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Author Topic: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)  (Read 11373 times)
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« on: May 15, 2009, 08:59:37 AM »

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - 4/10 - What a load of pretentious, borderline unwatchable horse shit. Nicholson's character is completely unlikeable and I don't see a single reason to find any of his actions admirable or even condonable. Basically he's a criminal who went to a mental hospital because he couldn't hack it in prison, and his great accomplishment is convincing a lot of mental patients to turn violent and ransack the mental hospital for the hell of it. What a great hero. I don't exactly see Nurse Ratched as an evil character either, to be honest; what exactly does she do that's so bad? Try to keep her patients in line? How evil. This movie is very much deserving of a long-winded roasting, and hopefully I'll have time and Internet enough to get around to that later.

FWIU, the movie is very different from the book. So different, in fact, that Ken Kesey, the novel's author, vowed never to watch it. I believe he kept that vow until his death.

boy, talk about mussing the point! Roll Eyes

Please explain, oh great one, what I missed. Some bullshit metaphor equating the mental hospital with American society? How deep.

She breaks the spirits of the patients, doesn't treat them as individuals. How is it pretentious to question authority, especially in that specific era? It's not like the film overshoots its subject matter. X oscar season movie is way more pretentious than OFOTCN could ever dream of being. I gather you hate this film solely because of political reasons

To be fair, if McMurphy weren't such an obnoxious character I might be more amenable to what the film has to say. Ratched isn't exactly a heroic or model character but on the other hand the alternative seems as bad, if not worse

Fistful Of Dollars

Clint Eastwood plays a greedy prick who witnesses a kid get shot at and does nothing to stop it.
He also wears a dirty poncho and probably smells bad too! How could I relate to such a nasty guy?
What a great hero...

Verdict : puerile crap!
1/10

I don't like Fistful of Dollars that much. Nice try though.

Evidently FC has never heard of genres. Well, a one-size-fits-all film crit approach does have the virtue of simplicity


I think R.P. McMurphy can count as an anti-hero, no?

I never thought OFOTCN was a full-blown masterpiece, but it is without any doubt a great study of human psychology, and furthermore institutions... and many more things. It's too bad it sometimes turns unsubtle in order to deliver the message(s), but I guess it had to be that way in the time it was made. I've never read the book but I doubt it can be that superior.

The character of McMurphy is, IMO, not heroic nor anti-heroic. He's merely someone who saw the opportunity to try to change something working in his own way, and make a benefit for himself in the process. As seen in the first episode he does it for his own amusement. He has psychological problems, whether they're more or less serious I couldn't tell, I'm no expert, but he has them, be sure about it. The beauty of his character is that you really can't tell for sure. You know what I mean, he's the guy in your street that is something of a town's fool, but everybody likes in some way, that you don't know if he's really 100% crazy, or merely crazy with episodes from time to time, or drunk, or just pretending all because of his strange sense of humor. You must have met him at some point of your life. I can't recall seeing a so trusty representation of this kind of person in any movie I've seen.

Nurse Wretched-Ratched is probably the most disgusting, venomous, malicious and mean loser seen holding a higher hierarchy position in the history of cinema. How she manipulates and feeds on the misery of those poor patents, thus subjugating them to the system that needs them to survive, but really more to relieve herself from the pain of her subliminal complexe(s), is ingenious as it is nefarious. The worst part of her character is the fact that she doesn't even have the dignity to do it openly, but hiding behind her silver badge. What a pathetic fungus.


7. 5 / 10

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« Reply #1 on: May 15, 2009, 08:59:55 AM »

See, I think the movie tries to make the case that McMurphy is a guy we should be rooting for. I found him a disgusting miscreant and couldn't find a single reason to throw him my sympathy or even interest. I don't see his brand of self-indulgent anarchy as being any better for the patients than Ratched's strict authoritariansim. On the other hand, Leone makes no pretensions of the MWNN being a heroic character (although he does have some virtuous motivations at times in the trilogy), so I don't see the comparison as valid. And as Jenkins implies, there's the difference between the hero of a social problem film/allegory and a Western.

