Friday, March 14, 2008

Greatest Movie #33: One Flew Over the Cookoo's Nest

Last night Sarah and I watched, another of the greatest movies of all time according to American Film Institute: One Flew Over the Cookoo's Nest, a 1975 film staring Jack Nicholson with minor roles by Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future) and Danny DeVito. This film was on loan from my friend Ken, who rightly warned me of it's weirdness. It is weird - in many ways.
Here's the basic premise: MacPherson (Jack Nicholson) is a small time criminal and general rebel. The movie opens with him being admitted into a mental institution. Apparently, he has faked insanity to be relieved of the hard labor involved in his latest prison sentence. He believed that he could simply finish out the remaining months of his sentence at the mental institution and go on his merry way. The problem is that mental institutions are not obligated to release you at any particular time. They can keep you until they believe you are "ready."
"Mac" eventually becomes friends with the other patients and develops respect and empathy for them. From his perspective (which seems to be partially correct), the institution is oppressing them and suppressing their natural moves toward health and individuality. In a wide variety of ways, Mac helps the patients resist the system and functions as an alternative (though not always effective or healthy) counselor for them.
If there is any "point" to the movie, it is recognizing the humanity of the mentally ill or social oddities. The humanity of the patients shines through with great poignancy.
Another possible point is that we as humans tend to like the safe confines of the "known" even if we don't like the "known," even the "known" is killing us. The vast majority of the patients are "voluntary," but one of the emerging themes is that they are too scared to face the outside world. They would rather be "crippled" than venture into the unknown. I wonder how often we are like that.
Sadly, in the end, Mac himself becomes a victim of the system. I won't totally spoil the ending, but I will say that is deeply weird - even if poetic.
Over all, I'll give it a rating of 4 j's, and that's surprising to me. Going into this blog entry, I was planning to give it 3 j's. I think reflecting on the point of the movie brought out it's extra "j" for me.
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