This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Mary Conti’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
**Part of the Best Picture Project**
The Czech New Wave is sadly one of the most underrepresented film movements when it comes to looking at film history. It was a movement made not merely out of a desire to experiment with film, but to also combat the oppressive communist atmosphere the Czech people lived under. This led to many subversive films, notably Věra Chytilová's Daisies and and Jaromil Jireš' Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, which attacked the political regime they lived under in subtle ways. Unfortunately, the Czech New Wave was short lived, as the communist government began to wise up to what was happening and began cracking down on the artists of Czechoslovakia.
Now it might seem odd to start off a review of an American film like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest referencing a film movement based in another country, but it's actually the most important factor when one considers what the film is actually about and who made the film. Indeed, the hands that crafted a film this expressive and political come from none other than Czech exile Milos Forman, who managed to escape to America.
While One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest undeniably finds its roots in the counterculture movement that Ken Kesey's novel ascribed to, it is Forman's politics and appeal that drives the film. The many archetypes of political oppression can be found here. Nicholson's McMurphy is the wise one aware of what's wrong with what's going on, and a "big man" willing to step up and call out the injustices. Nurse Ratched is the corrupt political figure who thinks she is doing good for the men of the ward but rather turns them into victims of her power play. Chief, a character that Forman perhaps identifies with on a story level, plays deaf and dumb if only so that he isn't noticed. Harding is the intellectual who is all talk and no action. Cheswick is the one who is aware but far too weak to do anything. Martini is only barely conscious enough to participate with the others. Taber encourages division between the group. Billy Bibbit is the innocent youth caught in the middle, and tragically manipulated and ultimately silenced by his oppressors.
It'd be easy to dismiss this if Forman didn't litter the film with other various references to what was happening in Czechoslovakia. Votes being held and deemed invalid due to the unaware portion of the population not participating in the vote. A fence separating the citizens from the outside world where only a select few are given the opportunity to travel out of the ward. Political power plays that punish the innocent in a way to get back at political opponents. Even the sequence where the ward patients have one night of freedom to party carries a significant weight and resemblance to the Prague Spring (which coincidentally is around the time Forman finally left Czechoslovakia).
When Chief escapes at the end after no longer being able to stand his oppression (culminated with McMurphy being lobotomized), it is Forman expressing what it was like to be free of a country that oppressed his basic human rights. More than this, it seems to perform a sort of promise Forman makes to his friends, family, and colleagues back home to not stand silent at what was wrong. For this brave artistic display of courage and soulful expression, Milos Forman won Best Director, and the film won Best Picture.