I see what Tuco is saying but by no means does that mean that I should like or even be interested in McMurphy. I'd probably punch his lights out if I met him in real life. If the characer is supposed to be scum like the Cape Fear protagonists or to a lesser extent MWNN, it's not really a problem. Certainly those characters aren't as obnoxious as McMurphy. Whether that's Kesey or Foreman or Nicholson's fault is open to question, but either way.

I wrote this before reading Groggy's response, so we overlap a bit.

Sure, but there are anti-heroes and there are anti-heroes. When Joe in FOD goes forth it is into a chaos world of lawlessness. And he gives the Rojos and Baxters a strong dose of what they've been giving everybody else. Their passing will make things better, or at least will bring the possibility of a better future. It is not likely that Joe is too concerned about the future of the town (provided we discount the apocryphal ABC prologue), but, nonetheless, his actions will facilitate a transition to an improved society.

Nothing could be more different than the case of R.P. McMurphy. A career criminal, McMurphy has spent his life defying society. No doubt we are intended to view that society as corrupt, but the very fact that places like the institution into which he is placed exist belie the notion. Here is a society that is trying to care for its weaker members. You can argue that the method of caring is not helpful, but what is the alternative? In fact, since the time period of the movie, our philosophy of institutionalized care has changed dramatically. Now, the idea is to institutionalize mental patients as infrequently as possible. The result? Record homelessness. Is one situation to be preferred over the other? The debate continues.

It is not a concern of McMurphy's, of course. He rebels for the sake of rebelling, and is willing to let the chips fall where they may. How nice for him. What about the rest? As Groggy points out, he doesn't exactly do anyone at the institution any favors by enlisting them in his--self-serving--cause. The exception may be the Will Sampson character. The Indian may be the one person who shouldn't be in the place, and through McMurphy's example, finally finds the will to leave. And that may be enough for some viewers of the film.

But the questions Groggy has raised remain. Why should we sympathize with McMurphy (simply because Nicholson's performance entertains us?). Why should we denigrate Nurse Ratched and the institution she represents (what is the real-world alternative?). Should we blame the fates of the other patients on the institution, or does McMurphy himself bear some or all of that blame? The film asks us to think in these terms by the very way it was made: the location shooting was done at a real (or former) facility; the doctors we see in the picture are real doctors, not actors. So our response to this film must be very different to the way we respond to a genre film.

Nice post, Jinkies. I can't say I disagree with any of what you say. Afro

I think the worst thing that Ratched can be accused of is perpetuating a bad system. The only two actions she does in the film that I see as remotely evil, or showing some degree of calculation, are the scene where she refuses to allow the inmates watch the World Series and when she argues against McMurphy's release; otherwise she seems to be a nurse trained in a certain school of psychology and advancing from its principles. Her grudge against McMurphy, while very wrong under the circumstances and considering her position, is understandable, especially considering that McMurphy is a selfish hellion raising hell for its own sake. (I strongly reject the idea that he somehow learns to act altruistically to help the other patients; I see it as him being pissed off that he's committed and can't leave and takes out his rage on Ratched and her cronies.) At worst, Ratched is a martinet who finds herself confronted with a very obvious challenge to her authority and can't handle the situation properly; I strongly disagree with the idea that she's being consciously evil or is (as someone on IMDB described her) a "power-hungry narcissist". And I still fail to see Murphy's alternative as being preferable. The movie stacks the deck to support this argument (to be fair, no moreso than most other social problem films do), but in real-life I doubt too many people would agree that McMurphy's "solution" is any better than what Ratched is doling out. By trying to make the asylum a metaphor for all of society, the message becomes even more garbled and troublesome.

No one knows this better than me. Come hang out on the University of Pittsburgh campus some time and just see how many homeless people, a great many of them mentally defective, are wandering around the campus without supervision or control of any kind, and ask whether their current situation is any better than Ratched's system.

