A to Z of Films Meme (O)


One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

One of the most pow­er­ful anti-estab­lish­ment movies I’ve seen, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is the sto­ry of a crim­i­nal McMur­phy who prefers an insane asy­lum to prison, and leads a sus­tained revolt against the suf­fo­cat­ing and stul­ti­fy­ing atmos­phere and prac­tices of the bar­bar­ic asy­lum. Unlike main­stream movies, here the anti-hero does not win, in fact the estab­lish­ment wins in the most bru­tal fash­ion, leav­ing us shat­tered.OneFlewOverTheCuckoo'sNest

I find it shock­ing that some peo­ple see this movie as a com­e­dy of the revolt led by McMur­phy with the fish­ing trip, the orgy at night, and the car­i­ca­tured inmates. These peo­ple are lucky souls who have nev­er expe­ri­enced the vice-like grip of a cru­el estab­lish­ment and are so bliss­ful­ly igno­rant that they can view this film as a com­e­dy. For the less for­tu­nate among us, For­man uses our intel­lec­tu­al and emo­tion­al sen­si­tiv­i­ty to deal a severe blow that is dev­as­tat­ing. I have writ­ten before about this film being one of the most intense cin­e­mat­ic expe­ri­ences for me.

The film’s suc­cess – it bagged 5 Oscars and was a box-office hit – was com­plete­ly unan­tic­i­pat­ed. It beat Jaws and Nashville at the Oscars. Gene Hack­man and Mar­lon Bran­do had turned down the lead role, and co-pro­duc­er Michael Dou­glas chose not to act him­self. Five oth­er actress­es turned down the role of the dom­i­neer­ing Nurse Ratched. Final­ly, Louise Fletch­er won the Best Actress Oscar for her stun­ning por­tray­al of the Nurse, accept­ing the role just a week before film­ing began, and turn­ing what was arguably a sup­port­ing role, into a lead one. Jack Nichol­son, as McMur­phy, won his first Oscar and the film cat­a­pult­ed him to super-star­dom.

Jack Nichol­son lives and breathes McMur­phy, a wise­crack who loves to break the rule, is prone to vio­lence, and like any sane per­son, can have insane impuls­es when trapped in an insane asy­lum. While Nicholson’s per­for­mance is uni­ver­sal­ly and fre­quent­ly appre­ci­at­ed, Fletcher’s Nurse is often over­shad­owed. Observe that Fletch­er does not make the Nurse a typ­i­cal mon­ster, or witch. Rather, the Nurse is a sex­u­al­ly and emo­tion­al­ly repressed author­i­ta­tive fig­ure, who plays by the rule book, and actu­al­ly believes that what she is doing is good for the patients.

West­ern crit­ics believe the treat­ment of men­tal ill­ness shown in the film is dat­ed, and mod­ern prac­tices are not as bru­tal. While it is true that prac­tices such as lobot­o­my are dis­con­tin­ued, elec­tro-con­vul­sive ther­a­py is still wide­ly used, espe­cial­ly in devel­op­ing coun­tries. For­man, a Czech, has likened the asy­lum to com­mu­nist Rus­sia, and the film doesn’t let view­ers escape its grim real­i­ty. The escape of the Indi­an Chief was meant to offer a cathar­tic end, but for me, McMurphy’s end was sim­ply too dev­as­tat­ing.

I once com­posed a poem inspired by this film:

I was fly­ing on a quest
With a great deal of zest
When I fell down
Into a cuckoo’s nest

Thus I had a frac­ture
And lost all my rap­ture
While I kept pon­der­ing
The rea­sons for my cap­ture

All my friends told me
The nest was the best for me
And as the days went by
I for­got how to fly

As my mind reeled
My lips were sealed
My frac­ture healed
But my fate was sealed

OutOfAfricaRunner Up

Out of Africa

A per­son­al favorite that must be watched on the big screen. Pollack’s best pic­ture. Streep, Red­ford, and Brandauer’s per­for­mances. David Watkin’s eye-pop­ping on-loca­tion cin­e­matog­ra­phy. John Barry’s soul-stir­ring back­ground score. A dol­lop of Mozart – the K136 Diver­ti­men­to in D, K331 Piano Sonata in A, Clar­inet Con­cer­to. The com­plex char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of the baroness Karen Blix­en and Denys. The sto­ry of a woman who nev­er accept­ed defeat in any way.

