It was 23:40 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was about to start in 10 minutes on BBC One. I’d seen the movie on various best ever lists and had been meaning to watch it. Normally, what I do when it comes to a classic film is watch the trailer, read a synopsis and usually read some reviews to get an understanding of what to expect and why it’s so great. I didn’t do any of that for Cuckoo’s Nest and went in to the movie with a glass of milk and chocolate; nothing else. My under prepared nature had me in for a huge range of spontaneous reactions, in response to the absolute madness that took place in the Oregon psychiatric hospital.
|taken from telegraph.co.uk|
The story itself is similar to those Basketball/American Football outings where the star player has a bunch of weasels to coach; except, it’s set in a psychiatric ward. The star player in this instance is Randle McMurphy, played by the legend that is Jack Nicholson. The guys he has to coach are a select few unable characters who suffer from a range of inabilities including Tourette’s, paranoia, anger problems, epilepsy and one notable mute/deaf individual. As someone who has acted before and looked for inspiration, I genuinely felt spoilt for choice in this movie. The patients are so detailed with their body language, expressions and speech and they challenge each other in various scenes. Danny DeVito’s consistent smiling becomes a haunting image by the end; Will Sampson’s incredible stature and ironic lack of speech gives him a powerful presence; William Redfield’s academic abilities is overshadowed by his extreme paranoia and Dourif’s final scene is a magical example of believable acting. In acting terms, Cuckoo’s Nest is Stanislavski combined with elements of Beckett.
Nicholson has done a fine job in this movie, with an unusual role to say the least. His efforts are reflected by the fact that he won so many awards that year for Best Actor. Randle McMurphy reminded me of a rebel cockney geezer who doesn’t give a f*ck about anything, anyone; until he finds a motive with his fellow inmates. Whilst I acknowledge Nicholson’s performance as one of his best and respect that not many people will agree with me on this, I think the standout performer – who literally steals the show – is Louise Fletcher. When the movie had ended, Fletcher’s stern look was an image that stayed with me until this very moment. The way she has adapted her voice as Nurse Ratched is truly frightening. Her voice is eloquently intimidating and her presence is gripping every single time she appears. The evil look of intent in her eyes during the group votes, the final scene with Billy Bibbit and throughout the many stand-offs with Ratched are just a few examples of her world class performance. I don’t know if it was just me, but I think there wasn’t enough scope given to the obvious conflict between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy. Maybe just a few more scenes exclusively between them would have created more tension.
I'm really intrigued about the book that inspired this story. Forman's ability to contrast emotions is second to none. Cuckoo’s Nest is a strange combination of feel-good moments with disturbing ones and you can understand why they’ve stated this as one of the best movies of all time.