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« Reply #2 on: May 15, 2009, 09:49:28 AM »

Hey, thanks, DD. Afro

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« Reply #3 on: May 15, 2009, 05:15:58 PM »

The movie is actually more interesting b/c of McMurphy's volatile nature, he represents the flawed nature of humans but that doesn't give any reason to justify Ratched's behavior. McMurphy even indirectly helps lift their collective spirits with most of his antics. I don't think McMurphy should be exonerated of any potential wrongdoing(s) because of his charisma - his crime is he's guilty of too much living, Ratched not enough. Both characters rest on extremes and I think the film is saying that there needs to a middle function in society. Loosen up but not too much, communicate with your fellow humaoid, give them comfort, don't supress or smother them with sterness.

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« Reply #4 on: May 15, 2009, 07:33:37 PM »

McMurphy even indirectly helps lift their collective spirits with most of his antics.

Which is why he is the hero of the story.
He doesn't care about the patients but his antics bring a positive aspect to their lives.
Much like Clint's behavoir in FOD. He wipes out scum for his own personal gain, thus ridding the town of nasties.

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« Reply #5 on: May 15, 2009, 08:00:08 PM »

Just keep pushing that analogy as far as it will go FC... Cheesy

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« Reply #6 on: May 16, 2009, 03:44:42 PM »

McMurphy in one moment actually succeeds in raising their spirits and making them feeling and acting as individuals, to a certain level that is possible, of course. There's no question, as it's been said, he does it mostly for his own amusement, but that doesn't change the fact that in one moment he does it. Voluntary or involuntary there is a moment when they reach out of the black metal box they've been put in, and show that sitting in a mental institution, smoking cigars, watching the ceiling, playing cards and drinking their medicine is not all they can do. Nobody's saying the can became politicians... Oh, wait, don't mind that, weak example. Nobody's selling the idea the can become brain surgeons.

While it is understandable that the medical system of that time, certainly not only America's, didn't need patients gaining their mental sanity back through collateral channels, thus proving its imperfection, Ratched's role in the whole business is much worse, because she begins her own crusade to destroy and humiliate the ones that won't let her sit in the front of the morning table anymore.

She doesn't give a fuck about the patients, about the nature of her job, about her professionally. Probably McMurphy isn't that much better, but the fact that in one moment he changed something should definitely mean something, just as her (bad) actions must be judged twice as hard. In the end, to underline it all with a hard cliche - it's her job.

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« Reply #7 on: May 17, 2009, 01:36:00 PM »

Here you are:

Quote
Perhaps I shouldn't have been overly surprised that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) bit the big one, considering that it was directed by Milos Foreman, who also gave us the turgid Amadeus, the first entry in this "series". But boy, did I despise this movie. I've had two days to chew this film over and despite hearing many arguments to the contrary, I find it repulsive and borderline awful.

In case it needs to be said, I am only judging the movie. I have never read Ken Kesey's novel (although Kesey seems to have disliked the adaptation) so all comments are directed at Foreman's adaptation. And what an awful adaptation. I can think of a number of "classic" movies that have let me down, but it's hard for me to think of one that inspired such active dislike - maybe Apocalypse Now or The Graduate? At least Amadeus and Barry Lyndon, the two previous entries in this series, were quite acomplished technically. This film has nothing going for it whatever aside from a few good performances, and a skewed worldview that's not a bit disturbing - not to mention a completely hateable protagnoist.

R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is a career criminal who feigns insanity to get out of prison and escape into the "easy life" at a mental institution. Unfortunately, R.P. doesn't reckon with the strictness of Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), the asylum's head nurse, who rules over her patients with an iron fist. R.P. then starts a one-man campaign of harrassment against Ratched, that begins for the hell of it but eventually does a better job of treating the patients (Brad Dourif, Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito, Will Sampson) than Ratched's strict authoritarian style, and we all learn something about how to treat the mentally ill, and thus ourselves. Or something.

Given that Foreman's direction is strictly kitchen sink, without any discernable style or flair, Cuckoo's Nest inevitably succeeds or fails on the merits of its story and characters, and that will be my primary basis for criticism. Not only is the film's message dated and garbled, the character of McMurphy is hideously unlikeable, and thus the film is borderline unwatchable.