The apes play­ing with the phono­graph. The big game hunt­ing scene with lions. The Masai tribe in the desert. The Eng­lish school for the natives. The owl gift­ed to her. The view of the world through god’s eyes. The flight sequence fol­lowed by the love-mak­ing scene in bed. Ah, what cin­e­ma!

Noteworthy Mentions

On The Water­front, Elia Kazan and Mar­lon Bran­do are a tour de force that make pow­er­ful films.

Once Upon A Time In Amer­i­ca, Ser­gio Leone’s explo­sive saga of gang­land Amer­i­ca.

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  • Right­ful­ly (eh, are we being pompous here? well, what­ev­er), I’m the first to com­ment here.

    Two of my most loved films too. And what a con­trast… One: a slice of life cut out from social scene, almost idyl­lic… the oth­er, where the only man who seems to have a non-com­mu­nal life, is, iron­i­cal­ly, the Indi­an chief, who comes out of it sane.

    One sim­i­lar­i­ty between the two films, though, is that none of them let down the book from which they were adapt­ed, by exploit­ing the strengths of the film medi­um (for one it might be styl­ized act­ing, for oth­er it might be breath­tak­ing cin­e­matog­ra­phy, and music) vis a vis the nov­el, while shad­ow­ing the weak­ness­es.

    I tried read­ing Out of Africa, after watch­ing the movie, and it didn’t work out for me at all. I put it down almost imme­di­ate­ly. May be it’ll have to wait for a right time. One flew, I read before watch­ing the movie, and it’s an amaz­ing book. The film is great because it has man­aged not to dilute the impact of the book. The book can delve into what film can only show or hint at. That’s where One Flew, the film, scores most.

    Enjoyed the reviews.


  • As you this Jack Nichol­san movie is high­ly rat­ed by me. As you men­tioned, the sad­dest. 🙁

    Your poem too con­se­quent­ly (of being inspired by movie) is sad too. I hav nev­er been able to write sad poems. Even as a kid, I used to write opti­mistic and moti­va­tion­al (at times preachy I guess) poems. 🙂

  • Dot­tie

    The vers­es were beau­ti­ful. So true.. I think One flew.. is one of the most pow­er­ful films I have seen. Haven’t seen Out Of Africa..

  • Dev

    After Noto­ri­ous, one anoth­er com­mon choice.
    Oh man one flew… was sim­ply dev­as­tat­ing. Jack Nichol­son made his­to­ry here with that per­for­mance..
    Every time I watch this film, I learn some­thing new..
    Both ‘Out of Africa’ and “on the water­front’ are my favorites too..that reminds me that I have to catch more of Elia Kazan in the com­ing weeks..
    Thanks again for a very good write up and shar­ing oth­er tid bits..

  • Anand

    I was sure that you would list One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. I think you and Raja had rec­om­mend­ed this movie to me. Loved your poem as well.

  • Your poem is superb. It has a trav­el­ing sto­ry line in each stan­za, and an excel­lent flow. I used to wrote hun­dreds of poems when I was younger, two or three a day. And then I got old enough and real­ized that most of them nev­er came close to any sort of great lev­el, and most of them were about the same things that every angst teenag­er writes about. I stopped pen­ning after that.
    Your poem is very good, take this from a per­son who reads poet­ry exten­sive­ly.

    As far as the movies go, I love your choic­es. I have nev­er seen One Flew Over… but have read the book, and loved it. With the pic­ture you present for the movie, it seems as if the sto­ry is por­trayed dif­fer­ent­ly yet just as mas­ter­ful­ly, and I’ll have to go watch the movie now.

    Out of Africa is a great movie, and as a South­ern­er I can relate to it, espe­cial­ly with mine and my friends life expe­ri­ences. I think I was most amused at their idea of “camp­ing,” with the table and chairs, port, and huge tent they brought along, all just for the girl. Her porch was also a dream, how I would have loved to have her view.

    Excel­lent reviews ^.^

  • I nev­er wrote a poem/rhyme after those kid­die days. But I have those sam­ples some­where around, cour­tesy my mother’s care­ful sav­ing over the years. There is noth­ing remote­ly resem­bling a poem ever pub­lished on my blog. 🙂