One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Everyone loves an underdog. That’s why we’re left cheering for Jack Nicholson‘s character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest the whole time.

The movie, like the book, is a commentary on the injustices committed against people who are mentally anable to care for themselves. Patients at the fictional mental institution are subjugated to an extremely regimented lifestyle and are kept constantly in a state of fear and reverence of the diabolical Nurse Ratched (played by Louis Fletcher.) The act of lobotomy is a reoccurring theme, as it is seen as a cruel last ditch effort to bring patients to conformity.

Jack Nicholson’s character, Randal McMurphy, acts as a catalyst that starts the patients thinking for themselves. He helps them to be less victimized and embrace the freedom of life. Roger Ebert says the film does not entirely depict mental insanity accurately, but that’s because it is primarily about becoming a free spirit.

There are so many elements in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest that make it a timeless classic that it’s no wonder it’s considered one of the greatest films of all time.


Randal McMurphy fakes his insanity to get out of a jail sentence and spend the rest of his incarceration in a mental institution.

I can see how they were fooled.

While at the institution, he meets the evil Nurse Ratched, who keeps the patients in order through subtle humiliation techniques, pills, and keeping them under a strict regimen. McMurphy becomes her adversary when he starts befriending the patients and helping them to experience the freedoms of life. He becomes friends with a stutterer who learns he can overcome his condition and a large Indian man (called Chief) everyone thought was mute, but McMurphy finds out he can talk.

Oh, and the Doc from Back to the Future

He helps them to experience freedom through pickup games of basketball, card games, watching the World Series, and breaking out of the compound to go on a fishing trip. The patients come alive as they learn to break away from the iron fist of Nurse Ratched, who wants nothing more than turn them into mindless, obedient children.

The plot culminates in a massive party thrown by McMurphy and his girlfriends at the institution. The stuttering Billy discovers his confidence after he makes love to one of the girls and overcomes his stutter, while McMurphy falls asleep before he makes his big escape. Nurse Ratched comes in the next day and threatens to tell Billy’s parents what he did. This results in Billy committing suicide and McMurphy attempting to strangle Nurse Ratched to death.

The next night, Chief discovers McMurphy has been lobotomized. He puts McMurphy out of his misery, breaks out of the facility, and escapes into the wilderness.

Why It’s Amazing

The character development in the movie is outstanding. I was gripped by the growth of each of the patients as McMurphy sets them free from the bondage they live in. Each crazy character had his own special quirkiness that made him endearing, and the interactions between them are hysterical.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is Jack Nicholson’s breakthrough role, which makes sense considering it was the first that landed him an Oscar for Best Actor. He successfully portrays a man who is ignorant by the world’s standards, but has tremendous insight to what is really holding back the patients at the mental institution.

Louse Fletcher, who plays Nurse Ratched, also landed an Oscar, this one for Best Actress. Her cold portrayal as the sociopathic nurse made me really hate her during the movie. That’s what a good villain is supposed to do.

In all, the movie won all five major Academy Awards, The first to do so in almost forty years, and not repeated for another 15. That, if not anything else, is compelling enough to give the movie a chance.

*pictures from listall, Matt vs. the Academy, and Politics and Film

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One Response to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

  1. Mike Crissman says:

    I watched “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” for the first time this past summer, and it was nothing short of a fantastic. I think you were dead on in your interpretation that Jack Nicholson’s character, Randal McMurphy, is there to bring each patient out of their shell, in a way, and personally help them face and conquer whatever has been bothering them. Although the ending is sad when Randal is lomotomized, I think his spirit, no doubt, lives on in each of the men he assists in his time at the mental institution. The Chief is obviously the only one we see escaping at the end; however, I feel he represents them all (the Doc, Danny DeVito, Billy, etc.). It is definitely a film that leaves you thinking long after it’s over – those are the best kinds.

    Keep up the good work on the site!

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