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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. [Volume 39, Issue 8. April 1976]

Film Review -

Film Review -

'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' is the most devastating film I've seen for a very long time - and, funnily enough, one of the most enjoyable.

If you do nothing else this week go and see it. It'll make you think a lot more than a week of varsity bullshit.

Briefly, the plot revolves around R.P. MacMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a free spirited rogue who feigns insanity at a penal farm in order to force officials to transfer him to a local asylum. He thinks life will be easier there and gradually, through his irrestible charm and cunning, he begins to take over the ward to which he's been assigned. The patients love him, the authorities don't - and there lies the conflict which must end in his ultimate inexhorable, extinction.

'Cuckoo's Nest' is essentially the story of a man. A man, like you or I. A man who is perhaps impetuous, over-emotional, rebellious but nevertheless someone who is part of us all R.P. MacMurphy is a totally real character - his humour, his exemberance radiate from the entire film - with him we laugh, we cry, we suffer, we identify.

The impact of the film comes from its total believeability. The story totally absorbs us - we become one with Nicholson. And then comes the savage twist of the knife. As the billboards says 'If he's mad, what does that make you'.

This question of mental illness - what is it, who's got it, and what can we do about it - is the central theme of the film. In talking about the film the director, Milos Forman, said: 'One of the challenges of the story is that you are describing mentally ill people at a time when doctors don't know what mental illness really is.... I can only define 'mental illness' as an incapacity to adjust to ever-changing, unspoken rules. If you are incapable of making these constant changes you are called by your environment, crazy.'

The power of the film comes from the realisation that MacMurphy, Billy, Stan and the other inmates are no more insane than the rest of us. They're real, everyday people who are destroyed by the asylum itself. Just as they go mad, so too would we.

It is here we see the true genius of "Cuckoo's Nest". The film is a delicate blend of subtlety and understatement. It is not a belaboured documentary film on the evils of mental hospitals, but rather the happy-sad life of a likeable guy.

The whole film works on the age old principle of getting the audience laughing, getting them on your side, then subtly twisting the knife. And it works the audience reaction at the film was amazing, people laughed, clapped and cheered and finally, were deadly silent.

Photo from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest film

This sense of understatement is further shown in the actual depiction of mental treatment. In only one brief scene do we see MacMurphy receiving electric shock. But there's so much more power in what we don't see, - in what Forman leaves unsaid The audience silently, desperately Understands the rest.

"Cuckoo's Nest" explores the conflict between individual and authority. MacMurphy represents the independent, free-thinking exuberant being who takes on the bigoted, unfeeling 'system'. His tragedy is that he is crushed just when he was most likely to succeed

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' has all the elements of a very romantic film. But it is the harsh, savage Romanticism of the 1970's.

The full ironic sadness of the ending hits you when you realise that its only in the movies that the good guy escapes. Only one person can ever fly over the cuckoo's nest. For you and I there is no escape.

My final, lasting impression from the film was an unshakeable belief in the value of a single human being - the thinking individual against authority The film has an incredible sense of the dignity of man, which comes primarily from Chief Bromden - the frightened Indian who, through MacMurphy, grows to be a man. He gives to the film a dignity that few films have. It's something I can't describe - but it somehow gives the film a power that lives on after the cinema is long gone.

But don't take my word for it - go and see it.

I've tried to explain what I felt about the film and analyse the basic themes. But its only my point of view and it could well be a load of crap. The only way to check it out is to go see the film - and whatever happens, you won't be sorry.

Ben Smith