Film Analysis: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

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When it comes to studying the history of film, there are four main approaches employed by historians, theorists, critics, and fans to assign importance or value to any given film. The aesthetic approach, otherwise known as the masterpiece approach, focuses on movies that are said by the film-watching population at large to be works of arts, and also gives credence to the directors that bring those films to life. The technological approach delves into the advancement of technology associated with the production of film, as new inventions have blessed movies increasingly better quality of picture and sound. The third is the economic approach, which examines how films affect the economy of the studio that produced them, as well as that of the nation at large, as far as what was spent on production, and the financial return upon release. Finally, the film as social history approach to studying cinema concerns such factors as why movies are made, who sees them and their purpose for doing so, and the cultural impact they have when their plots deal with religion, politics, and other social issues. Any given film can be studied from any of those points of view, and even a combination thereof, but typically, one approach will work above the others to nail down the movie’s message, significance, and reason for being made. The widely acclaimed 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest can be studied from the film as social history approach, due to its view on mental health care during that time in American history, but due to its overwhelming critical acclaim and adoration from fans, the film would more appropriately fit under the aesthetic approach.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest received immediate and widespread praise upon its release in 1975, so much so that it was only the second film in American cinematic history to win all five of the main Academy Awards, including Jack Nicholson for Best Actor in Lead Role, Louise Fletcher for Best Actress in lead role, Miloš Forman for Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay. For a single film to sweep the most prestigious awards ceremony known to cinema means that it undoubtedly has supreme talent behind it, working from every angle to create what will forever be seen as a masterpiece. The aesthetic approach to studying film seeks to define films by their artistic relevance, and looks to determine why a film is important to society and has such mass appeal. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest fits most properly into this area of study because of its presentation of a slew of characters that represent a microcosm of human nature, backed by brilliant performances and direction. Jack Nicholson is known as one of the best actors in the history of film, and Miloš Forman is a respected director who has been creating memorable films for decades, both realities that satisfy the aesthetic approach’s quest to identify brilliance in this form of entertainment.

Although the four main approaches for studying film provide a scientific method for that end, every viewer has their own criteria for determining what makes a film great. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is worthy of every bit of acclaim it has earned over the past four decades, and the reasons for that are numerous. Jack Nicholson’s performance as Randle McMurphy, a career criminal who ends up in a mental institution, is stunning due to his ability emote without uttering so much as a word. Opposite Nicholson is Louise Fletcher, who plays the wicked Nurse Ratched, who runs the ward in which McMurphy and his fellow patients reside with an iron fist and a stony, soulless expression. Part of what makes a movie truly great are the performances, and the aforementioned characters in this film stole the show, being that much of what they both said, they did so with just their faces. Nicholson’s contorting facial features as he tries to figure out Nurse Ratched and the situation at large, and her dead eyes and knowing smirk as she holds dominion over the lives of her patients convey more to the audience than does any of the dialogue. The film also employs many reaction shots as its signature, zooming in on the faces of characters as they react to the words and actions of others. Those shots delve into the souls and personalities of those well-developed characters, making the viewer understand and appreciate them for all their strengths and flaws. Therein lies what makes a film great – the ability of the filmmakers and actors alike to create characters that are relatable, that are able to move an audience with or without words, and that are able to remain in the minds and hearts of those viewers for all of time.

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