I was first introduced to this one at around the age of 13 or 14; right around the age of mature thought. So one of the reasons this movie is an all-time favourite is my connection to it in the sense that it really sheds a light on the category of mental health. It showed me back then that living with mental health problems also means voluntarily helping yourself however you can, and doesn't necessarily mean you have to live a "bad" life. - an important message that will be relevant forever. I'm gonna come back to this point in a bit.
In the meantime, those who know me well know that I understand the mental health struggle on a personal level to some extent. Having mentioned that, I'm very happy to have seen this when I did. When I was diagnosed with my own personal struggle, I can remember thinking things like "It could definitely be worse" and "I'm definitely not alone in all of this" and most importantly, "Do what you need to do to help yourself". Going back to that point, what stood out so much in this story is a bit of a spoiler, so skip ahead past the next screenshot if you don't wanna hear it.
Right around the middle of the movie, we find out that just about everyone in the hospital is actually there voluntarily. Each character is fighting their own personal inner battle, and they're doing what they need to do to help themselves. The interesting thing is that back in 1975 when this came out, things weren't as, shall we say, "woke" as they are today. Mental health problems were seen in a very different light indeed, but that's honestly a whole other conversation that would stray away from review material. But it's interesting to see a movie say "It's okay not to be okay" before Marshmello and Demi Lovato made the saying huge.
Getting into plot, we are introduced to convict Randall Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) who tends to go by "Mac". After serving some time at a correctional facility, he is transferred to a psychiatric hospital after pleading insanity. While Mac believes that this will be an easy few weeks where he can serve the rest of his sentence, however, he soon finds himself under the watchful eye of a strict nurse, Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher); another great "villain who isn't really a villain" type. Y'know, a character who's only really doing her job incredibly well... but we don't like her. Of course, this causes Mac (who's not there voluntarily) to rebel, try to get all the patients on his side, and maybe even break free.
The patients in question are an interesting cast of actors in their early days. Among the main group of the instantly recognizable are Billy (Brad Douriff), Martini (Danny DeVito), and Tabor (Christopher Lloyd). Rounding it out are other names one might recognize like Harding (William Redfield) if you were into a lot of television that predates the film, and deep horror fans will know Ellis (Michael Berryman). The rest are kind of hit or miss, but every last one delivers a very believable performance, be it kind of whacky (like Lloyd) or very dramatic (like Douriff). Perhaps most intriguing is the one they simply call "Chief" (Will Sampson), a big Native American man who doesn't say anything to anyone and just does his own thing.
But of course, the man who really carries this film from beginning to end is good old Jack. This has to be, by far, one of his all-time best performances. It's interesting that we get a little bit of Jack Torrance from 'The Shining' as well as a little bit of his Joker from 1989's 'Batman', but this predates both of those titles, leading me to believe that Jack ultimately channelled this role for both in some way, shape or form. He's not a character you really like at all, at first, but as he interacts with the other patients and starts having fun with them, he does kind of grow on you - despite knowing what he did to land him here, to begin with, which I won't bring up.
But that does provide a good segue to bring up something else rather important. See, despite the positive takeaways I've mentioned from this movie, it's still covering a mental health facility in the 1970s. Ultimately, this means there's quite a bit of colourful language being used throughout the film, and if I'm honest, it's just gonna end up offending a lot of today's society. But it IS an example of a film I still highly recommend to anyone who's A - interested in Jack's and some of the other actors' early work, and B - recognizes that different times meant different borders. It may also be a positive way to see how far we've actually come since then. But if you're triggered very easily, it may not be the film for you.
For anyone mildly curious to check this one out, I think the most important thing to look for here is the story at hand, and all of those aforementioned "warnings" about how dated this movie potentially is should be more about seeing society at that time. The overall story and awesome characters still totally hold up, covering a lot of stigmas that we're just now starting to get away from, and themes of individuality and what makes one unique. I'd say if you can get past a lot of the more dated aspects of this and recognize it for what it is, it can provide a solid eye-opener for people today.
This one is a go-to for a movie that provides a somewhat perfect blend of categories. It does get quite dramatic, and even a little scary, but it's all punctuated with a solid sense of humour. It could be seen easily as a feel-good movie, but perhaps one that's in the same vein as something like 'Forest Gump', where there's still a bit of a dark side to it. You'll laugh just as much as you'll cry, that sort of thing. 'Cuckoo's Nest' has held a special spot in my heart for so many years now that even with any of its potentially dated flaws, I still see it as a fantastic and almost timeless story for anyone either fighting their own battle with their own mind or those looking to open their eyes a little on the subject matter.