When Milos Forman, a Czech director working in Hollywood signed on to direct One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, I wonder if he knew what a classic it would become?
Winning Oscars for Forman’s direction – Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher’s best leading roles; the writing skills of Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman and, ultimately, Best Picture in the 1976 awards – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is still a landmark production that has influenced and inspired many films made since.
Just one week after Jack Nicholson’s 80th birthday, it seems fitting that this film has received a much anticipated re-release, cinematically restored and ready to be discovered by new audiences, relished by those of us never able to see it on the big screen and celebrated by lucky audiences who enjoyed it in the cinema more than 40 years ago.
It’s a story told originally as a novel, then a play, a film and in many other productions since, and the characters inside the mental institution are some of the best-known portrayals of patients with mental health problems to many people. The treatment in the hospital; the diagnosis of McMurphy and lack of understanding shown to him is often the first image that people will recall. This is particularly memorable in terms of his ability to communicate with patients that had been written off by the hospital, and in his vitality, resistance and inevitable destruction.
When film deals with mental health, it is often extreme or played for comedy and treated without understanding and humanity. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest stands separate to this.
It exposes the poor treatment of people with many, very different illnesses and shows their complicated personalities. Mental health care is no longer as seen in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, (and in any case, this was a fictional account of one man’s experience) but it is vital to remember that nothing depicted in the film is miles away from how patients were treated in the past, both in the USA and in the UK.
Bringing US filmmaking right up to date is the independent, vampire drama, The Transfiguration, (released this week at the Showroom) a film that is difficult to place within the confines of the ‘horror’ genre. It’s a film with more in common with the 2009 Swedish vampire film, Let the Right One In, than any Dracula-type blood sucker committed to screen. Following the brilliant Raw, it’s interesting the trauma of growing up is interpreted using horror tropes. It seems this film is terrifying in its representation of damage done to a child’s mental health. And the boy’s behaviour, although shocking, ends up almost understandable.