This Movie Makes Me Angry.
But in a good way — Nurse Ratched deserves all the misfortune she gets.
American Film Institute’s Ranking: #20/100
Awards: Nominated for nine winning for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Adapted Screenplay.
We all know a Nurse Ratched. Mine was a school administrator.
Calm and deadly, she would bait students into arguments and then put them away in detention. One time she saw me using my cellphone on school property after hours and told me that it wasn’t allowed; I didn’t fall for it knowing what she was trying to do. She attempted to further raise my gull by threatening me with punishment if I didn’t put away my cell phone, but I kept my cool, and she eventually shrugged her shoulders and walked off looking for her next prey.
Of course, she was the one who would speak to the school board or other public forums on the importance of school discipline. Untouchable, school allowed a social miscreant to hold power over the powerless. What hypocrisy.
That same immense indignant feeling is what Nurse Ratchet brought back up in me. While it’s hard to evaluate the movie because the book is just so much better, the movie still gives rise to pure joy when the “patients” get to experience life and pure disgust when someone like Nurse Ratchet is allowed to exist, and even worse, protected by the system.
Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) enters a mental health institution to avoid serving jail time for the statutory rape of a 15 year old girl. He immediately begins challenging the status quo that Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) has been so meticulous in creating. She rules the place with an iron fist by using the patient’s insecurities against them to keep ’em docile.
McMurphy plays also sorts of pranks: he starts a gambling ring and stock piling cigarettes; he disrupts the regimented schedule for baseball games; he confiscates a bus and takes everyone on a fishing trip. This only makes Ratched more determined to take back the reigns.
The question: who wins?
I’ve already talked a lot about these themes due to reviewing the book previously. Instead of just rehashing, I want to talk about one thing the movie changes (for the worse) and one thing I haven’t discussed.
What makes the book so fascinating is that it’s told from the perspective of Chief, the mute Native American. This idea came to Ken Kesey during one of his many acid trips (documented in a top 100 non-fiction book), and in his opinion, MADE the book. Randle McMurphy always remains other worldly because the story is never told from his perspective. Since Chief is a neutral character, we get to decide who is the crazy one: Randle or Ratched.
The movie instead puts it from the perspective of McMurphy. This does a whole lot of shit that isn’t productive because it changes the whole narrative structure. Instead of some separated third party, we are biased as we go along with McMurphy’s shenanigans. It also required additional scenes that weren’t in the book to make it work, like when McMurphy meets the head psychologist in his office.
Probably the worst offense is that it makes Chief a complete unknown. The entire novel is filled with his thoughts and narration, but in the movie we barely get to know him. The ending, where Chief escapes in dramatic fashion, is blunted because we have no connection with him. We are glad someone escaped that hellhole, but it’s not like we knew the guy.
Who Killed Billy?
In the penultimate event, Ratched returns to see McMurphy has thrown a party where Billy Bibbit had sex with a girl. Everyone’s ecstatic for Billy, including himself. A man with no esteem or self-acceptance, you can see he started to put building blocks in place to make something of himself. Ratched quickly takes that away, twisting the thumb screws in his head of guilt. Billy ends up killing himself, and there is a noticeable reality vs. perception gap.
Obviously, we have the public perception side. Someone breaks protocol while a patient goes rouge and everything can be traced back to him. What goes unnoticed is the reality of who killed him: Ratched directly created the pressure, and did it intentionally to create harm. She escapes all responsibility, protected by the system with its love of protocol.
It really makes you think about the machinery of systemic oppression. It takes utmost responsibility to do something off schedule because you will be blamed for everything in its entirety if it goes wrong. Follow protocol, however, and you will be blameless regardless how many people you grind up along the way.
Maybe it’s a good movie, but go read the book, please!
Other People’s Takes:
- The Marcko Guy: “My final score for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is a 9,8/10 and I tell you that you have to buy it! Now! This is an incredibly well directed, well-acted and just generally amazing movie.”
- Drew’s Movie Reviews: “One of the major reasons why this film is so amazing is Jack Nicholson’s Oscar winning performance as the roguish but inherently supportable R.P. McMurphy – probably his greatest role ever in my opinion.”
- Charlene’s (Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews: “Much has changed since this film’s era, and much continues to evolve within psychiatry as it is still considered to be a new discipline. Antipsychotics and other medications have become more widespread and appropriately used, and lobotomies are thankfully not performed as far as I know.”