Kyle Armstrong’s review published on Letterboxd:
Avoid until you've done your do diligence and watched for the week!
The quintessential Actor's Film™. Although it's often heralded as Nicholson's film, the entire cast shines. Everyone disappears in their role, to the point where some of the most famous actors ever are unrecognizable. Mixed with subtle, 70s Oscar Bait direction and a solid plotting of the theme, it's easy to understand why this is held up as a classic.
I only thought it was okay.
Cuckoo's Nest is one of those movies that it seems like everyone watches as a teenager, and everyone adores it, but when asked to remember the details beyond the last scene, no one seems to be able to recall the film beyond its broad strokes. A lot of movies - especially from the 70s - are like this, but I always wonder what makes a movie both beloved and forgettable.
I have not seen this myself since I was a teenager. But on a rewatch, I think I've figured out why this isn't as memorable as its admiration should warrant. It's actually a simple explanation - it's too simple.
Again, this is a teenage classic. It's accessible, with a single, blatant theme that's the cinematic equivalent of a 10th grade English novel. Normally, I don't think that's a bad thing, but in this case, I think it invalidates a lot of the story. By following a singular theme of rebellion against imprisonment - whether it be political imprisonment, mental imprisonment, or literal imprisonment - it doesn't give anyone out of high school enough material to chew on. Now don't get me wrong; the Soviet bloc era political reading of this that Forman himself wanted to highlight is an intriguing reading, but it's still part of this narrow theme. It's not enough.
And it's not enough because of one thing that I honestly think most people miss. Early in the film, Randle states that he, in essence, raped a 15(?) year old, and admits that he feels no remorse about his actions. Now, rebellion against evil authoritarianism is one thing, but it's more interesting for me as an adult in 2019 to ask, "What if the rebel himself is evil?" Now, one could say that the theme is there, because that line is added, but my view is unless a film underlines that theme throughout, then it's not meant to be part of the reading. The rest of the film spends two hours erasing this complexity. This is a film that says, "The Rebel is always right," and, particularly in the political reading...that just feels too simple for me.
When I watch classic, renowned movies, I want something to come back to, and that 'something' always has to be thematic. Great acting and great directing and beautiful cinematography are all fun, but if there's nothing for me to ponder for more than 10 minutes max, then it's hard to call something worthy of classic status in my eyes. And while the one theme here is very well-orchestrated, it's still a narrow lane that we're forced to drive on for a half hour too long in the middle.
All this said, I already wasn't 'in the mood' for watching this, and I'm sure that contributed to how I felt overall. (I'm also sure it's part of why no one questions its status as a classic after only one viewing.) This is a great entry-level film, and, again, the technical aspects are what saved this for me. But I wanted something more than 10th grade English, and unfortunately, all I saw was 10th grade English.
(Apparently Kesey hated the direction of the film. He was also a notoriously difficult writing professor who wanted every word to contribute to 3 themes. I haven't read the book. I definitely should.)
(Also, in the Discord, themes of gender and sexuality were discussed, as well as a more overt political reading, and I really liked those ideas as themes. We've also discussed reading multiple characters as the protagonist, which is a wicked cool element that I do think deserves praise. While I don't think any of this really changed my overall opinion of this viewing, it definitely makes me question everything I just wrote. And wonderful discussions like this that'll go on all weekend are why you should join le ol' Film Club if you haven't already!!!)