One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

March 15, 2010

In one week, I can put a bug so far up her ass, she don’t know whether to shit or wind her wristwatch.

Jack Nicholson plays Randle P. McMurphy, a man transferred to hospital from prison for an assessment on his mental condition. There, he comes into conflict with Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), teams up with the unspeaking, unreactive Chief (Will Sampson) and generally sets about rebelling against the controlling authority of the hospital.

This is a good film. It’s beautifully shot, and well-paced, played and written. However, this goodness is in the service of a dark and evil master. There are four speaking female characters in this movie: Two of them are whores, one of them is the evil and emasculating Nurse Ratched and the other one is her sidekick whose major role is to scream unprofessionally when confronted with a slightly unconvincing but dramatic plot development. In short – this film is not only sexist, but misogynistic. It’s also racist (the only black characters are the orderlies, in unthinking service to the machine), but in a rather more casual way.

Part of the problem is that Jack Nicholson is too charismatic and sympathetic an actor – it’s impossible not to be on Randle. P. McMurphy’s side, and as a result his view becomes all-encompassing, and difficult to question. There’s no room for any shading at all, and as a result the “nasty evil ball-breaking woman and her negro sidekicks repress the poor fragile white men” theme becomes unavoidable. Even the interesting question of whether McMurphy, who clearly has some problems, should be getting treatment or be back in prison gets sacrificed on the altar of simplification.

There’s also a weird attitude to the patients at the hospital – the film veers very close to suggesting that all people with mental health issues need to do is get out and be normal, damnit. I think that’s accidental, in that it’s trying to be anti-establishment and anti-institutional, which is rather more laudable, but when you’ve committed so many sins you don’t get a pass on that one.

It’s a shame that so much skill, talent and artistry has been wasted on a film that has such a dark heart, and it’s an even bigger shame that it seems so many people get swept up in the anti-establishment fervour and don’t think about what was chosen to represent that establishment. In the end, this is a movie that stands up and says “I am saying something true.”

It’s lying.

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