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This is a pretty cool film. For one it has the incomparable Jack Nicholson and, secondly, it is set in a mental institution. This film has great heart and insight. It is addictive viewing, especially for those of us who are fascinated by human behaviour. It is humanity in the raw and it is incredible.
Randle McMurphy (Nicholson) is a prisoner trying to get out of the work farm. He thinks that acting like a lune will get him a sweeter deal until he’s transferred to the local mental asylum and comes across his soon-to-be nemesis, Nurse Ratched (Fletcher). She is an icy cold control freak who likes her routine predictable and the inmates under control. But McMurphy has other ideas. He’s a sane man and is probably the first person to see his fellow inmates as people, not just mentally ill corpses.
Though he is a bit of a bad boy, McMurphy’s compassion for these men oozes out. Seeing the potential in his new friends, he opens up their lives by doing some pretty nutty things for a sane man. These include: teaching ‘Chief’ Bromden (Will Sampson) to play basketball, taking the crazy lads on a fishing trip out to sea with his lady friend Candy (Marya Small) and hosting a booze and chick-filled party for his new buds.
This is such an intelligent film. You can tell it has been adapted from a quality novel. From the beginning it takes its time but it is never slow. Rather it is a journey through the eyes of a sane person into the bowels of a mental institution governed by a bit of a crazy nurse-lady. It looks at what defines insanity and how institutions like this one label and treat those under its ‘care’.
It is a disturbing picture of 1960’s asylums, with electroconvulsive therapy and lobotomies in abundance. Therapy is less than warm and fighting is constant between ward buddies.
The acting is perfect. It’s great to see Danny De Vito and Christopher Lloyd at the start of their careers. They do a beautiful job. And Nicholson is incredible. But it is the whole cast that carries this amazing film.
You may get bogged down in the depressing elements of this film but please don’t. Though it has some heavy scenes, it is really a tale about freedom and hope. For a short time the member of this mental institution are given new life through this random criminal. They are given the eyes of sanity, the possibility of more and a life full of experiences beyond their four walls.
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