Let's take a look at Nurse Ratched, a character who has come to represent evil incarnate since the novel (and film)'s release. She's certainly an intriguing character, helped a great deal by Louise Fletcher's subtle performance, but I fail to see her as evil. Certainly, the imputations that are often made of her - that she is a power-hungry narcissist who loves to hurt people - ring false for the most part; if anything, I'd argue the opposite. Her two most "evil" actions, her forbidding the patients to watch the World Series and her arguing against McMurphy's release from the asylum, are the only ones that show any degree of calculation on her part. She is a martinet who believes that strict authoritarianism is the way to treat her patients; rather like the jerk teacher who sent you to detention for talking after the bell in high school. The scene where she tries to intimidate Billy (Brad Dourif) into submission by threatening to tell his mother about shows the crux of the problem: she is misguided in her approach, and due to personality flaws badly unsuited for her job, but I see no evil intent in her words and actions. Her grudge against McMurphy, although horribly inappropriate for the situation, is certainly understandable given the deliberate campaign of wickedness the latter unleashes. In my opinion, the worst that could be said of Nurse Ratched is that she's perpetrating a bad system - but what is the alternative?

The movie's railing against the outdated asylum system is valid up to a point, although dated; lobotomies and electroshock therapy are used as much for punishment as treatment, and the isolation and treatment they receive from Ratched harms as much as it helps. This is fair enough; clearly isolating the mentally ill from society and treating them as robots rather than human beings does them little good. However, is the alternative of letting them run wild really better? Record levels in homelessness and unemployment since this change in attitudes towards the mentally ill suggest otherwise. My experiences at Pitt, which has one of the highest concentration of homeless and mentally ill people in America (evident by the dozens if not hundreds of derelicts hovering around campus), show that the alternative to the system under attack by the film is no less desirable, and the debate over treating the mentally ill is one not easily answered. Surely there must be a middle ground, but we as a society have yet to find it.

That being said, it's not like McMurphy, a two-bit criminal and life-long hell-raiser, would care about such a debate anyway. I don't buy the idea that he becomes enlightened and decides to help his fellow inmates out; to me, it seems just as plausible that he's pissed off about being committed rather than any sort of high-mindedness. Do we really believe that such a clearly self-interested and hateful character develops a moral conscience? The movie does try to suggest that his methods of "treatment" (tormenting the Nurses, leading the patients on a "vacation", causing riots, beating up orderlies and having a drunken party with trailer park sluts) work better than Ratched's, but it's not really convincing; at best, this is deck-stacking. At worst, it's completely disingenuous. And either way, it's very hard to believe that McMurphy of all people has the interest of anyone but himself at heart. He's an unlikeable scumbag, who whether or not he really is psychotic clearly has some sort of problem. The fact that he's a rebel does not automatically entitle him to my sympathy as a viewer.

The fact is that Cuckoo's Nest is not a diatribe against the state of mental health care in the US. It's an allegorical representation of '60s counter-culture, using a mental asylum to represent American society. This rather garbles the point, and I would suspect the message - that authority is evil and corrupt and rebellion, consequences be damned, is the answer - would be much more problematic were this film set in, say, a prison. Society may be corrupt, but clearly there are problems it needs to address, however imperfectly - otherwise institutions like prisons and asylums would not exist. Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, although not a favorite of mine, shows that both omnibus approaches to "treating" social ills, be it mental illness or crime, are equally flawed and ridiculous. This level of subtlety, however, is beyond the hip anti-authoritarianism of this film, which assumes that its audience will automatically be on the side of the outsider and the rebel, and blame society for all of the world's problems rather than individuals.

Any movie involving the mentally defective is an invitation for actors to chew scenery with reckless abandon, from Forrest Gump to Ryan's Daughter to I Am Sam - not to mention garnering some easy Oscar nods (inspiring Robert Downey Jr.'s excellent "Retard" speech in the otherwise mediocre Tropic Thunder). And such is the case here. Jack Nicholson gives his usual manic performance, and the fact that his character is pretending to mentally unbalanced certainly does little to dissuade him. I'm not a Nicholson fan by any means, and while I enjoy some of his performances (Chinatown, A Few Good Men) I also think his scenery chewing is often simply self-indulgent excess. The fact that Nicholson has such a repulsive character to play doesn't help matters, but his portrayal of McMurphy makes his turn in The Shining look like a piece of Paul Scofield underacting.

