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One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest  

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  1. 1. Does "One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest" belong on the AFI List?

    • Yes
      13
    • No
      1

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  • Poll closed on 02/08/19 at 08:00 AM

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Paul & Amy fly over 1975's countercultural touchstone One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest! They discuss how the film strays from Ken Kesey's novel, discover how Milos Forman caught actors in unguarded moments, and ask whether R.P. McMurphy or Nurse Ratched really had the right of their struggle. Plus: Matt Walsh (Veep, Under The Eiffel Tower) tells us about his time working in a psych ward.

 

Next week we kick off our miniseries looking back at the films of 2018, with an episode focusing on blockbusters! Follow us on Twitter @Unspooled, get more info at unspooledpod.com, and don’t forget to rate, review & subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts. Photo by Kim Troxall.

Edited by DanEngler

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When they are talking about the opening and closing themes of the film, Amy and Paul talk about the haunting instrument that they believe is a theremin. It's actually a musical saw, which was played by a guy named Robert Armstrong, pictured below holding a saw and a vinyl copy of the soundtrack.

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How long would it take a person to style their hair like Nurse Ratched every day? Seems like I'd want a much simpler hairstyle if I were working in an institution with people who were potentially violent (wasn't Christopher Lloyd suggested to be violent?)

I think the question of Nurse Ratched being evil comes down to the question of whether or not you think she believes McMurphy is faking it. I don't see her behavior before the end to be evil. She may be misguided. Her positions are outdated for treating people. But not villainous. Sending off a person for a lobotomy is if you don't think they have a serious problem.

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I definitely don't see her to be pure evil or a villain quite as much her rep, but I'm not so sure about calling her "angelic" like Paul did lol

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I never understood why the quote "Ain't nobody jerkin' off nowhere, motherfucker!" isn't up there with "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" and "I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." etc. 

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9 minutes ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I definitely don't see her to be pure evil or a villain quite as much her rep, but I'm not so sure about calling her "angelic" like Paul did lol

Yeah. I hadn't seen this since my early 20s (which is kind of an indicator I don't still need my DVD lol). I remembered her as mean but her reputation as one of cinema's cruelest monsters is kind of undeserved for the first 1:50 minutes.

But her actions in the end could be considered villainous if we knew her motives. Is telling Billy she'll call his mother just a way to control him? Or is it a way to get him to consider his actions? Is she keeping McMurphy in the institution to get back at him?

I think the movie wants us to think her actions are malicious. So, I lean that way but I like that the movie gives her some depth that it's up for debate.

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4 hours ago, grudlian. said:

Yeah. I hadn't seen this since my early 20s (which is kind of an indicator I don't still need my DVD lol). I remembered her as mean but her reputation as one of cinema's cruelest monsters is kind of undeserved for the first 1:50 minutes.

But her actions in the end could be considered villainous if we knew her motives. Is telling Billy she'll call his mother just a way to control him? Or is it a way to get him to consider his actions? Is she keeping McMurphy in the institution to get back at him?

I think the movie wants us to think her actions are malicious. So, I lean that way but I like that the movie gives her some depth that it's up for debate.

I think her bullying of Billy at the end of the movie tends to color people's view of her actions throughout, and I think that's how the filmmakers designed it. For most of the movie you just get this subtle discomfort about Ratched and how she treats the patients, but no obvious or concrete mistreatment. It's not until the end that you're certain she's just trying to control people and not to help them.

That said, I think we get our first big hint in how she handles McMurphy's request to watch the baseball game. First she offers up a vote, assuming that the other patients will never cross her. Then once McMurphy convinces the rest of the group to vote with him (unanimously!), Ratched expands the pool to include people who are not mentally capable of voting. Then once McMurphy gets that extra vote anyway, she declares the vote closed. Is she TECHNICALLY breaking any of her own rules there? No. But she's definitely shifting the ground whenever it looks like McMurphy is about to win. It's not a big leap to call this a metaphor for how authoritarian governments take hold (something Milos Forman was very familiar with). She's a villain from the start; it's just not obvious because she seems so outwardly "reasonable."

