A to Z of Films Meme (O)


One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

One of the most powerful anti-establishment movies I’ve seen, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is the story of a criminal McMurphy who prefers an insane asylum to prison, and leads a sustained revolt against the suffocating and stultifying atmosphere and practices of the barbaric asylum. Unlike mainstream movies, here the anti-hero does not win, in fact the establishment wins in the most brutal fashion, leaving us shattered.OneFlewOverTheCuckoo'sNest

I find it shocking that some people see this movie as a comedy of the revolt led by McMurphy with the fishing trip, the orgy at night, and the caricatured inmates. These people are lucky souls who have never experienced the vice-like grip of a cruel establishment and are so blissfully ignorant that they can view this film as a comedy. For the less fortunate among us, Forman uses our intellectual and emotional sensitivity to deal a severe blow that is devastating. I have written before about this film being one of the most intense cinematic experiences for me.

The film’s success – it bagged 5 Oscars and was a box-office hit – was completely unanticipated. It beat Jaws and Nashville at the Oscars. Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando had turned down the lead role, and co-producer Michael Douglas chose not to act himself. Five other actresses turned down the role of the domineering Nurse Ratched. Finally, Louise Fletcher won the Best Actress Oscar for her stunning portrayal of the Nurse, accepting the role just a week before filming began, and turning what was arguably a supporting role, into a lead one. Jack Nicholson, as McMurphy, won his first Oscar and the film catapulted him to super-stardom.

Jack Nicholson lives and breathes McMurphy, a wisecrack who loves to break the rule, is prone to violence, and like any sane person, can have insane impulses when trapped in an insane asylum. While Nicholson’s performance is universally and frequently appreciated, Fletcher’s Nurse is often overshadowed. Observe that Fletcher does not make the Nurse a typical monster, or witch. Rather, the Nurse is a sexually and emotionally repressed authoritative figure, who plays by the rule book, and actually believes that what she is doing is good for the patients.

Western critics believe the treatment of mental illness shown in the film is dated, and modern practices are not as brutal. While it is true that practices such as lobotomy are discontinued, electro-convulsive therapy is still widely used, especially in developing countries. Forman, a Czech, has likened the asylum to communist Russia, and the film doesn’t let viewers escape its grim reality. The escape of the Indian Chief was meant to offer a cathartic end, but for me, McMurphy’s end was simply too devastating.

I once composed a poem inspired by this film:

I was flying on a quest
With a great deal of zest
When I fell down
Into a cuckoo’s nest

Thus I had a fracture
And lost all my rapture
While I kept pondering
The reasons for my capture

All my friends told me
The nest was the best for me
And as the days went by
I forgot how to fly

As my mind reeled
My lips were sealed
My fracture healed
But my fate was sealed

OutOfAfricaRunner Up

Out of Africa

A personal favorite that must be watched on the big screen. Pollack’s best picture. Streep, Redford, and Brandauer’s performances. David Watkin’s eye-popping on-location cinematography. John Barry’s soul-stirring background score. A dollop of Mozart – the K136 Divertimento in D, K331 Piano Sonata in A, Clarinet Concerto. The complex characterizations of the baroness Karen Blixen and Denys. The story of a woman who never accepted defeat in any way.

The apes playing with the phonograph. The big game hunting scene with lions. The Masai tribe in the desert. The English school for the natives. The owl gifted to her. The view of the world through god’s eyes. The flight sequence followed by the love-making scene in bed. Ah, what cinema!

Noteworthy Mentions

On The Waterfront, Elia Kazan and Marlon Brando are a tour de force that make powerful films.

Once Upon A Time In America, Sergio Leone’s explosive saga of gangland America.


14 thoughts on “A to Z of Films Meme (O)

  1. Rightfully (eh, are we being pompous here? well, whatever), I’m the first to comment here.

    Two of my most loved films too. And what a contrast… One: a slice of life cut out from social scene, almost idyllic… the other, where the only man who seems to have a non-communal life, is, ironically, the Indian chief, who comes out of it sane.