The supporting cast contains mostly ham actors chewing lots of scenery, with Christopher Lloyd, Brad Dourif and a youngish Danny DeVito among them. Will Sampson's almost-wordless part as the Chief is an exception, and he gives a refreshingly subtle performance that stands out amidst the scenery-chewing. Louise Fletcher's turn as Nurse Ratched is wonderfully subtle, and to her credit she doesn't play the character as evil incarnate. There's also a small part for Nicholson's Shining victim Scatman Crothers, here being victimized by Jack in an entirely different fashion.

So, on the whole, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is, in the words of the great Alan Mount, "excrement of the most fetid variety". When I find myself cheering for a character widely considered of cinema's nastiest villainesses, I think there's a problem on one end or the other.

Rating: 4/10 - Avoid (although 95% of readers will no doubt disagree)


http://nothingiswrittenfilm.blogspot.com/2009/05/your-classic-movie-sucks-3-one-flew.html

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« Reply #8 on: May 17, 2009, 04:32:12 PM »

In a world of lemmings, it's always a pleasure to hear the voice of one standing on his own two legs. Good job, Groggy Afro

I would only disagree about the performances, which I find generally very good (if a bit theatrical), and note in particular the work done by William Redfield, the mousy guy bullied by Christopher Lloyd. I think the Redfield-Lloyd exchanges represent some very sharp acting.

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« Reply #9 on: May 17, 2009, 04:53:31 PM »

Redfield is quite good, I should have mentioned him in the review.

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« Reply #10 on: May 18, 2009, 02:59:41 AM »

Just a thought, but did you ever consider that the asylum could be methaphor for the soviet Czechoslovakia? You know, Forman's homeland...

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« Reply #11 on: May 18, 2009, 06:14:10 AM »

He doesn't care about the patients but his antics bring a positive aspect to their lives.
Substitute prisoners for "patients" and you have a fair description of Cool Hand Luke, the film Cuckoo's Nest most resembles. CHL is the better film, however, for two reasons. Luke isn't a bad man, he's in jail only for vandalism. And, although he has his own agenda (perhaps an unconscious one) and doesn't particularly care about his fellow prisoners, he actually betters the lives of the men he lives with. He does that while amongst them, but later, after he's gone, his example continues to inspire them (the filmmakers are explicit in presenting him as a Christ figure).

We can't claim the like for R. P. McMurphy, who, although momentarily able to lift the group members' spirits, ends up leaving the patients as they were before (in Billy's case, worse off). Again, the Will Sampson character is the exception. Of course, Nurse Ratched bears a lot of the blame for Billy's death, but we know that if McMurphy had never come, Billy would never have died.

Finally, CHL doesn't attempt to indict "the system" the way Cuckoo's Nest does. Road gangs may or may not be bad penology, but some form of punishment for crimes will always be necessary if society is to function. Luke's response, then, is existential: he takes the world for what it is, and does what he has to do in the face of it--as, in a sense, must we all. Cuckoo's Nest, on the other hand, wants to eliminate the institutionalization of mental patients, a social goal. But because it does not offer an alternative, the film's posturing on the matter is empty (it's like committing to closing Gitmo, but without having a plan about what to do with the prisoners).

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« Reply #12 on: May 18, 2009, 06:19:26 AM »

Just a thought, but did you ever consider that the asylum could be methaphor for the soviet Czechoslovakia? You know, Forman's homeland...
This is clearly why the material interested Forman. That's fine for him, but how does that help the rest of us appreciate the film?

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« Reply #13 on: May 18, 2009, 05:21:49 PM »

Can't really see your point here.

Then one who lives in Europe or the US shouldn't appreciate Giu la testa because the story happens in Mexico?

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« Reply #14 on: May 19, 2009, 06:02:28 AM »

If you watch Cuckoo's Nest without knowing anything about Forman, how will you get the Czech tie-in? Most audiences know nothing about it, and don't need to know. A film is what it is, not the lacunae that critics fuss over.

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