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1 hour ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

I think her bullying of Billy at the end of the movie tends to color people's view of her actions throughout, and I think that's how the filmmakers designed it. For most of the movie you just get this subtle discomfort about Ratched and how she treats the patients, but no obvious or concrete mistreatment. It's not until the end that you're certain she's just trying to control people and not to help them.

That said, I think we get our first big hint in how she handles McMurphy's request to watch the baseball game. First she offers up a vote, assuming that the other patients will never cross her. Then once McMurphy convinces the rest of the group to vote with him (unanimously!), Ratched expands the pool to include people who are not mentally capable of voting. Then once McMurphy gets that extra vote anyway, she declares the vote closed. Is she TECHNICALLY breaking any of her own rules there? No. But she's definitely shifting the ground whenever it look like McMurphy is about to win. It's not a big leap to call this a metaphor for how authoritarian governments take hold (something Milos Forman was very familiar with). She's a villain from the start,; it's just not obvious because she seems so outwardly "reasonable."

That all makes sense. I think my issue was whether or not she was doing this intentionally/knowingly. But I guess it doesn't really matter since you don't really need to be aware you're harming people to harm them.

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In the event that there were no Simpsons references this week, The Critic had them covered.

 

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I have a kind of personal relationship to this film: when I was a freshman in college, I was a tall guy with long black hair (and more of a tan than I have now), plus I was very quiet while walking through the halls (as I tend to be before I get to know people). Some folks watched Cuckoo's Nest and nicknamed me "The Chief," a name that stuck with my friend group all through my college years. So of course I vote yes to keep this movie's cultural relevance going, so my college nickname still makes sense.

I'd also like to say that Paul really brought it with the film analysis this week! Talking about the shot compositions and what they mean to the scenes -- a new level from him! (I already know Amy has this level, being a professional critic and all, but it was a nice surprise to hear it from Paul too.)

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One thought I had before listening to the podcast:  I believe the film is meant to take place in 1963 (which is when the play took place, and it would make sense with McMurphy commentating on a Yankees vs Dodgers World Series).  If so, then the film covers some time period including October 1963 (World Series) and December 1963 (Christmas).  However, there's no mention of the rather major event that took place in the US in November 1963.  Most probably, this is because the novel was written in 1962.  But could it have been a conscious decision to omit any mention of the JFK assassination?  Are we meant to think that this is another way the doctors and nurses are exerting control, by not allowing news of the outside world to enter in?  If they didn't want it to be an issue, why not set the film in 1962 instead?

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Thanks so much to the hosts for emphasizing that McMurphy is his own villain. I got through an AP English course in which we also watched Cool Hand Luke and I don’t recall anyone noticing that these anti-heroes are just jerks. 

As a female (specifically in education) who is responsible for normal people, including young and male people, I can no longer enjoy the many, many works of art centered on demonizing women in authority without recognizing that I’m about to spend another work shift caring for people who think I’m EXACTLY that evil woman every time I tell them not to talk while I’m talking, draw on their desks or pull their dicks out. There was something in the discussion about the movie being much more sympathetic to the Nurse’s POV than the book. 

Now I when I see any antihero taking down a mean lady baddy, I can’t help imagining this director/writer/producer getting caught doodling or something he felt was a sign of unrecognised genius and then vowing revenge. I also can’t help thinking about (mostly) males in film abusing others, but neither can anyone else. Still love movies and some men, in spite of the poisoning of the memories.

 

***Glass.(using the mean lady abusing sick antiheroes connection) If you watch Glass as a nod to OFOtCN or an adaptation of “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti,” does that make it more fun? 

*can you gauge misogyny by opinions on the woman being killed in Jurassic World? It ranges from “B had it coming for not doing her job” to “That wasn’t her job, she didn’t deserve to die and we definitely didn’t need to see down her shirt as she was slowly tortured on two levels of the almost-dinosaur food-chain."

