Classic Film Scene: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Great films appear every year and with them are potentially classic scenes that may become more famous than the film itself. The shower scene in Psycho, the chariot race in Ben Hur, the chest bursting moment in Alien, and the opera music sounding across the prison yard in The Shawshank Redemption are just some of the examples of the classic celluloid moments that we may be familiar with even if we’ve never seen the film. I’ll be sharing my favourite film scenes, some you will know others may be unfamiliar, but hopefully they’ll be moments you enjoy as much as I do.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Next (1975) – Chief’s Escape

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's NestMilos Forman’s Oscar-winning hit from 1975, based on Ken Kesey’s novel, is arguably the best film of the seventies. It boasts some great acting with Oscar winners Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher both excellent with a stellar support cast including early film appearances from Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd and Brad Dourif. From start to finish, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest does not have a bad scene to ridicule. In picking the best moment though it’s a tough task, especially when faced with McMurphy’s commentary of a pretend baseball game for the mental patients after Nurse Ratched refuses to put on the television. However, there is another scene in the film that gets to me every time I watch it and must feature here.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest sees R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) avoiding a prison sentence and hard work by pretending he’s mentally ill. He’s transferred to a mental institution controlled by the fearsome Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) where the ward is divided between a mixture of voluntary residents and patients with serious mental illnesses. Seeing how subdued everyone is, McMurphy proceeds to try and liven things up with games of cards and basketball, while locking horns with Nurse Ratched and even hijacking a bus to take his fellow patients on a fishing trip! McMurphy’s closest companions are Billy (Brad Dourif), a delicate and stuttering young man, and Chief (Will Sampson), a giant Indian who is deaf and dumb. After being involved in a fight in the ward, McMurphy, Chief and another patient Cheswick (Sydney Lassick) are sent for electro shock treatment, which leaves nothing to the imagination. Chief reveals he can talk and has in fact been faking his condition in the mental institution. He and McMurphy plot to escape from the ward, particularly as McMurphy has now found out his stay in the institution will be indefinite rather than his standard prison sentence. A farewell party is organised with McMurphy inviting two friends, Candy and Rose, who bring alcohol and invite the rest of the patients to join in the celebrations. As a favour to Billy, McMurphy arranges for him to sleep with Candy and the next thing we know it is morning and the hungover patients are all awoken by the arrival of Nurse Ratched! After Candy and Rose are escorted out of the building, Nurse Ratched confronts a fearful Billy and threatens to tell his mother of his antics. This is too much for Billy who tragically commits suicide when left alone for mere seconds. With Nurse Ratched struggling to keep order, McMurphy proceeds to try and strangle her but is knocked unconscious.

The standout scene in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest comes right at the end when speculation is rife among the patients that McMurphy has escaped from the ward. Chief listens intently, still posing as deaf and dumb. That night, Chief lays awake as McMurphy is brought to his bed and laid down for the night. When Chief goes to check on his friend he reveals he’s ready for the two of them to escape but after inspecting McMurphy discovers a lobotomy has been performed on him and he is now unresponsive. Hugging his friend, Chief tells McMurphy, “I wouldn’t leave you this way. You’re coming with me.” Chief then suffocates McMurphy before preparing his escape from the mental institution. Previously in the film McMurphy had lost a bet with the other patients after trying to lift a hydrotherapy control panel in the bathroom which he planned to hurl through the nearest window and escape downtown to watch baseball. Chief takes up the same challenge of lifting the panel and is successful. What makes this moment is the build of the music as Chief carries the panel across the ward and throws it through the window. The other patients awake to see the damaged window while Chief races off into the distance with the spirit of his friend, McMurphy, surely with him as they make their escape. I’d challenge anyone not to be moved by this scene.

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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