HOLLYWOOD—With Oscar season in full-force, I want to focus the next few weeks highlighting some of the greatest flicks to ever be crowned that coveted accolade of Best Picture and even highlighting flicks that were robbed of the big prize. This year we go way back to a time when actor Jack Nicholson was proving that he was a formidable force as an actor and why he is regarded to this day as one of the greatest living actors of our time. Yes, Meryl Streep might have more Oscar nominations than any other actor in history, but guess who is right behind her: Mr. Nicholson.
I’m still livid that Nicholson was overlooked for the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in “Chinatown” people. I’m sorry that is a fantastic performance and Jack was indeed robbed. However, the Academy per usual, gave him the Oscar for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” This is an interesting movie because it addresses a subject matter that is not always prevalent in daily America: mental illness. Jack portrays Randle McMurphy, who finds himself inside a mental institution as a way to avoid the hard labor he has endured while being sentenced on a prison farm for statutory rape.
As a viewer, it becomes evident early on that Mac is not ill at all, but as the movie progresses I found myself questioning the possibility that maybe, just maybe our main character is indeed ill but refuses to acknowledge it. I mean who in their right mind wants to be told they are crazy, but for Mac it is a scapegoat that he uses to his advantage. Upon arriving at the institution he discovers there is a level of hierarchy and none is more atrocious than Nurse Ratched played with such subtlety by Louise Fletcher.
Some might question just why I use the word subtlety to describe Fletcher’s acting ability. Well, it’s because the character is so evil, without showcasing it to your face in a ‘look at me’ performance. Yes, those who have seen many actors and actresses know precisely what I’m talking about. It’s that moment where the character being portrayed is screaming for you to look at me, and it almost becomes a diversion in the film if you ask me. Fletcher doesn’t do that here; her character does it in ways that are so seamless it’s scary to watch.
What shocked me the most about watching this movie is seeing that some notable actors first get that opportunity to shine on the screen! I mean Danny DeVito, Brad Dourif, Will Sampson and even Christopher Lloyd. They all portray characters that if someone told me about I wouldn’t believe them if I was given a million dollars. The narrative hooks you in a weird way that you want to stop watching, but something continues to poke at you; you can’t stop watching the drama unfold.
It doesn’t hurt that we have this dichotomy of good vs. evil. I mean Nurse Ratched is bad, but some could raise the question that Randle McMurphy is just as bad. Is he actually helping the inmates by leading a revolt, perhaps, Nurse Ratched knows things about these men that Randle couldn’t understand in a million years? I will admit seeing him breakthrough to Chief (Will Sampson) was pivotal.
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is not just a classic because of its story and the message it raises about mental illness, but because of its characterizations depicted in the film. Jack Nicholson has always been an actor where regardless of what role he portrays as a cinema buff you have mixed feelings. I can’t recall a character Nicholson portrayed where I didn’t question the motive. Is he good, is he bad, is he the anti-hero, is he sympathetic, the list can go on and on. If you haven’t seen this movie, February is the perfect time to sit down and watch a drama that will leave you asking the question that I continue to ask myself today: was Randle McMurphy the hero or was he the villain?