One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: Ultimate Collector's Edition (DVD)

Milos Forman’s masterpiece of dramatic filmmaking is a movie that has managed to elude me for literal years. I’ve tried to track down “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” for ages (it’s been my white whale), and every time it’s been one more of the many classics that was easily out of my grasp for one reason or another. Being given the opportunity to watch the film finally in a touched up widescreen edition with 5.1 surround sound managed to be the experience I’ve been waiting for, and Forman’s master opus is well worth the hype.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” isn’t so much about mental patients in an institution but about the male spirit and how society outside the walls of this small facility has in one way or another emasculated and broken down the men who are still very confused and distressed about their place in society, in sexuality, and as individuals. Louise Fletcher gives a delightfully despicable performance as the stone faced calm snake of the facility whose respectability and mild mannered approach toward her patience grants her unlimited opportunities to do with her patients as she so pleases. Clearly a woman who has been also broken down by society, the enormous portion of Forman’s film is about a woman emasculating a group of men over and over day after. The men are either too afraid to break habit, or too horrified of her to step out of bounds and express a unique though, so they allow her to emasculate them and reduce them to shriveling worms who will do her bidding and act according to her strict guidelines or else suffer severe consequences. They know as well as she does what they are.

When we first meet the men of this psychiatric center, they’re all much too meek to speak out against anyone, and Ratched sits back and watches them turn on one another until she’s decided that she’s had her fill of their lunacy watching them break each other in to pieces, and then retreats back to her nurses station taking delight at looking out on to them and controlling them as legally as possible. She’s the villain who works within the parameters of her profession garnering a remarkable sense of achievement and power from the impotence and insecurities of these men, repeatedly forcing them to confront issues they haven’t toppled and bringing them back to square one day after day. Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of R.P. McMurphy is quite stellar and the man grabs this film from its roots and runs away from it as this unbridled and unabashed example of manhood.

He is wild, erratic, masculine, demands his sports and makes no apologies for sleeping with a fifteen year old girl merely shrugging it off and explaining that a man will be a man at the end of the day, and no one can resist the sexuality of a woman. Not to mention, he expresses some hint that she was a young girl fairly aware of his urges and doesn’t really give an exception toward that bit of manipulation. The dichotomy there is that Ratched quietly feels threatened by McMurphy, this example of confidence and charisma, while McMurphy struggles to keep his individuality in tact first taking amusement at these shells of men, and then deciding that he has to help them reclaim their sense of empowerment from the clutches of Ratched. The minute McMurphy begins to challenge the monotony and norms of this institute, Ratched watches on with quiet resolve, and behind the scenes devises new ways to break his spirit and turn him in to one of the drones in her order.

The film then becomes a war of the sexes and of wills as Ratched and McMurphy battle for the minds of these patients, and soon Forman dissolves slowly in to a psychological war where McMurphy bonds with these men, and anxiously strives to help them garner some sense of possession in their lives as Ratched looks to keep them in their places and contently watch them look from the inside out where she can grab on to some personal vendetta. While Ratched is someone clearly with her own issues that remain ambiguous, make no mistake, she is a villain. She is a stone faced, cold hearted, vile woman with some lunacy of her own who gains some sadistic pleasure in tearing down these men of old and young, and she sees fit to accomplish her agenda until the very end.

Forman dabbles with the psychosis of these men exploring their own quirks and issues and sits in McMurphy’s chair often, asking why they simply can not step outside and try harder. But as we slowly learn, it’s much easier said than done, and Ratched has seemingly won even when McMurphy manages to inspire some confidence and security among these patients who will either try to venture outside the walls of the hospital, or remain in their shells at the mercy of this despicable woman who takes great pleasure in keeping them subservient and quiet. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is a marvel of contemporary filmmaking with intelligence, entertainment value, and ponderings on life, manhood, and how society can be much scarier than nurses in white coats, and the lesser of two evils, when all is said and done. It’s a wonderful bit of dramatic filmmaking and one I highly insist you watch if you haven’t yet.

DVD features for the set include filmographies for the entire cast, there’s a full commentary with Michael Douglas, Milos Forman and Jack Nicholson, and a rundown of the awards garnered for Forman’s drama. The supplemental disc has a library of special features that film buffs will adore. There’s the ninety minute “Completely Cuckoo,” the documentary discovering the origins of the original novel, the source of the title, and the development of the film as well as explorations in to the author’s life, and his themes of his mental illness within the book. There’s the thirty minute featurette entitled “Asylum” an excellent look at the psychological industry and the dilemma of patients, many of whom choose their life behind the walls among other mentally distressed individuals. There are also eight deleted scenes, one of which includes the meeting of McMurphy and Ratched, and McMurphy’s issue with clothes that is quite funny.

We also get the original trailer for the theatrical release, and a rather self-congratulatory promotional trailer for the American Film Institute. Among the many bells and whistles of the set, collector’s will be given a small folder filled with full colored stills of the main characters including Martini, Bibbit, and McMurphy as well as Ratched, there is a hard cover small book about the production of the film and the thoughts of the cast and film preservationists, consumers are given three small reproductions of the film’s posters, a small press book for the film including news clippings and pictures, and there’s even a wonderful deck of cards with McMurphy’s picture on the box that I suggest you keep in mint condition. It’s a wonderful little treasure trove for fans of the film to re-discover every time.