I love the Academy Awards and last year I realized how few of the “Best Picture” winners I’d actually seen. So I made it a goal to see all 83 winners and blog my thoughts about them along the way.

Why did it win? Should another movie have won instead? Has it become a beloved classic or do many of you not even recognize the title? I invite you, my friends and guests, to comment along with me. Do you agree/disagree? I should be fair and place a SPOLIER ALERT on this blog since I’ll be writing about various parts of the movie. So read at your own risk…

I have often told people that I have movie amnesia… I can see a movie and forget all about it years later. So for that reason, I am re-watching the 27 I’ve seen before. That said, if no one visits or reads my blog and I basically perform the online equivalent of talking to a brick wall, that’s fine; if for nothing else, it’ll be my own reminder. Enjoy!

And the Oscar goes to…

Monday, May 2, 2011

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, 1975

Rated R

SPOILER ALERT: I don’t think I necessarily ruin it for people who haven’t seen the movie, but since I reference specific parts, consider yourself warned.

This movie is considered one of the greatest movies of all time. It is on the American Movie Channel’s Top 100 list and was even selected by the Library of Congress for its National Film Registry. This was my first time seeing the movie and overall I thought it was good… I don’t think I’d carve out a time to watch it again though. I know it was based off the best-selling novel. Maybe because it wasn’t part of my high school’s required reading, I never got attached to it; I don’t know. And just to show you how clueless I was about this film, I thought it was a scary movie so I was hesitant to watch it. (Now I know, as my husband pointed out, I had it confused with “The Shining”.)

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” takes place in Oregon in 1963. The story follows Randall McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) who tries to get out of his prison work/sentence by claiming to be crazy. He gets checked into a mental institution and sits through group therapy sessions with other patients (most who are there voluntarily) lead by icy dictator Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). He is unaware, until later, that the prison sentence time doesn’t directly translate to his asylum time; he will be released when they feel he is fit. He thinks Nurse Ratched “plays a rigged game”; to show his views on conformity,  he plans and invokes some rowdy and rebellious behavior with the other patients. They look to McMurphy as their leader and start to experience some levels of self-worth because of him. The film ends tragically involving a suicide, a forced lobotomy, and a murder. The ‘one who [flies] over the cuckoo’s nest’, however, escapes.

After doing a bit of research about the film, I read that the asylum was a metaphor for the Soviet Union and the desire to escape. I also discovered the meaning behind the title of the novel/film… It is from a Mother Goose nursery rhyme:

One flew east,
And one flew west,
And one flew over the cuckoo's nest.

McMurphy and Nurse Ratched are symbolized as the geese that fly in opposite directions and the one who flies above them all is the giant “deaf-mute” patient Chief.

Having a younger sister with a mental disability, this movie triggered a lot of personal emotions and reactions in me. I wanted to reach out and hug the patients during their therapy sessions whereas Nurse Ratched’s character made me shiver. The one credit I can give her character is that she remained calm (for the most part). The phrase, “you’re crazy if you’re arguing with a crazy person” comes to mind because I think she was trying to be even keel for those around her. But what the patients needed and wanted was some sensitivity, graciousness, and a damn human emotion occasionally. Obviously the ideas of electroconvulsive therapy and lobotomy send chills up my spine. It was so hard for me to watch when McMurphy was strapped down for his “treatment”. And tears welled up for me at the end when Chief held his new friend who was changed forever in his arms. It’s amazing to me to know that the scientist/doctor who invented the controversial lobotomy procedure was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1949.

Was McMurphy’s character insane? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t suffer from a personality or social disorder. Child Psychopathology was one of my favorite courses in college, and I have to refer back to my textbook’s definition of Antisocial Personality Disorder... I think one could strongly argue that he fits at least three of the seven qualifying criteria. However, McMurphy also has the ability to form meaningful relationships. He has the opportunity several times to escape, but he doesn’t; something keeps him rooted to the nest.

This film was the second film in Oscar history to win the top five coveted awards (Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Adapted Screenplay). (Refer back to my previous post on “It Happened One Night” as the first film to win those five.) It was nominated for nine awards and was up against “Barry Lyndon”, “Jaws”, “Nashville”, and “Dog Day Afternoon” for the Best Picture award. I’ve only heard of “Jaws”, but I haven’t seen it. I was a little surprised to learn that Louise Fletcher won Best Actress for her portrayal of Nurse Ratched. First, I felt it was more of a supporting role, but I also didn’t think her acting was all that spectacular. She was basically NOT acting…. or not acting like a human, anyways.

There are a few recognizable faces in the film including Christopher Lloyd and Danny DeVito, both who were good for a laugh or two. I didn’t realize that I watched a much older Nurse Ratched on the TV show “Private Practice” recently.


McMurphy  organizes a patient/orderly game of basketball. Chief just walks up and down the court. He either reaches up to dunk the ball thrown to him or he pushes the ball back out of the basket. It was a cute scene where you could see the camaraderie these men were beginning to feel.


Question authority. But do so when appropriate and with respect.

Research your options for treatment. Unfortunately, this was not a luxury during this time. Thankfully, now, there are a slew of different treatments for disorders and disabilities (i.e. medications, therapies, assisted living facilities, etc.).


  1. This is a wonderful, wonderful film. We watched it for our Foundations of Psychology as a Human Science course. It raises so many great topics of discussion in psychology and philosophy, like existentialism (confronting our finitude), psychotherapy (humanistic vs. behavioral vs. psychiatric) ontology (what it means to be a human and experience being in the world). I know it would be a good book for a book club.

  2. Sis, I knew you would have a lot to say about it. I'm glad you enjoyed it so much. Like I wrote in the first paragraph, I knew I'd be in the minority for not loving this film. I know I would've been more into it had I had a class that discussed it thoroughly, whether in English or Psychology, or even in a book club. But that's what I hope tyhis blog can create for me too... more discussion.
    Love you.

  3. Interesting approach to a film review. Keep them coming Amy! ~ Alison

  4. Just finished re-watching this...so sad. I saw a show on pbs about the lobotomy. You can watch it here http://www.hulu.com/watch/196927/american-experience-the-lobotomist if you're interested!

    If you ever read it let me know, maybe I will too;)