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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

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One Flew Over the
Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

"A heroic struggle of personality against an institution of mindless conformity"

"one of the greatest American films of all time, directed by Czech Milos Forman. The film swept the Oscars, the first film to take all the major awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor - Jack Nicholson's first, and Best Actress) since Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (1934). Its allegorical theme is set in the world of an authentic mental hospital, a place of rebellion by a wise-guy hero against institutional authority and attitudes. ” Tim Dirks movie review
It was a book (author Ken Kesey wrote it in the early sixties) and a Broadway play (with Kirk Douglas in the lead role) before being adapted for the screen.
Directed by Milos Forman (from Prague) who also made Amadeus (filmed in Prague)

  • Why might this story appeal to someone from a Communist country?

  • Do the inmates have free will? What does free will mean to them?

  • What is freedom? Who has it in this film? What do they do with it?

  • Is there justice here? Retributive? Distributive?

  • Who is crazy here?

"Cuckoo's Nest" is a powerful anti-psychiatry film. Ironically, it was made in the aftermath of the decarceration movement when surgical and electroshock therapies were already in decline. Bracketed by the English translations of Michel Foucault's studies of madness and imprisonment, it reflected society's disillusionment with the psychiatric modalities that had enjoyed so much acclaim two decades earlier." Jacalyn Duffin

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a parable for how our society refuses to tolerate nonconformity. The Flick Filosofer

  • Does there have to be this struggle between society and individualism?

  • Is the winner always preordained?

  • How could McMurphy have won? Did he lose? What did he lose?

  • Is society good or evil?

  • Nurse Ratchid is the dictator here. Why does she bother to be so outwardly 'nice'?

From other webpages….

The film received mixed reviews from critics. Roger Ebert (who would later win a Pulitzer Prize that year) claimed that "Milos Forman's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is a film so good in so many of its parts that there's a temptation to forgive it when it goes wrong. But it does go wrong, insisting on making larger points than its story really should carry, so that at the end, the human qualities of the characters get lost in the significance of it all. And yet there are those moments of brilliance".[2] Ebert would later put the film on his "Great Movies" list.[3] A.D. Murphy of Variety Magazine wrote a mixed review as well.[4] The film went on to win a total of five Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Jack Nicholson (who played McMurphy), Best Actress for Louise Fletcher (who played Nurse Ratched), Best Direction for Miloš Forman, as well as Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Today, the film is considered to be one of the greatest American films and has ranked as number 20 on the American Film Institute's list of 100 greatest American films, Nurse Ratched was ranked number 5 on the Institute's list of 50 Greatest Villains, and the film consistently ranks in the top 12 on the Internet Movie Database.

Kesey himself did not hide his dislike of the film, particularly the casting of Nicholson as McMurphy (the characters were based on actual patients Kesey knew from a mental hospital). Kesey also loathed the fact that the film was not told through the eyes of Chief Bromden, as the book was, for he saw this as fundamental to the story. Kesey claimed to have never seen the film for these reasons.

The film has been deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

Ken Kesey, born in 1935, was raised on farms in Colorado and Oregon.  At the University of Oregon, he participated in wrestling and theater. He married his high school sweatheart and they had 3 children together. In 1959, when he volunteered to be a subject in experiments with hallucinogenic drugs, his life underwent a dramatic change.  Near the end of the experiments, he began working the night shift in a mental ward.  He started to feel that the patients were not really crazy after all, just more individualized than society was willing to accept.  Parts of this novel were written while he was under the influence of LSD and peyote.

Kesey's specialty at the time was green Kool-Aid laced with LSD.  In 1964, promoting his new book, Sometimes a Great Notion, he and his friends, dubbed the Merry Pranksters, drove from San Francisco to New York in a psychedelic painted bus (paid for with the proceeds of Cuckoo's Nest.)   His bus, Further, was immortalized in the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and On the Bus.  Kesey  hid 6 months (with his bus) in Mexico to avoid imprisonment for possession of marijuana, then gave himself up to authorities, and was jailed for 5 months.  His writing changed from fiction to autobiographical prose, although in later years he returned to fiction with Sailor Song and Last Go Round.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest may have had more influence on society than society had on Kesey.  The book was widely read by college students just as the baby boomers began to challenge authority. It is considered a masterpiece.  Until his death in 2001, Kesey resided in Oregon where he had been active in the PTA :-). 

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