The new Blu-Ray of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is a slight improvement over the
standard edition version but considering the style of photography this picture needs all
the help it can get so I recommend it as the best this movie is capable of looking. The
5.1 stereo re-mix is okay in that the background music and theme are more directional
and the thumping of the title music has a sub-woofer kick. Otherwise, it's a center dialogue
driven movie and is acceptable.
As I've stated in other reviews, I'm not a big fan of 'talking head' movies. My favorite features
are those that are uniquely 'cinematic'. In other words, they are ideally suited and created for
movies. An artistic combination of cinematography with dramatic lighting and compositions
accompanied by stereo surround that is both atmospheric and puts the audience into the narrative.
So, my all time favorite films are those like "Vertigo", "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", "2001: A
Space Odyssey" and "The Wild Bunch". Cinematic in every sense of the word. Well, "One Flew Over the
Cuckoo's Nest" this isn't one of those movies. However, as 'talking head' pictures go, it's one
of the best and one of my favorites in a genre I'm not partial too...if that makes any sense.
Jack Nicholson spent years slogging through low budget exploitation films with Roger Corman
(i.e. "Little Shop of Horrors") and was also a part time screenwriter for zany movies like the Monkee's "Head". Until 1967 his talents seemed modest at best and he was a bit over the hill
to be part of the 'youth movement'. Then his big breakthrough as a performer came through with "Easy
Rider" and for contemporary viewers, he's the best thing in the movie. He's hysterical as a
thirtyish, alcoholic ambulance chaser who tags along with the two hippies for a while. As I
mentioned in my review of that Blu Ray, his role in that movie seemed like an audition for his
defining role as Randall McMurphy in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest".
The movie was produced by Michael Douglas, the son of superstar Kirk Douglas who had
starred in the stage adaptation of Ken Kesey's novel. He assumed he would be asked
to star in the movie version but was too old by 1976 so his son hired Nicholson. This caused
quite a rift in the family although father and son later reconciled when the picture earned
They shot the film very inexpensively in a real mental asylum with a collection of other
"Method actors" who are so convincing you would assume they were real patients if you
hadn't seen Danny De Vito and Christopher Lloyd in their other starring roles years later.
The cast actually lived in the institution during the production and did extensive research
into what mental illness each character was suffering from. Using two cinematographers, the film is basically a series of flatly lit close ups of the characters interacting within the narrative with little, if any, imagination in composition and camerawork. However, the acting is so fantastic it works within this context and I saw the film a couple of times when it was released and many times over the years in various video formats.
Although it was made after the counter-culture movement of the sixties had fizzled out,
it's still timely in it's anti-authority theme of how people in power abuse it and
degrade those they are responsible for. The story has a subtle anti-feminist subtext
which I can relate to. It takes place in the sixties like the novel although
you have to pay close attention to realise it's a period piece. This was the era when 'non-conformists'
were institutionalized and occasionally given shock treatments and even lobotomized if they
didn't adhere to society's standards. The question is...who sets those standards and what
scrutiny is given to them? While audiences are amused by McMurphy's non-comformity and anti-establishment attitude in hindsight he may well have been somewhat mentally disturbed in that he was completely reckless and irresponsible in his interaction with other people on a dangerous level. It's very funny when he takes the fellow mental patients on a fishing trip and he was lucky that no one was
injured but the risk of someone getting hurt there was real and one can also see the other
side. What if one of the patients had fallen over board while he was trying to have fun with his floozy in the cabin while the boat they stole drove in circles? Or what if it had run out of gas and they were stranded in the middle of the ocean? I guess these are the types of questions you're not supposed
to ask. Is McMurphy crazy? Perhaps not but he's certainly totally irresponsible which could
have serious consequences in other circumstances.
After all the fun and games the movie has a very depressing ending which can leave new
viewers disturbed. Chief Bromden escaping at the end isn't really the catharsis intended since
director, Milos Foreman, changed the book's perspective. In the novel, the story is told through his perspective. In the movie it's through McMurphy's worldview which makes the Chief's liberation less satisfying.
Still, it's an effective and entertaining counter-culture movie which seems more like a period
piece now than when it was released.
As for the author, Ken Kesey, he was a borderline McMurphy himself and less sympathetic.
After writing this novel he became part of the sixties "Merry Pranksters". Who were they? They
were a group of radical Leftists who traveled around America giving free LSD to young people to
tune in, turn on and drop out. LSD could generate either pleasant hallucinagenic 'trips' or
horrifying 'bad' trips that could drive a person mad. In both cases LSD fried your brain and
destroyed cells. Those who went on too many trips ended up like stroke patients. Perhaps
I shouldn't have mentioned this but I thought it was important to include all of the data on
the counter-culture movement so viewers could consider it's attributes and liabilities to the
movies that glorified it.
In case your wondering, I've never tried these drugs nor gone on a 'trip'. I was just an adolsescent
when all this was happening but I've seen the end results of what it could do to a person in the