One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Film)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Film) Study Guide

Milos Forman is a Czech film director born on February 18, 1932 in Caslav, Czechoslovakia. As a child, both of his parents died in concentration camps and he lived with distant relatives for the duration of World War II. After graduating from King George Boarding School, he attended the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague to study screenwriting. In 1967, Forman released his first film entitled Loves of a Blonde, which was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Foreign Language Film. He directed two more movies, The Firemen’s Ball and Taking Off, before his breakout One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

In 1975, Cuckoo’s Nest took the world by storm with Nicholson’s charismatic performance and Forman’s inventive directing. An adaption of the influential 1962 novel by counter-culture figure Ken Kesey, the film stars Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, and Will Sampson. The movie tells the story of Randle McMurphy, a criminal who lies his way into a mental institutions in order to shirk his sentence of hard labor for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl. He soon butts heads with Nurse Ratched, who controls the ward with a rigid, authoritarian, and demeaning style. McMurphy, with all of his stubbornness, attempts to gain the trust of his inmates and form a rebellion against Ratched. The story addresses themes of conformity, gender roles, and mental illness, making for a complex and thought-provoking film.

Upon its release, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest received rave reviews from critics and audiences alike for its provocative portrayal of a mental asylum. In particular, Jack Nicholson’s performance was considered by most to be the stand-out of the entire film. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote, “Nicholson's performance is one of the high points in a long career of enviable rebels. Jack is a beloved American presence, a superb actor who even more crucially is a superb male sprite. The joke lurking beneath the surface of most of his performances is that he gets away with things because he knows how to, wants to, and has the nerve to.” With its spectacular actors and moving social commentary, Cuckoo’s Nest won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.