One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (film)

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Miloš Forman
Produced by Saul Zaentz
Michael Douglas
Screenplay by Lawrence Hauben
Bo Goldman
Based on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 
by Ken Kesey
Starring Jack Nicholson
Louise Fletcher
William Redfield
Music by Jack Nitzsche
Cinematography Haskell Wexler
Bill Butler[1]
Edited by Richard Chew[2]
Sheldon Kahn
Lynzee Klingman
Fantasy Films
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • November 19, 1975 (1975-11-19)
Running time
133 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3 million[3]
Box office $109 million[3]

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a 1975 American comedy-drama film directed by Miloš Forman, based on the 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. The film stars Jack Nicholson and features a supporting cast of Louise Fletcher, William Redfield, Will Sampson, and Brad Dourif.

Considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is No. 33 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Movies list. The film was the second to win all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Actor in Lead Role, Actress in Lead Role, Director, and Screenplay) following It Happened One Night in 1934, an accomplishment not repeated until 1991 by The Silence of the Lambs. It also won numerous Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards.

In 1993, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.


In 1963 Oregon, Randle Patrick "Mac" McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a recidivist anti-authoritarian criminal serving a short sentence on a prison farm for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl, is transferred to a mental institution for evaluation. Although he does not show any overt signs of mental illness, he hopes to avoid hard labor and serve the rest of his sentence in a more relaxed hospital environment.

McMurphy's ward is run by steely, unyielding Nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher), a strict authoritarian woman who passive-aggressively employs subtle humiliation, unpleasant medical treatments and a mind-numbing daily routine to suppress the patients and keep them submissive. McMurphy finds that they are actually more fearful of Nurse Ratched and her methods than they are focused on their main goal of eventually becoming functional in the outside world. In order to help them achieve this (as he believes), McMurphy establishes himself immediately as the leader of his fellow patients. The ward's other patients include Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif), a nervous, anxiety-prone young man with a noticeable stutter; Charlie Cheswick (Sydney Lassick), a man disposed to childish fits of temper; Martini (Danny DeVito), who is delusional; Dale Harding (William Redfield), a high-strung, well-educated paranoid; Max Taber (Christopher Lloyd), who is chronically belligerent and profane; Jim Sefelt (William Duell), an epileptic man; and "Chief" Bromden (Will Sampson), a silent Native American-descended man of very imposing stature who is believed to be both deaf and mute.

Nurse Ratched soon comes to see McMurphy's newfound presence to be a threat to her authority and total control of the ward's patients, McMurphy's and Ratched's battle of wills escalates rapidly. When McMurphy begins hosting card games and wins away the patients' cigarettes, Nurse Ratched confiscates them and then begins to ration them out. Further challenging her authority, McMurphy calls for votes on such matters as policy changes or being able to watch the World Series. He also boasts to his fellow patients by betting that he can escape the facility simply by lifting an old hydrotherapy console (a massive marble plumbing fixture) from the floor and heaving it through the window, but fails to do so.

McMurphy then steals a hospital bus and herds his colleagues aboard, stops to pick up a party girl named Candy (Marya Small), then takes the group deep-sea fishing on a commandeered boat. He tells them (in a famous line from the film), "You're not nuts; you're fishermen!" As a result, the patients begin to feel faint stirrings of self-determination.

Soon after, however, McMurphy learns that Ratched and the doctors have the power to keep him committed indefinitely. Sensing a rising tide of insurrection among the group, Ratched tightens her grip on everyone. During one of her group therapy sessions McMurphy learns most of the patients, with the exception of Bromden, Taber, some of the chronics and himself, are voluntarily committed and are permitted to leave anytime they choose. Cheswick's agitation boils over about his confiscated cigarettes, and he, McMurphy and the Chief wind up brawling with the orderlies. As punishment for the incident, the three are all sent to ostensibly undergo treatment in the "Shock Shop" (a euphemism for electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT). While McMurphy and the Chief wait their turn, McMurphy offers Chief a piece of gum, and Chief murmurs "Thank you...Ah, Juicy Fruit." McMurphy is delighted to find that Bromden is neither deaf nor mute; he remains silent simply to deflect attention. After being subjected to ECT, McMurphy shuffles back onto the ward feigning brain damage, but then begins humorously animating his face and loudly greeting his fellow patients, assuring everyone that the ECT only charged him up all the more.

