Sometimes it takes a spirit so full of life that it cannot be tamed to bring life to those most in need of it. In this endearing tale, inspiration becomes something that spreads like a virus but heals like a natural remedy.
Directed by Milos Forman, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest takes us into a dark and disturbing reality that few people ever think about, much less get to see firsthand. Jack Nicholson plays R.P. McMurphy, a habitual criminal who believes his ticket to avoid the big house is feigning mental illness so that he can be placed in a mental institution instead. Sounds like a good plan, right? As we follow McMurphy’s journey, a gritty and grim picture of the mental healthcare system comes together before our eyes. It soon becomes clear that, like the Hotel California, you can check in but it is highly unlikely you will ever leave.
The film is rife with actors that are now very familiar but may not have been at the time the film was released. Danny DeVito is nearly unrecognizable at first as Martini, and Christopher Lloyd plays a zany version of himself as Taber. But McMurphy soon befriends Chief Bromden (played by Will Sampson) who steals the show. The two men form a bond that inspires Chief to break his silence and find freedom when he can. The development of the friendship is a sweet journey to watch, and makes for a very fitting end to what could otherwise be a true downer of a film, as it tugs your heartstrings right out of your chest.
While a ward at the institution, McMurphy becomes outraged with the limitations on the rights and lives of the patients he meets there. He begins rebelling against the staff, including the icy head nurse, Nurse Ratched (played by Louise Fletcher). Nurse Ratched is dead-set on preventing anyone from having a second of fun under her watch, and has three burly orderlies to assist her in seeing that this does not happen. After McMurphy encourages and instigates episode after episode of wild antics, including an escape and day trip with some of the patients, Nurse Ratched has has enough and takes drastic action. Electroshock therapy doesn’t seem to do the trick, and as a result McMurphy is taken to a place from which he can never return.
If you have never had the singularly unsettling experience of seeing the inside of a mental institution for yourself, I strongly suggest you watch this film with an open mind. Having worked in a facility much like this one, I can say that this is all too truthful and accurate, and even perhaps sugarcoated to some degree. Abuse of patients is rampant in far too many cases in such places, and people who need to be fixed are often left broken and forgotten for the entirety of their lives. The ending of this film is far too often the equivalent to what happens to modern-day mental patients, and unfortunately, not too many patients make a break for it like Chief Bromden. It is my believe that everyone owes it to those loved ones in their lives with mental illnesses to watch this movie and see how horrible life could be if just a few chemicals were not balanced right upstairs, or if perhaps a traumatic life event had altered one’s view of the world, or perhaps even good old genetics had short-changed a person. Mental illness, when not given proper care and respect, is an ugly, ugly thing to behold. But perhaps even uglier are the ways we as human beings have met the problem, under-treated it, and continue to treat poorly and inadequately those beings locked away in prisons of both their and our making, crying for help and never heard.