This is madness!! The Mad Hatter kicks off the festivities with his take on Milos Forman's adaptation on Ken Kesey's seminal novel. Stay tuned throughout September for nuttiness and zaniness of all varieties - click here for the full lineup, and click here for prior entries (which won't do you much good today, what with this being the first - madness!).
What makes Milos Forman's 1975 classic so dreary, is that the story takes place at the crossroads between passive aggressiveness, belligerence, violence, and insanity. It's a sad story that isn't just driven by Randale P. McMurphy, but by his fellow patients who fuel his furnace, and by the authoritative nurse hellbent on taking him down for stubborn pride.
We're given fair warning that Mac is a troubled soul. Here is a man who has it in his head that acting incorrigible while in prison, will get him sent to an easier ride at a mental asylum. What's worse is that when he is asked to answer for his record and his behaviour - including the statutory rape of a fifteen-year-old - Mac can only shrug and plead an excuse just a bit more thought-out than "boys will be boys".
Mac on his own would make this story bad enough, but sometimes the person provoking the troublemaker can be just as harmful as the troublemaker himself. In this instance, much of the provocation is coming from Nurse Mildred Ratched. Ratched -being a professional caregiver and mental health counsellor - should immediately be able to see in McMurphy the truculence he will bring to her ward. However, some prideful part of her seems hellbent on beating him at his own rigged game. Thus the car is packed for the drive down the road of mental instability.
Through it all though, the question of craziness abounds. To talk to him, one wouldn't think that Randall McMurphy is insane. However, one must question the mental health of a person who has so clearly declared himself beyond society's understood code of conduct. What's even curiouser, is the fact that once he has scammed his way into what he believes is an easier ride than prison, he can't simply keep his head down and quietly ride out his sentence. He constantly finds himself in the middle of a fracas. Is this a case of the asylum's patients rubbing off on Mac? Or is it just his true colours coming through??
Of course, Mac's behaviour backfires on him when he realizes that his sentence hasn't been transferred to the asylum, and that he will only be released when Ratched and the head doctor John Spivey feel that he is fit to return to society. What's worse, is the men he has surrounded himself with...men whose apparent lunacy he has fed off of...are all voluntarily interred. Inkeeping with Mac's love of gambling, what's the surer bet:
Was he on a level above these men, and only set off when he discovered the leniency they enjoy?
Or was he perhaps even more maladjusted than they were, and lashed out because he felt he was better than them?
(While you're at it - take bets on the old chicken and the egg argument, since it seems very similar)
Of course, all of these forces of mental instability pushing against each other can't end well. Thus, while it is no surprise that the story of Randale P. McMurphy and his band of misfits ends as violently and tragically as it does, it is nonetheless heartbreaking when one considers how avoidable it all could have been. Very few characters in this film are truly crazy, but they are all damaged in one way or another. Someone - be it Nurse Ratched, Dr. Spivey, or some other administrator - should have been able to read Mac and The Men better. And perhaps if they weren't so concerned with proving a point, they could have done the right thing.
While it has a slight misogynist stripe running down its back, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST is aging very well. It has several moments of black humour, and retains every bit of its sadness 35 years after it debuted. Give it a watch and will ponder whether this is in fact a story of the inmates running the asylum.