Not too long ago, I did one of those 30-Day Facebook Challenges about some of my favourite movies. This one made the cut for my all-time favourite drama. I first saw it when I was probably about 13 or 14, and it gave me a nice, early perspective on psychiatric institutions. It wasn't without a bit of scariness, but beyond that, it was this film that really taught me that having mental illness is actually okay, and nothing to be ashamed of. My own mental health problems wouldn't be recognized until much later in life, but this really helped me come to terms with them and accept them for what they are.
We are introduced to convict Randall Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) who tends to go by "Mac". After serving some time at a correctional facility for (trigger warning) statutory rape, he is transferred to a psychiatric hospital after pleading insanity. However, believing that he's using this as an excuse to get out of his labor camp work, the authorities have him undergo a psychiatric evaluation to prove that he's likely not "crazy". 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 in the hands of a strict nurse, Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher) who constantly undermines him, and seemingly wants to keep her patients down. She's not even really mean or nasty, she just, as Mac so eloquently puts it, "ain't honest". Of course, this causes Mac to rebel, try to get all of the patients on his side, and upon learning that he's in for more of a sentence at the institution, 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 kinda hit or miss, but every last one of them delivers a very believable character. 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.
Mac actually ends up being one of those creepy characters you won't like at all at first. The terms of his sentencing and some of his racial insensitivity in the beginning will not fly well with certain viewers. If you can, though, try to stick with it, because it's done for a reason. Mac eventually makes an effort to get through to all of these guys, and break their collective minds free from believing that there's anything really wrong with them - especially when he finds out that most of them are there voluntarily. He simply doesn't see anything really horrible about these guys, meanwhile he's sitting there convicted of something as serious as statutory rape. It can be a touchy subject, but when someone like Jack Nicholson is sitting there telling a mentally unstable viewer that there's nothing "wrong" with them, it's very uplifting.
With that said, please don't get that twisted. I am not saying that if you're mentally unstable you should just ignore it and everything is okay. What I am saying is that sometimes it can feel very lonely and isolating to have to deal with these problems, perhaps thinking less of yourself. It's not that you don't have any problems, it's just that these problems aren't "wrong" to have, and they shouldn't be something you look at in complete shame. That is the message I take away from what Mac says to these guys and how he treats them, trying to get them to see this bright side of life.
The film went on to be nominated for nine Oscars, winning for Best Picture, Lead Actor (Nicholson), Lead Actress (Fletcher), Director and Adapted Screenplay, making it one of the three films to clean-sweep the Big Five; the other two being 'It Happened One Night' and 'Silence of the Lambs'. It was further recognized for Best Supporting Actor (Douriff - that's right, "Chucky" almost won an Oscar), Cinematography, Film Editing and Original Score. It also swept the Golden Globes similarly, winning in all six of the major categories it was nominated for - the extra category being Douriff winning for his breakthrough role.
This is a go-to for a movie that provides this somewhat perfect blend of categories. It's a bit of en eye-opener for some, but it does it all with a pretty solid sense of humor while often being intensely dramatic, and even sometimes kinda scary. It may be a little bit dated by today's standards for any newcomers, but it has held a special spot in my heart for so many years now that even with any current flaws, I still see it as a fantastic and almost timeless story (things like shock therapy aren't really a common thing anymore). This one comes as a high recommendation from yours truly to anyone looking for a movie that will engage every emotion within.
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