One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest ★★★★½

When I first read Kesey's novel it immediately turned into one of my favourites. It dealt with sexuality, fear and power of women, it explored sanity and the way society treats their sick. It gave us an intriguing narrator and one of literature's most colourful and interesting protagonists.

When I first read the novel I of course knew about the adaption to film. I postponed watching it for a long time as I felt it could never approach the novel in any way. And while I still think that is the case, it comes pretty close to it, even though it is rather different than the narrative in the novel.

See, the novel has a unique perspective. Everything is told to us by Bromden, the huge, mute, paranoid and delusional Indian. Seeing everything through his eyes makes all occurences supect and dubious, yet strangely affectionate as he is an endearing man with a rich and interesting background. Juxtaposed to him we get McMurphy, expressive, abrasive and unique, always flaunting his individualism and virility, much to the chagrin of the nurses. The story in the novel is about them. McMurphy's fight against the dehumanizing and oppressive nurses, lead by Nurse Ratched and Bromden's struggle with himself, strengthened by McMurphy's resolve.

The film then. It understands what it needs to be. A film. And in order for it to be just that it realises that it cannot use the same narrative perspective as the novel. It therefore changes its focus to McMurphy and his struggle with the nurses. And within this change lies its strength and its (tiny) weakness.

The way the story is told allows Nicholson to give perhaps the best performance of his career. He is truly amazing as the rowdy McMurphy. The rest of the cast is excellent, but Nicholson litfts every scene to a higher level. The plot and narrative are very engaging. There is a constant sense of involvement and the increasingly tense atmosphere is perfectly executed by Forman's impeccable pacing. Bromden's character is more in the background and comes across like he outwardly would appear in the novel. And there lies my slight disappointment in this film. I missed the depth in the relationship between Bromden and McMurphy. And that depth is for me necessary to feel the dramatic conclusion to its full effect. I know that it is impossible to achieve this level of connection with this narrative and it is simply something that is lost in translation, but still, it it something I missed.

As a film it borders on perfection on all levels. As a literary adaptation it falls short. But only just.

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