    One similarity between the two films, though, is that none of them let down the book from which they were adapted, by exploiting the strengths of the film medium (for one it might be stylized acting, for other it might be breathtaking cinematography, and music) vis a vis the novel, while shadowing the weaknesses.

    I tried reading Out of Africa, after watching the movie, and it didn’t work out for me at all. I put it down almost immediately. May be it’ll have to wait for a right time. One flew, I read before watching the movie, and it’s an amazing book. The film is great because it has managed not to dilute the impact of the book. The book can delve into what film can only show or hint at. That’s where One Flew, the film, scores most.

    Enjoyed the reviews.


  2. As you this Jack Nicholsan movie is highly rated by me. As you mentioned, the saddest. 😦

    Your poem too consequently (of being inspired by movie) is sad too. I hav never been able to write sad poems. Even as a kid, I used to write optimistic and motivational (at times preachy I guess) poems. 🙂

  3. The verses were beautiful. So true.. I think One flew.. is one of the most powerful films I have seen. Haven’t seen Out Of Africa..

  4. After Notorious, one another common choice.
    Oh man one flew… was simply devastating. Jack Nicholson made history here with that performance..
    Every time I watch this film, I learn something new..
    Both ‘Out of Africa’ and “on the waterfront’ are my favorites too..that reminds me that I have to catch more of Elia Kazan in the coming weeks..
    Thanks again for a very good write up and sharing other tid bits..

  5. I was hoping someone would comment about the contrast in the two movies, and you hit the spot in the first comment itself!

    I have casually read somewhere that in the case of One Flew, the movie was darker than the book. In the book, the other inmates escape as well. It seems Ken Kesey was quite upset at the changes in the script that deviated significantly from the book. You can tell us more since you’ve read the book.

    Many people in Hollywood wanted to make a movie out of Dinesen’s writings, but none ever succeeded until Pollack came along. I don’t think I’ll ever read her!

    Thanks for the information and glad you liked the post.

  6. Have you published your poems on your blog? I’ll have to check that out.

    I write something that others call poems, both when I’m happy or sad. I don’t think I can write poems, though I’ve included my experiments on this blog…

  7. Yes, another common choice. I am humbled that some of my selections match yours!

    Thank you for your kind words, Dev. Keeps me going! 🙂

  8. Infact Iam humbled 🙂
    Forgot to add in my previous comment that nice poem you wrote there.

  9. I was sure that you would list One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. I think you and Raja had recommended this movie to me. Loved your poem as well.

  10. Your poem is superb. It has a traveling story line in each stanza, and an excellent flow. I used to wrote hundreds of poems when I was younger, two or three a day. And then I got old enough and realized that most of them never came close to any sort of great level, and most of them were about the same things that every angst teenager writes about. I stopped penning after that.
    Your poem is very good, take this from a person who reads poetry extensively.

    As far as the movies go, I love your choices. I have never seen One Flew Over… but have read the book, and loved it. With the picture you present for the movie, it seems as if the story is portrayed differently yet just as masterfully, and I’ll have to go watch the movie now.

    Out of Africa is a great movie, and as a Southerner I can relate to it, especially with mine and my friends life experiences. I think I was most amused at their idea of “camping,” with the table and chairs, port, and huge tent they brought along, all just for the girl. Her porch was also a dream, how I would have loved to have her view.

    Excellent reviews ^.^

  11. One Flew is in each and every kind of top films list, so that was hardly surprising! 🙂

    I don’t recall recommending this to you; I remember Raja recommending Fantasia…interesting observation about selective memory? 🙂

  12. Havah, thank you for your kind words and appreciation! Wow, I really didn’t think it was much of a ‘poem’, and am humbled by your words.

    You must watch One flew and let us know how you think the movie compares with the book.

    Everything about the people in Out of Africa was so ‘royal’. They did everything in style. The camps with the servants at their beck and call. Out in the wilderness! Wow. Amazing vistas in the movie…

  13. I never wrote a poem/rhyme after those kiddie days. But I have those samples somewhere around, courtesy my mother’s careful saving over the years. There is nothing remotely resembling a poem ever published on my blog. 🙂

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