One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Tue November 6, 7:30 PM

Muenzinger Auditorium

Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive
While serving time for insanity at a state mental hospital, implacable rabble-rouser, Randle Patrick McMurphy inspires his fellow patients to rebel against the authoritarian rule of head nurse, Mildred Ratched.

There is a curiously extended closeup of Jack Nicholson about four-fifths of the way through "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." We notice it because it lingers noticeably. It shows his character, R.P. McMurphy, lost in thought. It comes at the balancing point between the pranks and laughter of the earlier parts of the film, and the final descent into tragedy. What is he thinking? Is he planning new defiance, or realizing that all is lost?

The mystery of what McMurphy is thinking is the mystery of the movie. It all leads up to a late scene where he is found asleep on the floor next to an open window. By deciding not to escape, he has more or less chosen his own fate. Has his life force run out at last? After his uprising against the mental institution, after the inmates' rebellion that he led, after his life-affirming transformations of Billy and the Chief, after his comeback from an initial dose of shock therapy, has he come at last to the end of his hope?

Is "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" not a great film because it is manipulative, or is it great because it is so superbly manipulative? I can see it through either filter. It remains enduringly popular as an anti-establishment parable, but achieves its success by deliberately choosing to use the mental patients as comic caricatures. This decision leads to the fishing trip, which is at once the most popular, and the most false, scene in the movie. It is McMurphy's great joyous thumb in the eye to Ratched and her kind, but the energy of the sequence cannot disguise the unease and confusion of men who, in many cases, have no idea where they are, or why.

— Roger Ebert

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