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Tagline: “If he's crazy, then what does that make you?” I don't need to ask my doctor, therapist or local Bossman to know which side of the crazy border I fall. What's undecided is the proper name for it. “Antisocial arsehole”, was popular, but it's a healthcare professional's opinion that counts, not a group vote in my family WhatsApp.
Premise: A man pretends to be of unsound mind in the belief it'll make his time in the penal system easier.
Delivery: There is a wonderful moment at the beginning of One Flew Over theCuckoo's Nest (OFOTCN), directed by the recently departed Milos Foreman, where Jack Nicholson's perfectly portrayed McMurphy is explaining to the warden what got him into prison. Sex with a minor, he says, and goes on to describe quite how attractive this girl was, to the point where the warden is nodding along with a grin and may as well say, “Phwoar”. It just goes to show the charm McMurphy has, the easy way he can get a person onside. It's probably worked on everyone, his whole life. Until he meets Nurse Ratched.
Most of OFOTCN focuses on the inner politics of a mental institution. Day to personal gripes and relationships between the patients, larger systemic issues and most of all, clashes with the absolutely detestable Nurse Ratched; Louise Fletcher deservedly won an Oscar for her portrayal of the bureaucratic she-devil. The cacophonous chaos of crazy the film captures is, from my experience, very accurate, if ever so slightly unfairly presented for laughs initially. The whole film is presented as a semi comedy. A semidy. Actually no, semidy sounds like something else. I'll think long and hard about this.
Much like the brilliant DeNiro- Williams film Awakenings, the sense of love and achievement when human interaction reaches through to such desperately lost, hurt people is overwhelming. McMurphy, for all his glib charm and ulterior motives, does actually value his fellow inpatients as people. This is in direct contrast to Nurse Ratched who also acts selfishly, but pretends to care (or does she actually care? I suppose it's up to the viewer). However, what follows that is the anguish felt in watching any of the character's pain is doubly affecting.
McMurphy and Ratched inevitably end at loggerheads as he rails against the system, and that, in three paragraphs, is your set up. I personally feel the pain of fighting the norm only for it to become more pain for you than it is worth, and to stay on the mental health topic, if you've ever been delusional, depressed and/or desperate, you'll know the torment which pushes through dignity. Sometimes visibly clawing at walls for help feels a thousand times worse than simply hiding away. For some reason. You'll also know the feeling of shame which comes after any showing of what feels like a poor hand. Everyone hates being aware of what they feel are their failings and it is not a fun border to be at, but there is help*. Not Nurse Ratched, though, you don't want her help.
A rather serious final paragraph, so I'll end with a quote.
“Is that crazy enough for you? Want me to take a shit on the floor?”
Bedsit it? Milos Foreman was a man who could bring humour, humanity and care, to odd, almost inhuman situations, with aplomb. He will be missed. OFOTCN is one of the greatest films of all time for good reason. If you don't fall in love with Chief, you're wrong inside. 10/10
*If you don't feel you can talk to family or friends I recommend these guys: www.thecalmzone.net / www.mind.org.uk/ www.samaritans.org