The second screening for Screen on the Green 2011, a festival of outdoor movies held at the National Mall, will be on August 1. The festival will show Miloš Forman’s Oscar-winning drama, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).
The film stars Jack Nicholson as Randle McMurphy, a good-timing repeat offender that has been trying to feign insanity to get off of hard labor. He is taken into an asylum where he meets Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), the steely overlord of the hospital. The completely sane McMurphy quickly earns the indignation of Ratched and eventually becomes the ringleader of the other wards. His antics brighten up the other patients and Ratched sees him as a hindrance to her carefully worked out system. If she can’t humiliate him enough, or cut him out from being the alpha of the group, she believes her progress (or status quo) is doomed.
The wards are a colorful lot. A nervous stutterer, a paranoid intellectual, and a giant Native American they call “Chief” are just some of McMurphy’s fellow patients. He steals a bus and takes them all on a fishing trip. They actually look happy for once. When they arrive back on shore, Ratched is waiting for them.
Nurse Ratched is almost less of a character and more a means for the film to get its message across. She is a special kind of sadist. You can be sure that her methods are frowned upon at nursing school. She employs a kind of psychological stranglehold over her subordinates that keeps them all in check, but inhibits any true rehabilitation. She is the power of the state, and she feels her job is more to play babysitter than to actually help people.
Almost every film that takes place in a loony bin has a similar kind of problem as Cuckoo’s Nest does. It is less about any of the characters and more about the power struggle with the hospital system. There are other kinds of stories to be made in this setting, but later films like Girl, Interrupted (1999) followed this same schematic that lost sight of dealing with the patients’ actual recovery. But since Cuckoo’s Nest was first, it gets a pass.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was one of those rare few films that swept the top 5 awards at the Oscars, and finally got Nicholson his Best Actor award. All of them were deserved, particularly for the screenplay. It was adapted from Ken Kesey’s novel, which was written through the Chief’s eyes, and was turned into something very different, but altogether just as profound.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is also available on DVD and Blu-Ray (or VHS, if you still have one) in case you can’t make the trek out to see it at the Mall. Screen on the Green 2011 holds its showings at the National Mall between 8th and 14th St. NW in D.C. The screenings begin at sundown, which should be sometime between 8:30 and 9:00 in the evening. Bring a blanket as opposed to a chair and sit anywhere on the lawn in front of the 20 by 40 foot screen. Screen on the Green is a luxury. With its second film showing on the August 1, the festival will be halfway done with its screenings. The festival could use the help of locals who love it to keep it going. Visit this site to offer help or to get information on the remaining films.