One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Norms are social constructs which have been defined over quite a long period of time which shape a society’s view on how one ought to behave. Some of these standards are essential to protect the well-being and safety of individuals and populations, such as laws. Others relating to stereotypes, for example, have been subliminally and overtly engrained in collective consciences. These predefined ideals can ostracize and exclude fellow humans who yearn for equity and connection with others. Authority figures may plainly or unknowingly perpetuate these cerebral conventions, creating further isolation in an “us versus them” mentality. Milos Forman’s 1975 Academy Award-winning classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest bravely explores these notions among a stigmatized group of individuals and their care providers’ draconian techniques.

Randall P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) has been working on a prison farm following his most recent charge of statutory rape. He has offended five previous times with assault. Therefore, prison officials and his psychiatrist agree to a forensic evaluation on a diverse and quiet all-male unit subdued mainly by the manipulative, authoritative, passive-aggressive, and wretched Nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher). Her approach to nursing care is far from collaborative. She steers therapy groups with uncomfortable, leading questions, intimidating all of the patients with her calm and calculating mannerisms and word choice. The introduction of McMurphy to the unit is threatening to Nurse Ratched, and it is evident that she holds great hostility and transference towards him from the very beginning. He is also calculating, is malingering his “symptoms”, and should not . He is anything but disorganized in his efforts to anger Nurse Ratched, and he aspires to infuse patients’ daily routines with variety. The inpatients (Danny DeVito, Brad Dourif, Christopher Lloyd, and Will Sampson among many others in a wonderful supporting cast) evolve from terror to resentment to amusement towards Nurse Ratched throughout the film largely in part to McMurphy’s actions.


I feel as if the title can be implicated via many facets of a spectrum. One can literally escape from a confined space, “flying over” or “away” from that enclosure. It could refer to one’s condition deteriorating to a great degree, in that “flying over” can refer to lost hope and complacency. As in the film, some individuals have serious psychiatric conditions and have been involuntarily admitted to the hospital having likely been very ill with no insight prior to admission. Much has changed since this film’s era, and much continues to evolve within psychiatry as it is still considered to be a new discipline. Antipsychotics and other medications have become more widespread and appropriately used, and lobotomies are thankfully not performed as far as I know. While an outstanding masterclass in ensemble acting and directing, this film may have propagated some dangerous ideas. For example, electroconvulsive therapy is not used as a form of punishment without anesthesia but is a highly treatment for severe depression. It is my experience that great care is taken in psychiatric care to ensure a high level of collaboration between patients, families, and other care providers. This allows for a holistic approach towards recovery and living a meaningful life with a mental illness. In my opinion, attitudes held similar to Nurse Ratched high contrast and are detrimental to current standards of care and human dignity. Overall, I feel that “flying over” a mental health issue should nowadays be referred to “flying through”, living life day by day with hope and celebration of each success.

I do not own any of the pictures in this post. This is a part of the Great Villain Blogathon 2017 hosted by Shadows and SatinSilver Screenings, and Speakeasy! Please keep checking their blogs over the next few days as well as look at yesterday’s posts for intriguing and informative posts and opinions on movie villains!

Villains 2017



33 thoughts on “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

  1. I’m glad you talked about the advances in medicine since this film was made, and I’m also glad you talked about some of the potentially erroneous treatments in this film.

    You’re right – this film is definitely a study in acting. The cast was so well chosen. I cannot feel sympathy for Jack Nicholson’s character, although he is a compelling presence, but I do have a lot of sympathy for the supporting characters.

    As for Louise Fletcher, I admire her performance and her chilling restraint. She created a truly memorable character.

    Thank you for joining the blogathon, and for sharing this thoughtful essay on a remarkable film.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I totally agree with everything you said! I have spent some time working in an inpatient psychiatry unit, and I really wanted to make it clear that ECT is highly effective and not inhumane at all. Around 90% of people who go through a course of treatment do very, very well. Also, I am only too happy to have joined the blogathon 🙂 Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a very well-written analysis of the film. I enjoyed it. Thank you. Great insights on Nurse Ratched’s character.

    I really like your opening quote: “Norms are social constructs which have been defined over quite a long period of time which shape a society’s view on how one ought to behave.”

    Minor suggestions:
    a highly [effective] treatment
    film title should be in italics, not quotation marks
    he aspires infuse patients’ daily routines [this needs reworking]


  3. I’ve only seen this once. And yet it remains with me. So memorable. Brilliant writing and acting in this. Louise Fletcher delivered the manipulative, calculating persona so well. I like to call this kind of character “creepy calm”. Eh. It needs work. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is by far my most favourite movie of all time. Must have seen it more than a hundred times. I can recite the whole movie. My brother and I used to reenact different scenes for a laugh. I feel nurse Ratchet doesn’t necessarily hate RP personally tho. It’s more that she is a control freak. And he rattles her cage by trying to bring some change and joy to the patients. That undermines her authority.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love it as well. I definitely agree with you. I think she is immediately at odds with him due to his personality and malingering (I would have been very annoyed and frustrated with him as well in her position). She does try to give him a chance in the middle of the film, but he continues to test her and she continues to suppress. I feel it becomes evident much more clearly of her controlling nature during the cigarette scene, as she really becomes angry towards many of the patients who are being influenced by McMurphy’s energy and therefore undermining of her authority. Anyways, I can go on and on about this film all day. Also different opinions on films make conversations all the more interesting 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes there’s so much to find in this movie. It can be taken serious or less serious. RP gives us a good lesson in communication by waking up minds and challenging those who are kind of set in their ways. That for me is so refreshing. Good acting all round makes it an epic flick.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks! I am quite interested in this as I work in the field of medicine. I have spent some time working in a psychiatric inpatient unit, and psychiatry’s portrayal in film throughout the years have definitely shaped society’s perception of it.


  5. Pingback: The Great Villain Blogathon 2017 – Day 2 Recap | shadowsandsatin

  6. Need to see this one again. Forgot what a brilliant cast it has!
    This was indeed Fletcher’s greatest role. Her chemistry with Nicholson is electric–no wonder they both took home the top acting Oscars that year.

    Loved your post, especially the musings on what is normal, and how threatening it is when people think and live “outside the box,” as it were…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As I stated in my own review of this movie (for the earler Jack Nicholson blogathon), I have a hard time giving Nurse Ratched the appellation of “villain”, but reviews like yours do put it in a better perspective. Great review

    Liked by 1 person

    • We all bring our own experience and interpretation into film, which is why discussions are so great! I initially went in to this blogathon with potentially denouncing the “villain” role of Nurse Ratched. After having spent more time working in a psychiatric setting, there are situations whereby authority is necessary (e.g. certification under the Mental Health Care and Treatment Act). I hadn’t watched the film in a while, but just seeing her authoritative, manipulative, and passive aggressiveness (especially towards Billy, using her relationship with his mother for leverage), I kept with my idea that Ratched is an evil person!

      I really enjoyed your review! I love learning more about the background of the film, and I would love to read the novel from the Chief’s perspective. Great discussions all around.


  8. I am not a Jack Nicholson fan, but I cannot deny that he gives an outstanding performance as the new patient that disturbs the order that Nurse Ratched has achieved in her ward at this mental hospital. The supporting cast is also excellent, and Louise Fletcher was so outstanding she won the oscar that year for Best Actress. To this day, members of my or my husband’s families will refer to a bad nurse as a “Nurse Ratched”! That says a lot about a memorable character, villain or not.

    Liked by 1 person

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