This week in Screen Acting we watched the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest starring the talented Jack Nicholson. Nicholson plays Randle McMurphy, a rebellious criminal who believes he is above the law. Randle is brought into a mental institution but he is seemingly sane in the beginning of the film, as the film progresses however, we see the arc of his character go from sane to insane. The film provides a critique of mental institutions and challenges that instead of these institutes actually ‘treating’ individuals with mental illness, they instead contribute to the patients psychopathology. Randle provides a glimmer of hope for these individuals who are stuck under the rigid routines of Nurse Ratched. Randle shakes up the routine by inviting over girls, partying, bringing in alcohol and even acting out the commentary to a fake baseball game after Ratched denies to put it on. Randle enables all of the patients to liven up, he gets the Chief to finally talk and for a brief moment BIlly’s stutter disappears. However his efforts are stopped in their tracks when he is punished for his misconduct and faces shock therapy and even lobotomies which eventually strip him of his sanity.
Nicholson brings Randle to life through his physicality, particularly through his high energy and inability to remain still. His signature facial expressions which include him raising his eyebrows up and down and moving his head around as he talks also add life to his character. He is constantly in motion, which is a stark contrast to Nurse Randle who is still, stern, cold and quite passive. She rarely changes her straight faced expressions. In contrast to Randle, whose character arc completely flips by the end of the film, Nurse Randle stays the same throughout the film. Even after being almost strangled to death by Randle, she is back to business as usual. The contrast between these two characters plays out beautifully in the film, it seems that the more energetic Randle gets, the more stern Ratched gets and vice versa. It is evident these two actors worked off each other in the film. With that said, Melanie pointed out an interesting fact about Nicholson in discussion, that other actors don’t particularly view Nicholson as a ‘generous actor’. I felt that this was evident while watching the film, and with the exception of Nurse Ratched, Nicholson steals the scene quite often when he is with the other actors, and he seems to be more interested in delivering an enticing performance than playing off others.
Overall I thought it was a great film and even though Nicholson may appear to act very similarly in his films, I enjoy his acting choices and believe he brings a unique quality to his roles that no other actor could.