This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Thomas Pollock’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I tried didn't I? At least I done that.
A profound masterpiece examining the thin (very thin) line between sanity and insanity and most of all: society. Hands down, this film shook me to the core when I first watched it 4 years ago at the age of 15. The evil presence of Nurse Ratchet, Nicholson's outstanding performance, the theme of freedom, the at times comical situations: everything. Based on the magnificent book by Ken Kesey, Milos Forman directs a film that would gain Best Picture, and I think it is one of the greatest films ever made. Why?
The place to start is just looking at this films characters. The way the characters talk, look and move reach such a level of authenticity you find yourself forgetting that these are all just actors. We have Billy Bibbit, a stuttering and gentle young man played by Brad Dourif. This was a breakthrough performance for Dourif and an unbelievable performance it certainly is Every time Billy opens his mouth, this deep level of sympathy comes over you. It is hard to describe, but we can see the sadness in his eyes.
Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd also make early appearances, who are two actors who would go on to have successful careers. Then we have the huge in presence (and in size) Chief Bromden, whose silence does not change how big his character really is. Often we will cut to an expression of Bromden, and those brief moments tell you so much about his character; and all without words. While the film does not do a voice-over narration in the style of the book, the film certainly can be seen as his telling. The connection he makes with McMurphey can be seen early as the basketball game, which really brought a smile to my face.
Loise Fletcher gives a stoic and shivering performance as Nurse Ratched, a name that sounds like wretched which is no mistake. However, I have re-evaluated my feelings on Ratchet. Domineering like a dictator, a passive aggressive, but unlike the book I feel that her character on screen is not as evil as she should be. Ratched believes she cares for her patients, and instead of bumping McMurphey to another institution after discussing the fishing trip incident. Fletcher gives something else to the character. Humanity. While her face is stern with careful practice, she still cares deeply for her patients. She is not an easy character to bring to the screen and Fletcher does it brilliantly.
As for Nicholson, he paints the picture of McMurphey brilliantly. While not perfectly fitting of the book's description, his crazy expressions, shouting and charisma is always known has you puzzling over this character. What will he do next? What is his background?
We do not get sweeping camera shots, fancy cinematography or emotional music. And it is exactly the way the film should be to focus on the confined atmosphere of the ward. The film has so many spellbinding moments and it does not need music to make you hold your breath. One shot looks at McMurphey during the night party towards the end as he ponders life. This for me, was a curious and powerful moment as it taps into McMurphey's mind which is open to interpretation.
What the film truly shows us is almost a criticism on society and its function. The patients represent the citizens, and the nurses and staff represent the politicians in charge. As for Nurse Ratched, well she represents the establishment itself. And what happens when people like McMurphey challenge the society? They are controlled, and put into line. At first by persuasion and eventually by force.
Even without looking at the film from a political aspect, it is profoundly human. The characters are simply fascinating to watch, and it explores our freedom. The film's ending is one of the most beautiful, symbolic and life-affirming I have ever seen. Chief picks up the machine in the tub room and throws it through the window. he then runs out over the hills, and all we can think is "he is finally free" and he takes McMurphey in spirit with him. McMurphey's character truly represents rebellion and indifference and makes you look at yourself and reminds you that you have freedom. And that is what makes this film, a true classic and a masterpiece that will never age.