As the struggle with Ratched takes its toll, and with his release date no longer a certainty, McMurphy plans an escape. He phones Candy to bring her friend Rose (Louisa Moritz) and some booze to the hospital late one night. They enter through a window after McMurphy bribes the night orderly, Mr. Turkle (Scatman Crothers). McMurphy and Candy invite the patients into the day room for a Christmas party; the group breaks into the drug locker, puts on music, and celebrates. At the end of the night, McMurphy and Bromden prepare to climb out the window with the girls. McMurphy says goodbye to everyone, and invites an emotional Billy to escape with them; he declines, saying he is not yet ready to leave the hospital—though he would like to date Candy in the future. McMurphy insists Billy have sex with Candy right then and there. Billy and Candy agree and they move to a private room. Eventually the combined effects of the alcohol and the pilfered medication take their toll on everyone, including McMurphy and the Chief, both of whose eyes slowly close in fatigue.

Ratched arrives the following morning and discovers evidence of the party the night before; the ward is completely upended and the patients are passed out all over the floor. She orders the attendants to lock the window, clean up, and conduct a head count. When they discover Billy and Candy (having spent the night together after having sex), the other patients applaud Billy for doing so. Buoyed by the admiration of his fellow patients, he is able to speak without a stutter for the first time. However, in order to regain control of Billy and erode his newfound confidence, Nurse Ratched announces that she will inform Billy's mother what he had done. Billy's confidence immediately vanishes and his stutter returns as a result of her threat. Soon Billy starts punching himself and subsequently locks himself in the doctor's office. While alone in the office, Billy kills himself. As a result of this, McMurphy, distraught and enraged at Nurse Ratched for driving Billy to suicide, attacks her and nearly strangles her to death before an orderly, Washington, knocks him out.

Some time later the patients in the ward are seen playing card games and gambling for cigarettes as before, only now with Harding dealing and delivering a pale imitation of McMurphy's patter. Ratched, still recovering from the neck injury sustained during McMurphy's attack, wears a neck brace and speaks in a thin, reedy voice. The patients pass a whispered rumor that McMurphy dramatically escaped the hospital rather than being taken "upstairs".

Late that night, Bromden sees McMurphy being escorted back to his bed, and initially believes that he has returned so they can escape together, which he is now ready to do since McMurphy has made him feel "as big as a mountain". However, when he looks closely at McMurphy's unresponsive face, he is horrified to see lobotomy scars on his forehead. Unwilling to allow McMurphy to live in such a state, the Chief smothers McMurphy to death with his pillow. He then carries out McMurphy's escape plan by lifting the hydrotherapy console off the floor and hurling the massive fixture through a grated window. Chief climbs through the window and runs off into the distance, with Taber waking up just in time to see him escape and cheering as the others awake.



Filming began in January 1975 and concluded approximately three months later,[4] and was shot on location in Salem, Oregon and the surrounding area, as well as on the Oregon coast.[5][6] It was also shot at Oregon State Hospital in Salem, Oregon, which was also the setting of the novel.[7]

Haskell Wexler was fired as cinematographer and replaced by Bill Butler. Wexler believed his dismissal was due to his concurrent work on the documentary Underground, in which the radical terrorist group The Weather Underground were being interviewed while hiding from the law. However, Miloš Forman said he had terminated Wexler over mere artistic differences. Both Wexler and Butler received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, though Wexler said there was "only about a minute or two minutes in that film I didn't shoot.”[8]

According to Butler, Jack Nicholson refused to speak to Forman: "...[Jack] never talked to Milos at all, he only talked to me."[1]


The film was met with overwhelming critical acclaim; Roger Ebert said "Miloš Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a film so good in so many of its parts that there's a temptation to forgive it when it goes wrong. But it does go wrong, insisting on making larger points than its story really should carry, so that at the end, the human qualities of the characters get lost in the significance of it all. And yet there are those moments of brilliance."[9] Ebert would later put the film on his "Great Movies" list.[10] A.D. Murphy of Variety wrote a mixed review as well,[11] as did Vincent Canby: writing in The New York Times, Canby called the film "a comedy that can't quite support its tragic conclusion, which is too schematic to be honestly moving, but it is acted with such a sense of life that one responds to its demonstration of humanity if not to its programmed metaphors."[12]

