Back to the syllabus

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest



Touching, hilarious, dramatic, and completely effective adaptation of Ken Kesey's

novel.  Jack Nicholson is a two-bit crook, who, facing a jail sentence, feigns insanity to be sentenced to a cushy mental hospital.  The hospital is anything but cushy, with a tyrannical head nurse out to squash any vestige of the patients' independence.  Nicholson proves to be a crazed messiah and catalyst for these mentally troubled patients and a worthy adversary for the head nurse.  The head nurse is played by Louise Fletcher.  Will Sampson plays the native American.  Great supporting roles by actors who later became famous such as Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd.  The film won 1975 Academy Awards in the following categories: Direction (Milos Forman), Best Actor (Nicholson), Best Actress (Fletcher), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture. 


When the film came out, it was first given to Mental Health Associations around the United States to screen as benefits.


It was Michael Douglas who produced the film, his first effort at production.


Those who have worked in the mental health field consider it the finest film ever made that depicts life in a state mental hospital. 


When the movie came out in 1975 we had already shut down many of the huge state mental hospitals as the de-institutionalization movement was well developed by that time.  The idea was that people should be treated in the community rather than being locked away in a mental hospital.  The idea was sound, however, the money to treat the patients in the community never was allocated.  Many of the homeless that we see wandering the streets of our cities are people who previously would have been locked away due to their mental illness.


Key questions: What motivates the head nurse to behave the way she does toward patients?  If you had been the Nicholson character, what suggestions would you have given yourself so that you didn't end up getting lobotomized?


(Another very good Ken Kesey novel successfully made into a movie is Sometimes a Great Notion.  Other fine films by Milos Forman include: Amadeus, Ragtime, Valmont, The People vs Larry Flynt---his directorial career goes back to 1965.  Jack Nicholson's list of roles includes: As Good as it Gets, A Few Good men, Hoffa, Ironweed, The Shining, Chinatown, The Last Detail, Five Easy Pieces, Easy Rider, and a long list of others going back to 1960.)

Back to the syllabus