One-Flew-Over-the-Cuckoos-Nest

Crazy people are people too and it’s funny and sad!

Somehow I managed to live three decades without seeing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but at last it came to the local art theatre and I was able to see it on the big screen. I’m not sorry I waited, and I’m not sorry that I stopped waiting either: a terrific film, for all its joys as well as for its flaws. Or maybe it’s not a question of flaws, but rather its idiosyncrasies that suit its time. Just as a brief example, it’s hard to take it as a serious critique of psychiatric institutions in America when it treats women and black people so crudely as it does. Really, though, did white people in the 70s really think that all black people were jive-talking brawlers named Washington? No no, of course not, but there’s moments in 70s cinema when it feels like it.

Anyhow, there’s so much to say about this film and so much is already out there for you to read from smarter and more thorough critics. I’ll say that this is clearly one of Jack Nicholson’s career performances, and that he couldn’t have asked to be surrounded by a better cast, or at least a better-suited cast. How wonderful is Danny Devito as Martini?! And Louise Fletcher’s performance as Nurse Ratched is so good that as a spectator you cannot help but hate her down to her toenails!

But you know all this already or you can find it out elsewhere. What do I have to add? Well it goes back to not seeing the movie earlier. It seems that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of those cultural products that young people consume while they are beginning to construct an identity that contains some elements of rebellion; along with other films like A Clockwork Orange (which I still haven’t seen), and books like On the Road (which I only read a couple of years ago), it makes up part of the pantheon of disobedience. My experience, though, is that despite all the youthful enthusiasm that surrounds these films, books, albums, etc., people are just trying it on, they go on to be pretty regular members of society, and they miss a significant portion of what these cultural products really have to offer. On the Road, for example, is often taken to be a celebration of pure freedom, whereas someone reading it in their 30s is more apt to see that it is rather an elegy for an America that was already disappeared when the story takes place. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has something similar to it, where at first look, to the young, it might come off as an indictment against society’s attempts to normalize us, and a celebration of those crazy people who would go against that. An older person might see all that, but still remember the lobotomy scars, the jagged piece of glass in the hand of the suicide victim, and the drugged gaze of the insane: a certain fatalism resists all celebration of deviance.

Which is not to say that we should fall in line to take our pills. No no, by all means, let’s act crazy! (I say that feeling the weight in every word.) But let’s not be insane about being insane, as if it really does lead to an escape. After all, McMurphy had multiple chances to get away into the “real world,” and doesn’t ever follow through. There is something absolutely sane about his desire to be under lock and key with the loonies.

He said to go straight. Hit me. I feel as big as a damn mountain. Well I tried, didn’t I ? Goddamn it. At least I did that.

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