Back in the first half of the 1970s, there was a little dispute regarding the creation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Filmmakers had made changes which displeased Ken Kesey, author of the novel. Chief would not be narrating the story and it would focus on Randle McMurphy, who Kesey wanted to be played by Gene Hackman. Sometimes Hollywood gets it right because 1975 saw Jack Nicholson put in one of cinema’s greatest performances. Bucking the trend of what usually happens when Hollywood messes with source material, we ended up with one of the greatest book-to-film adaptations committed to cinema.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is not necessarily filled with iconic moments, it is more a case of it being an entire iconic moment itself. With that said, some scenes are more quotable or key to the plot development. There is one moment which stands out because it is the film’s turning point; we stop watching a loveable rogue try to cheat the system as it turns to a focused battle between free will and unbending authority.
Mac’s request is simple – allow patients to watch the world series. There are, however, two obstacles. One is Nurse Ratched, whose love for order and routine borders on psychotic. The other is the patients themselves, who have knuckled under and submitted to a life of monotony under the guise of treatment. As Mac attempts to coerce his new friends into voting in favour of a routine change, you can see the resentment bubbling behind Ratched’s eyes as she maintains her command. She crushes him in the midst of desperation, knowing the odds were skewed in her favour.
Even though Mac loses his small battle, there’s a victory as Chief interacts properly for the first time. As soon as he raises his hand to vote, he’s suddenly involved in the film’s events. His input at that point was ignored, as Ratched had sensed a potential defeat and declared voting over, but he was free to become the significant player that was hinted at from the beginning.
Throughout the film, McMurphy is exacerbated by the apathy of his fellow inmates; their situation is bordering on hopeless but they not only don’t see it, they accept it. It’s infuriating for a man who yearns to be free, for his mind to be independent even if his body isn’t. His spirit is as infectious as his peers allow it to be and, by the end, some don’t accept it quite enough.
Nurse Ratched is one of the greatest, understated villains in cinema. She’s hard to beat because she’s got right on her side. Her battles are ones of wits, her minions are fellow staff members who see nothing but a woman doing her job. All Mac really has to throw back at her is imagination and a passion for life. Ultimately, neither win.
A desire to lash out against authority is something anybody can relate to. Sometimes there’s a person in a position of power whose decisions you can’t stand and you wish for nothing more than to beat them at their own game. Luckily for us, there isn’t the threat of a lobotomy for dissension.