One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)


University students often feel frustrated trying to remain sane under the burgeoning stress of academia. As we try to balance school, work, extracurricular activities, friends, family, and other personal concerns, we begin to question our motivation.

This thin line between sanity and insanity makes the theme of Ken Kesey’s novel-turned-movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, so relevant to university students.

Directed by Miloš Forman, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest follows the story of McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a convict who transfers from a prison farm to a mental institution. His charisma and wit are key features to his character. He manages to outsmart all of the institution’s employees, including the doctors. When he first arrives at the mental hospital, it’s mentioned that he’s convicted for seducing a teenage girl. Despite his promiscuous behaviour, you’ll be shocked at how quickly you start to cheer for him, which is a testament to Nicholson’s performance.

He is grouped with fellow “psych mates” Chief (Will Sampson), Dale (William Redfield), Billy (Brad Dourif), Charlie (Sydney Lassick), Taber (Christopher Lloyd), and Martini (Danny DeVito). McMurphy befriends this offbeat group of patients, and together they rebel against the institution.

If this cast of Hollywood stars won’t convince you to watch the movie, its noteworthy praise might. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest swept the 48th Academy Awards in 1976, winning Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay.

The film’s questionable aspects of racism and sexism—keep in mind, it was released in 1975—did not detract from its powerful meaning. The film draws attention to the marginalized people of society: outcasts on the brink of insanity.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest aged gracefully. When I watched it in 2016, the themes, characters, humour, and plot all appeared relevant to the present day. Issues such as mental health, isolation, anger, suicide, institutions, oppression, self-worth, and labelling are aspects of society applicable to any generation. There’s a reason this film swept the Oscars.

At the beginning, I didn’t believe any of the patients acted in a way that warranted psychiatric treatment. Their supposed illnesses included effeminacy, anxiety, sadness, and other characteristics that deviate from political and social norms. This classification of sanity versus insanity led me to wonder: Who am I, or society as a collective, to decide who is insane and who isn’t?