McMurphy: I’m here to cooperate with you a hundred percent. A hundred percent. I’ll be just right down the line with ya’. You watch.
R: A couple of times, although it’s probably been at least a decade.
F: Yes many times (spoiler – this is one of my favourites…)
R: This is a real peach of a movie. I love the script. I love the way it’s directed. All the performances are outstanding. And it’s so satisfyingly thought through. It’s a bit like The Shawshank Redemption (1994), but with much better characters, a lot more subtlety, and no schmaltz.
F: I’m not going to get back into the Shawshank debate but I agree with everything you’ve said above about this film. I really like how this film makes you go through all the emotions – it’s uncomfortable and upsetting, but it’s also funny and hopeful. Topped off with the great central performance from Jack Nicholson.
R: Nicholson is just perfectly cast here, isn’t he? He has that wild energy, riding the edge of sanity, that means it’s almost impossible to take your eyes off him. And the more understated performance from Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched is just as compelling. You can’t help getting sucked into the mental lives of both characters and what makes them tick.
F: I think it takes a couple of watches of this film to realise just how manipulative Nurse Ratched is. On first watch I remember thinking ‘oh she’s tough but she’s doing her job’. But it really comes to light how she speaks to Billy after the party. And when you learn that the majority of the patients are there voluntary but you know she won’t let them leave.
R: Yes it’s made totally plausible that the management would see her as the best nurse on the ward, which makes it so utterly bleak when it’s made clear she’s using the patients’ weaknesses and vulnerabilities to manipulate them. It’s the subtlety in the script and Fletcher’s performance that I think makes her one of all time great cinematic villains.
F: Definitely! All of the supporting cast are great in this too and I liked spotting the actors in this as well. Some familiar faces cropping up! I didn’t realise this was Christopher Lloyd’s debut.
R: Yep. And the tone elevates this above a lot of other “worthy” films I think. Despite the unsettling subject matter and damaged characters there’s a lot of humour here, and that stops the whole thing getting bogged down. Is there anything you don’t like, before we go and give this all of our thumbs up?
F: It is unsettling and I do think that the point about humour can put people off – there’s massive tonal shifts in this film. For me though, the humour helps make the more uncomfortable parts really stand out. What about you?
R: Before watching I wasn’t sure how comfortable I’d be with the way the mentally ill are portrayed here, but actually it’s pretty sensitive considering it was made in the 1970s. So no, there really isn’t anything much I dislike about it at all!
F: Yes’ all round then!
Is it worthy of the top 100?
F: One of the best so far. Definite yes.