Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, January 19, 2001

You ever play this game, chief?

Special features

Awards Listing3
Cast Information6
Production Notes6
Related Movies2

Jack Nicholson leads an all-star cast that wasn’t all-star at the time, in a “typically” Milos Forman film dealing with issues of freedom, totalitarianism, and responsibility, all contained in a nuthouse.

DirectorMilos Forman
WritersBo Goldman, Lawrence Hauben, Ken Kesey, Dale Wasserman
Movie Rating8
Transfer Quality5
Overall Rating6
  • Letterbox
  • Pan and Scan

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was the starting point for Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd. It was literally Lloyd’s first movie according to the IMDB, and it thinks it was DeVito’s first movie. Jack Nicholson had been around for a while, having already been through “Easy Rider” and “Chinatown”.

It has been a long time since I’ve seen this movie, and I’m pretty sure I’ve only seen it on television. It was interesting seeing it, as I did, well after Milos Forman’s “The People vs. Larry Flynt”, and the very night before going to see “Quills”. Both “Quills” and “Cuckoo’s Nest” were at least in part about the cells we build for ourselves, but also about freedom in general. Most of the inmates of the state mental hospital are there of their own accord. They could leave whenever they wanted—but they don’t want to take the responsibility to say that they are okay on their own. They prefer the “dictatorship” of Nurse Ratched.

And then in comes Randle P. McMurphy thinking that he can hide inside the bureacracy, and then thinking he can use the bureaucracy against itself to give him the perks he desires. He thinks he can use logic against Nurse Ratched to change her decisions, not understanding that the decisions are made, and the only logic that counts is logic that leads to the pre-made decisions.

The opposite of garrulous, outgoing McMurphy is “the chief”, a silent, deaf American Indian, probably one of the few people not there by choice, who slowly awakens to his predicament. The allegory is pretty heavy-handed, but that’s not surprising, coming as it does from a sixties radical (Ken Kesey) and a survivor of both the Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet tanks of Prague Spring (Milos Forman).

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was Ken Kesey’s first novel, written in 1962, partially as a result of his interactions with the psychiatric world. In 1959 he began taking part in a government study of the effects of LSD and other psychoactive drugs. “Cuckoo’s Nest” was written as a damnation of a conformist society. It was massively successful—at least financially—and propelled Kesey into the spotlight as one of the pioneers of the sixties counter-culture movement. Today he talks about how he writes to “create warriors”, people who can overcome the repression inherent in American society.

Milos Forman lost both his parents to Auschwitz, went to film school in Prague, and finally left Prague in the spring of 1968 after the Soviet invasion. He had previously been well-received by critics, but it was “Cuckoo’s Nest” that propelled him into success as a Hollywood director. In a similar vein, he also directed “Hair”, and more recently, “The People vs. Larry Flynt”, which casts the Hustler founder as a free-speech pioneer. Forman’s experiences under repressive governments have seemed to make him a spokesperson for freedom. In retrospect, I don’t think anyone could have carried Kesey’s message across as well as Milos Forman.

Christopher Lloyd and Danny DeVito excel in this movie along with Jack Nicholson. Scatman Crothers makes an appearance as an orderly. All of the actors are great. Some of them aren’t even actors: they’re real patients in the hospital where filming took place.

The cast information and production notes are fairly detailed. They provide cast information for just about everybody, not just the lead character and director. There is also a lame “if you liked this movie, check out” section—but no trailers for those movies.

The video quality’s not that great. It has a significant number of sparkles that look to be from a moderately poor quality original. This isn’t enough to detract from the movie.

This is a great movie adaptation of a great book. Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is up there with “Catch-22” as a “sign of the times” it was written and has held up even better. The only disappointing thing about the DVD is the lack of a commentary by Kesey or by Forman. The movie deserves nothing less than a stellar treatment. But I do recommend purchasing this movie, and definitely recommend watching it at least once.

Recommendation: Purchase

DirectorMilos Forman
WritersBo Goldman, Lawrence Hauben, Ken Kesey, Dale Wasserman
Based onOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
ActorsJack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito
Spoken languagesEnglish, French
SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish
Special FeaturesAwards Listing, Cast Information, Production Notes, Related Movies
More links

If you enjoyed One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest…

For more about life, you might also be interested in Dazed and Confused and Don’t be afraid of your Blue Period.

For more about madhouse, you might also be interested in Amadeus, King of Hearts, and The Ruling Class.

For more about Milos Forman, you might also be interested in Amadeus and Hair.