1975 movie that should be on everybody's top-500 list
Plot: McMurphy is lazy. Unfortunately, he's also a criminal and has to serve time in prison where they'll make him work. But he's got a plan--pretend to be insane so he can be transferred to a mental institution and serve out the remaining days of his sentence without having to work. He adds a little chaos to the gentle existence of the asylum, changing a few inmates' lives for better or worse. He also finds an enemy in the head nurse--Nurse Ratched.
I could have sworn that this came out in 1973.
First off, I'd like to point out that I don't see Nurse Ratched, stoically played by Oscar winner Louise Fletcher, as the real villain. She's a bit passive-aggressive maybe and gets on McMurphy's nerves, more as a symbol or maybe as a woman than through anything she actually does, but it's not like she's outrageously malicious or anything. McMurphy's biggest antagonist is himself, and each time I watch this, I see Nicholson's character as a failed Christ figure who, although he does do his part to save a soul in the end, ends up getting in the way of himself as he tries to do fulfill whatever mission he might have. He takes his "disciples" fishing, retiring to the bowels of the stolen ship in order to have sexual relations with a woman (don't think Jesus did that), and botches a few miracles. Jack's electric in this, really one of my favorite acting performances ever. I love the last moments of the big going-away party at the end when McMurphy sits and waits for Billy to finish doing his business. There's an extended shot of just Jack's face, and his expressions in that fifty seconds or so show loss, optimism, fear, indecision, happiness. Amazing stuff. But the ensemble cast around Nicholson is also great, portraying these crazies in a way that doesn't blow them up into comic figures (though there is plenty of comedy here) but creates these very human moments where you really feel the characters' pain. Observe that first therapy session--you have the circle of guys who can communicate, eventually fit in with society again, or whatever surrounded by all the lunatics who will never fit in again, the ones who stand in the background staring at nothing, hit a punching bag with a cane with a persistence that makes him almost a hero, or elegantly dances to the music in his head. I really like the expression on Harding's face when he realizes that nobody will help him with his problem. During that entire scene and probably all the conversations the "group" has, director Forman uses close-ups and distance shots perfectly. Danny DeVito (I'm counting him as a little person, by the way) is really good as Martini, William Redfield could easily have won something as Harding, Christopher Lloyd plays ornery and angry so well as Taber, and Brad Dourif and his Lyle Lovett-esque hair are heartbreakingly good as Billy and Billy's hair respectively. And Will Sampson is unforgettable as the Chief. I love that scene where he's striding across the court during that basketball game, the first time his character shows any personality whatsoever. He says so much for being a mute. I also like the nurse who is always with Nurse Ratched but whose only line is a lengthy scream near the end of the movie. When I saw this movie as a youngster, its themes of conformity and freedom resonated. I think it's captured best in the looks on the inmates' faces when Nurse Ratched asks, "Did Billy Bibbit leave the grounds of the hospital?"
Now, let's see why this isn't on Cory's top-500 movie list.