Directed by Milos Forman

Produced Saul Zaentz, Michael Douglas

Screenplay by: Lawrence Hauben & Bo Goldman – adapted from Ken Kesey’s novel.

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson, William Redfield, Brad Dourif, Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito, Sydney Lassick etc.

Cinematography: Haskell Wexler


Image result for one flew over the cuckoo's nest

Multi-award winning One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) is easily one of the most complex, intense and darkly funny cinematic explorations of mental health I have ever seen. It is also one of the best films I have ever seen too. Based on Ken Kesey’s novel, it charts the admission of Randall P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) to an Oregon mental institution as he attempts to avoid hard labour at a prison farm.

McMurphy is a charismatic, anti-heroic and anti-establishment criminal, but definitely not crazy in the clinical sense. Rather than lie low and serve his time though, he constantly clashes with the staff, notably Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). His unruly behaviour causes him to excite the other patients of the facility, becoming infectious. Thus, Nurse Ratched acts to quell such rebellion causing further conflict with McMurphy. Jack Nicholson is on absolutely incredible form in this film. He’s wild, funny, excitable, manipulative and very entertaining. On the other hand, Louise Fletcher is cool, calm, but equally devious. She loves to be in control and takes quiet joy in denying the inmates their wants.

When McMurphy “loses” a vote to watch the World Series Baseball of 1963 on television, he’s determined to get his own way. So much so, in this classic scene, he enacts what he thinks is happening in a fake commentary. Nicholson is so realistic and excitable you feel like you’re actually at the game. It’s such a classic scene with the gentle music counterpointing Nicholson’s manic delivery. Moreover, the ensemble inmate’s celebrations, Nurse Ratched’s cold-hearted face and a blank television screen create a powerful set of images. Ultimately, McMurphy is a tragic character as he tries to bend the system, only to eventually break himself by the end.


    1. Thanks for commenting, Cindy. Yes, however good a film adaptation may be the book will almost always be better. But then it’s difficult to compare the medium of literature and cinema as they have different effects on the senses. Both are classics in their respective forms – I say !


  1. I love this film also. The ending… It’s so brilliant. So profound and majestic. I agree with both you and Cindy; with the book I was able to see–in my minds eye–this battle of will and personality disorders more clearly, whereas with the movie I was a bit overwhelmed by Nicholson, as I, almost, always am.

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    1. Thanks for reading. That’s a great point you make. Psychologically the book takes us even further into the heart and emotion of the characters. I think I this scene though there are some sudden quiet looks in Jack’s performance which show his mind working to retrieve power back. Of course, mania wins out, but it’s such clever acting.

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      1. You’re right. Nicholson is gifted with a wonderful sense of time. He knows it, though, and sometimes–IMHO–he ruins it by emphasizing it too much. To me, Louise Fletcher’s timing was completely natural. To me, her characterization, in it’s frigidity and air tight control was more complex and better. But, that’s just me.

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      2. Totally agree. Great points. Definitely in later roles Nicholson became a parody in many performances. But I would say that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a Nicholson defining role; one which originates the crazed OTT roles he would be drawn to in future. In Five Easy Pieces and The Passenger he is relatively restrained and excellent too. I guess it’s down to the director. I’m not going to argue with Milos Forman or Stanley Kubrick 😁

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