorbing but couldn’t bear the sight of some in the film (perpetually drawing parallels between books and film) , which pretty much butchered and loused up ,in this respect, Kesey’s genius.

To put it differently, the movie was completely uninspiring. And when a movie doesn’t inspire, it can be most certainly be chalked up to lack of inner resources, more often than not. Or so my rationale goes. Camera-wise, nothing. In terms of structure- nothing. Storytelling – no great shakes. It already had a terrific story as fodder- which was, if anything, only downgraded. There’s not much one could draw on. I find the acting to be the only redeeming aspect of the movie. Jack Nicholson shines with his usual panache and the others do a wonderful job as well. That said, there isn’t much more to it that that- and that’s a damn shame.


  1. Hey Apolo-Fair take here. I have not read the book, but this is one of THE most depressing films ever. Nicholson is a force here and certainly earned the Oscar he won. But this does not necessarily a superior movie make. Even though the film in fact WON Best Picture, seems reasonable that Kesey should have at least had in hand in the creation of the screenplay of his own story, yes?

    • You’re perfectly right. The movie won a couple of oscars, and if Jack Nicholson’s being presented with ‘best actor’ was only to be quite expected, given the excellent performance, I’m completely baffled about the best picture thing. Both Spielberg’s Jaws and especially Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon were easily more deserving, if you ask me. As to Kesey’s involvement with the screenplay, I really don’t know. If he did have a hand in writing the script, then I’m at a loss to fathom out his choices with regard to structure and whatnot.

  2. I have read Kesey’s book and seen the movie several times. The book actually moved me to tears. Nicholson turned in a solid performance. He also had a solid supporting cast in DeVito, Dourif and company. Louise Fletcher also deserved her Oscar for her portrayal of Nurse Ratched. To this day, that is an iconic character. Nice review.

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