“I tried, god dammit. At least I did that…”
It’s been many years since I have seen Milos Foreman’s 1975 classic but I watched it a lot when I was younger. While I have always loved it, the benefit of experience has helped me realise just how seminal this film really is.
There are a few films that I go back to when talking purely about acting. Zodiac is one, Glengarry Glen Ross is another. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest might just be the biggest tour de force of all however. Jack Nicholson is astounding as McMurphy. Truly mesmerising. He brings the character to life and gives him that edge that makes the film so tense. The rest of the cast are also exemplary. From Danny DeVito’s frantically kinetic Martini to Christopher Lloyd’s wild eyed Taber. From Brad Dourif’s vulnerable Billy to William Redfield’s neurotic Harding. Possibly better than all of them however is Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched.
I consider Ratched to be the most diabolical on screen villain of all time. She can say more with a vindictive stare than most actors can with lines and lines of dialogue. Thinking of that character brings up bile from some deep and dark corner of my soul. I have never detested a fictional character more. The most chilling thing about Ratched is her ambiguity. At times it seems that she is genuinely trying to help the patients under her care but other times it seems obvious that she is out to destroy them. This vague uncertainty over Ratched’s intentions is what makes her so evil. Like a terrifying jigsaw puzzle that you can’t stop putting together even though you know you will be horrified with the results. Nurse Ratched haunts McMurphy, as she haunts all the men, but she is just as ghastly from the point of view of the audience. She is a whirlwind of bureaucracy where the long road to hell is paved with good intentions and bad medicine.
There are some films that are so good, so important, that they will be around forever. This is one of them. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is quite simply one of the best films ever made.