Edited by RachaelB
I wanted to mention “Glass” even though I know better
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On 1/31/2019 at 12:59 PM, sycasey 2.0 said:

I think her bullying of Billy at the end of the movie tends to color people's view of her actions throughout, and I think that's how the filmmakers designed it. For most of the movie you just get this subtle discomfort about Ratched and how she treats the patients, but no obvious or concrete mistreatment. It's not until the end that you're certain she's just trying to control people and not to help them.

That said, I think we get our first big hint in how she handles McMurphy's request to watch the baseball game. First she offers up a vote, assuming that the other patients will never cross her. Then once McMurphy convinces the rest of the group to vote with him (unanimously!), Ratched expands the pool to include people who are not mentally capable of voting. Then once McMurphy gets that extra vote anyway, she declares the vote closed. Is she TECHNICALLY breaking any of her own rules there? No. But she's definitely shifting the ground whenever it looks like McMurphy is about to win. It's not a big leap to call this a metaphor for how authoritarian governments take hold (something Milos Forman was very familiar with). She's a villain from the start; it's just not obvious because she seems so outwardly "reasonable."

I'm with Sycasey on this. I'm not sure that Paul and Amy's take on Nurse Ratched holds water. I don't feel that the film is taking the position that she's a solid manager just doing her best to manage a volatile situation/setting. She wants it her way and her way only. There's a lot made of her being emasculating, in the movie and the book. This is shown repeatedly, notably in her interactions with Harding and Billy. She clearly picks at weak points, harping on them, digging at sensitive spots. Certainly in the cases of these two patients, those sensitive spots are connected to their sense of masculinity. She also infantilizes the patients. (Cheswick: "I am not a little kid! I want my cigarettes!...I want mine!")

In terms of the baseball vote, there's no legitimate reason for her not to count Chief's vote. She insists that the vote was closed was her way to ensure that McMurphy wouldn't win that battle. On on that note, I think it's pretty clear that in the conference with Dr. Spivey and the other docs, her reason for keeping Mac is because she wants to beat him and be able to see the results. Her intention when (ostensibly) recommending a lobotomy and then bringing him back onto the ward is to shut down the legend taking shape around him in his absence and to keep him on display as a constant reminder to all the patients that this is how things will end for you if you try to take on Nurse Ratched. 

(I'm only partly through the podcast, but I knew if I didn't write in now, I probably would never do it.)

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On 1/31/2019 at 10:00 AM, AlmostAGhost said:

I definitely don't see her to be pure evil or a villain quite as much her rep, but I'm not so sure about calling her "angelic" like Paul did lol

I think there's something to this though.  Her costuming and hair are made to call this to mind: her nurse hat somewhat resembles a halo, while without it, her hair resembles devil's horns.  I think this is Milos Forman telling us that Ratched is sort of a devil disguised as an angel.  Her true nature is malevolent, but she hides behind her position to justify her behavior as being benevolent.  As others have said, she's a bully, and she went into a profession that allowed her to be a bully at that time.

Also, I want to say something about this as an adaptation.  While I think one could rightly complain (as Ken Kesey did) that a lot is lost in the translation from novel to film, I want to commend this film for managing to adapt a first-person point-of-view novel without using any voiceover or narration, which is something that is rarely attempted even today.  We'll see To Kill A Mockingbird later along this list, which is one of my favorite novel adaptations, but what allows it to be so faithful is that they can use narration to provide any lines in the book that we wouldn't otherwise get.  So I give a lot of credit to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest for not taking that easy road and instead crafting something that stands up independent of its source material.

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Surprised there wasn't more comparison with A Clockwork Orange (beyond the underage comment). They both really had a central theme about the system and how an individual who doesn't fit is treated.  I would even say they both attempt to take the easy way out from their sentences with serious consequences.  A Clockwork Orange dwells a little more on the after while Cuckoo's Nest is more blunt with the Lobotomy and pillow bit.  

I did a term paper on Burgess way back when and seem to remember stories of him travelling to Leningrad (the drunk and stowaway parts seem to not have been true) where he was treated nicely and came to the conclusion that people are good by the system was bad.  Perhaps that doesn't come across as clearly in the movie?   It's been a while since i've seen either.  

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