I love this movie. I have also grown up knowing that nurse Ratched is the worst most insensitive terrible creature to ever appear on screen.
The scary thing is that now, as an adult, I don’t really find her as terrible as I did as a kid. She’s just kind of doing her job. But that does not keep me from still loving this movie. I love Jack Nicholson in it, he brings terrific energy to such a bizarre cast. If you have not seen this movie please do; it does a great job of capturing interesting people and how they react to being trapped.
Alright, I’m going to straight up have a very unpopular opinion about this movie, so be warned. I first saw One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 7th grade. I enjoyed it then, but there was something about it that made me feel like I was missing something. Then Chris and I went to a screening of it, and that same something was still there, except now I have it figured out.
Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) always shows up toward the top of lists about greatest movie villains. But here’s the thing: she’s not the villain. If there is a villain at all, it’s most certainly McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), our assumed protagonist. I mean, hear me out. McMurphy is in prison for the statutory rape of a 15 year old girl. He fakes being crazy so that he’ll get sent to the mental institution instead of prison, which he does. That alone is awful to me; committing rape (statutory or not) and then abusing the already-abused state and federal mental health system to try to get out of his due punishment does not make me want to rally behind McMurphy. McMurphy and Ratched first bump heads because McMurphy wants to watch the first game of The World Series, which would be at a time where they don’t watch TV on the hospital ward’s floor. McMurphy doesn’t understand why she won’t “let” him watch the game, even though she (calmly) explains to him that they have a very precise schedule they need to stick to and that deviating from that schedule could cause a lot of mental harm to the men on the ward, plus the fact that they can’t bend the rules for one person. While this baseball game thing is continually a point of contention, McMurphy furthers it along by making a bet that he can drive Ratched crazy, causing him to target her and act out just for this bet. So, first of all, of course they can’t watch the stupid baseball game, because they’re in a mental ward. That is something, for better or worse, that I do know something about, and I know they really can’t change up rigid schedules because people really will totally freak out. So it pisses me off that McMurphy automatically thinks Ratched is just being difficult, instead of actually listening to her.
The movie continues like this until the climactic night where McMurphy bribes a night guard to let them have girls and booze on the ward. The guard passes out and the patients completely trash the ward, get drunk, and one of them has sex in one of the padded cells. When Ratched comes in the next morning, she immediately tries to assess the situation by first figuring out if everyone is accounted for. When they find someone missing, and then find him asleep with a woman in the padded cell, Ratched tells him that she will tell his mother about it and that he should wait for the doctor in his office. While waiting, he kills himself, presumably out of fear of Ratched telling his mother. This leads to McMurphy attacking Ratched and strangling her almost to death. Okay, so here’s how I read this situation: Ratched leaves her shitty, shitty, shitty job, late at night. She relies on the night guard not to do her job, but to at least do his job of keeping the peace and making sure everyone and everything is intact. She comes into work early the next morning and finds that she cannot in fact rely on the night guard, or maybe anyone, to do their jobs enough to where she doesn’t have an entire hospital ward turned upside down. I mean, can you imagine the frustration of that? I certainly can, and I don’t see where in this situation we’re supposed to feel sympathetic toward McMurphy and dislike Ratched. Was she overly harsh to that kid by telling him she was going to tell his mother? Yeah, probably. But did she kill him? No. And did she do that clearly out of the anger and frustration of having to deal with the situation at hand, which McMurphy created? Yes.
So, I mean, that’s really all I have to say about this movie. I hated McMurphy; his character is like a child who is also capable of rape. I liked and pitied Nurse Ratched and I feel fairly certain if she was a man, she would just be a “boss” and not a “cold bitch.” But maybe that’s just me.