One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (DVD, 2002, 2-Disc Set, Two Disc Special Edition) Reviews
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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (DVD, 2002, 2-Disc Set, Two Disc Special Edition)

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Book Vs. Movie: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (film)

May 16, 2004 (Updated May 16, 2004)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:great performances in a poignant classic

Cons:none come to mind

The Bottom Line: a classic movie adapted from a classic novel. Check them both out.


I was an 8th grade student when I saw One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for the first time. I didn’t know that much about the novelist Ken Kesey. I also didn’t know that much about many things then. I barely recognized Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd who I was familiar with through their roles in Taxi. I was already familiar with Jack Nicholson who was already a legend by that point. I liked it but did not fully appreciate everything that was going on. I was too young to appreciate the poignant undertones that make it a truly classic movie.

A few years later, my literary aspirations began to blossom. The discovery of the Beat Generation would lead me to Kesey. I remember learning that there was a novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest written in 1962. I learned of Kesey’s mid 60s activities as leader of the Merry Pranksters. That made it essential for me to tackle the novel. So a venture to a bookstore added the book to my collection. Reading the book while still in high school did not provide me with an appreciation for all the nuance in this work. I also saw the movie a couple more times.

I would estimate that I have probably seen the movie between 8 and 10 times over the past 25 years. I have only read the novel three times. I have gained more appreciation for both through repeated exposure. The book has a lot of insight into the psychological condition. The movie seems to be making a strong sociological statement. The movie is fabulously executed. The mood is quickly captured in the beginning of the movie and manages to build throughout the film. I think they did a good job of capturing the spirit of Kesey’s novel.

There are a number of things that are different in the translation. One thing that is lost in the film is the narrative. The novel is narrated by Chief Broom. The movie tends to be more about the feud between Randle Patrick McMurphy and Nurse Ratched. The novel gives a lot more insight into why the Chief responds so well to McMurphy. That insight would be more beneficial to the ending of the film. There are also a few instances where circumstances from the novel are altered. The fishing trip is example of where they alter the circumstances. McMurphy steals the bus in the movie. In the novel, the fishing trip is prearranged with staff consent.

The movie, directed by Milos Forman in 1975, captures a lot of the things that were (maybe still are) wrong with our treatment of mental illness. It paints a pretty bleak portrait of individuals just wasting away in the institutions. Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) rules with an iron fist. She maintains the perpetual smile and polite talk. She does revel in the control she has over the patients lives. Louise Fletcher also puts in a fine performance here. She is almost sympathetic at times. In the book Kesey expands her control to include the degree of sway she holds over most of the staff. This aspect is not included in the film. It seems they wish to keep the large story to revolve around her and McMurphy.

Nicholson turns in a stellar performance here. He nails the arrogance and the charm of a Randle Patrick McMurphy. He is a figure full of life and passion. He cons his way into the institution as a means of getting out of a work gang from the local prison. This seems like the easy way out for him. He will not have to work here and he figures it will be an easy few months till his sentence is complete. He does not realize that Nurse Ratched has the power to keep him committed until later in the film. He is angry with the other guys for letting him razz her along knowing her power.

The charm of McMurphy grows throughout the movie. His efforts to reach the Chief show that he has some concern. Chief Broom’s affection for McMurphy becomes apparent when McMurphy is brawling with one of the attendants. Broom comes to Randle’s aid. He will not learn the truth about the Chief until later in the film when they are both awaiting shock treatment. When he hands the Chief a stick of gum, Chief voices a very soft thank you. McMurphy seemed to be onto the Chief from the start.

The overnight party is the climactic scene. In the end, McMurphy doesn’t cut out when he has the chance so he can hook up Billy Tibbit (Brad Dourif) with the girl Candy. He ends up passing out and is still there when everyone arrives in the morning. He nearly chokes Nurse Ratched after Billy hangs himself. McMurphy was very boisterous but he did have some concern for others. This assault will end up getting him lobotomized.

Many will view this as a sad movie because of McMurphy’s ultimate fate. It is tragic how McMurphy ends up. But he saves the Chief from this fate. Through his own demise he saves another. And his myth lives on as the patients believe that McMurphy is escaping when the Chief picks up the sink and breaks out. I have to admit that I still get choked up at the end of this film. There is sacrifice and resurrection in the end.

There is also some great soundtrack music provided by Jack Nitzsche. It is very understated but really textures the movie brilliantly. This helps the movie build to a climax. This soundtrack lends an aura to the action on the screen. Soundtrack music always provides one advantage to the film. This is also a soundtrack in the earlier sense. It is not a bunch of pop songs stuck in at key moments. It is music written specifically to set the tone for the events and actions of the movie.

Picking a winner here is difficult. They are both classic works that deserve recognition. I am an avid reader so I tend to give an advantage to the books. This one will follow that tradition by a hair. This one is very close to a tie. I heartily recommend that people check out both. They both are outstanding works. The movie is an Oscar winning classic and the novel is one of the finest American novels of the 20th Century.

check out the book review too:

http://www.epinions.com/content_140280303236


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