The film opens with original music by composer Jack Nitzsche, featuring an eerie bowed saw (performed by Robert Armstrong) and wine glasses. Commenting on the score, reviewer Steven McDonald has said, "The edgy nature of the film extends into the score, giving it a profoundly disturbing feel at times -- even when it appears to be relatively normal. The music has a tendency to always be a little off-kilter, and from time to time it tilts completely over into a strange little world of its own ..."[13]

The film went on to win the "Big Five" Academy Awards at the 48th Oscar ceremony. These include the Best Actor for Jack Nicholson, Best Actress for Louise Fletcher, Best Direction for Forman, Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Laurence Hauben and Bo Goldman. The film currently has a 95% "Certified Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 8.9/10.[14] Its consensus states "The onscreen battle between Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher serves as a personal microcosm of the culture wars of the 1970s -- and testament to the director's vision that the film retains its power more than three decades later."

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is considered to be one of the greatest American films. Ken Kesey participated in the early stages of script development, but withdrew after creative differences with the producers over casting and narrative point of view; ultimately he filed suit against the production and won a settlement.[15] Kesey himself claimed never to have seen the movie, but said he disliked what he knew of it,[16] a fact confirmed by Chuck Palahniuk who wrote, "The first time I heard this story, it was through the movie starring Jack Nicholson. A movie that Kesey once told me he disliked."[17]

In 1993, this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry.[18]

Awards and honors[edit]

Award Category Nominee Result
Academy Award Academy Award for Best Picture Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz Won
Academy Award for Best Director Miloš Forman Won
Academy Award for Best Actor Jack Nicholson Won
Academy Award for Best Actress Louise Fletcher Won
Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay Laurence Hauben and Bo Goldman Won
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor Brad Dourif Nominated
Academy Award for Best Cinematography Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler Nominated
Academy Award for Film Editing Richard Chew, Lyzee Klingman and Sheldon Kahn Nominated
Academy Award for Original Music Score Jack Nitzsche Nominated
Golden Globe Award Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Drama Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Director - Motion Picture Miloš Forman Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama Jack Nicholson Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama Louise Fletcher Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay Laurence Hauben and Bo Goldman Won
Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year - Actor Brad Dourif Won
BAFTA Award BAFTA Award for Best Film Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz Won
BAFTA Award for Best Direction Miloš Forman Won
BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role Jack Nicholson Won
BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role Louise Fletcher Won
BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role Brad Dourif Won
BAFTA Award for Best Editing Richard Chew, Lynzee Klingman and Sheldon Kahn Won
BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler Nominated
BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay Laurence Hauben and Bo Goldman Nominated


American Film Institute

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Townsend, Sylvia (19 December 2014). "Haskell Wexler and the Making of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'". Retrieved 13 April 2015. 
  2. ^ Chew was listed as "supervising editor" in the film's credits, but was included in the nomination for an editing Academy Award.
  3. ^ a b "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 22, 2012. 
  4. ^ One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at the American Film Institute
  5. ^ Story Notes for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  6. ^ "Hollywood's Love Affair with Oregon Coast Continues". Retrieved 15 June 2015. 
  7. ^ Oregon State Hospital - A documentary film (Mental Health Association of Portland)
  8. ^ Anderson, John. "Haskell Wexler, Oscar-Winning Cinematographer, Dies at 93." The New York Times, December 27, 2015.
  9. ^ - Roger Ebert review, Chicago Sun-Times, January 1, 1975
  10. ^ - Roger Ebert review, Chicago Sun-Times, February 2, 2003.
  11. ^ - A.D. Murphy, Variety, November 7, 1975
  12. ^ Canby, Vincent (November 28, 1975). "Critic's Pick: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The New York Times. 
  13. ^ AllMusic: Review by Steven McDonald
  14. ^ "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes". Retrieved 2010-08-19. 
  15. ^ Carnes, Mark Christopher, Paul R. Betz, et al. (1999). American National Biography, Volume 26. New York: Oxford University Press USA. ISBN 0-19-522202-4. p. 312,
  16. ^ Carnes, p. 312
  17. ^ Foreword of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Copyright 2007 by Chuck Palahniuk. Available in the 2007 Edition published by Penguin Books
  18. ^ "U.S. National Film Registry -- Titles". Retrieved September 2, 2016. 
  19. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains Nominees

External links[edit]