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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Friday, July 2 - Monday, July 5, 2010

“We meet a classic outsider — R.P. McMurphy, a quintessentially sane convict sent to the institution as a punishment for troublemaking — whose charisma and gall allow him to break through to a group of patients who’ve mostly fallen into a drugged lethargy. Their passive existence is reinforced by the unsmiling, domineering Nurse Ratched, who lines them up for compulsory tranquilizers and then leads them through group therapy in a stupor.

McMurphy has no insights into the nature of mental illness, which is his blessing. He’s an extroverted, life-loving force of nature who sees his fellow patients as teammates, and defines the game as the systematic defiance of Nurse Ratched and the system she personifies. In many of the best scenes in the film, this defiance takes the shape of spontaneous and even innocent little rebellions: During exercise period, the patients mill around aimlessly on a basketball court until McMurphy hilariously tries to get a game going.

He also makes bets and outrageous dares, and does some rudimentary political organizing. He needs the votes of ten patients, out of a possible eighteen, to get the ward schedule changed so they can all watch the World Series — and his victory is in overcoming the indifference the others feel not only toward the Series but toward existence itself. McMurphy is the life force, the will to prevail, set down in the midst of a community of the defeated. And he’s personified and made totally credible by Jack Nicholson, in another of the remarkable performances that have made him the most interesting actor to emerge in the last two decades. Nicholson, manically trying to teach basketball to an Indian (Will Sampson) who hasn’t even spoken in twelve years, sometimes succeeds in translating the meaning of the movie and Ken Kesey’s novel into a series of direct, physical demonstrations.”

– Rogert Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.

  • Country USA
  • Rating R
  • Year 1975
  • Running Time 133 min. minutes
  • Director Milos Forman