Nurse Ratched may not be new American horror story Character, but she's an infamous pop culture icon immortalized by Louise Fletcher in One flew over the cuckoo's nest. In fact, she was ranked the fifth best film villain of all time by the American Film Institute, along with Hannibal Lecter and Darth Vader. Now she's getting the Ryan Murphy treatment Ratched, a Netflix prequel series directed by Sarah Paulson. While expanding her backstory is a fascinating endeavor, Mildred Ratched is historically a legendary figure.
Nurse Ratched is from Ken Kesey's 1962 novel, One flew over the cuckoo's nest. Kesey was inspired by his own experiences as a nurse in a psychiatric department. In his novel, Nurse Ratched is a former nurse who serves as the senior administrative nurse in an Oregon mental hospital. It appears cold and calculating, almost like a machine. She manipulates male patients into submission through threats and humiliation, and practices tactics such as electroshock therapy and lobotomies. While she maintains an authoritative presence, one person stands in her way: Randle McMurphy, the vocal new transfer patient. Ultimately, Nurse Ratched embodies how institutions can slowly and threateningly dehumanize people under the guise of authority.
Louise Fletcher and Jack Nicholson brought Ratched and McMurphy to the screen with two Oscar-winning appearances in the 1975 film adaptation. Fletcher deeply rooted nurse with a stiff white uniform and a tight 1940s hairstyle reminiscent of pop culture. Nurse Ratched, like her fellow bookmate, is obsessed with control and order. In the film, Fletcher adds dimension to her character's subtle terror by balancing Sister Ratched's insidious actions with a gentle and calm demeanor. In a profile with Vanity FairThe actress shared a realization that Sister Ratched believes that what she does is right for her patients.
Spoiler alert: Nurse Ratched will be removed at the end of the book and film. After an inmate takes his life, she and McMurphy get into a fight over what happened to him. McMurphy tries to strangle her to death. Sister Ratched makes it out alive, but she is much weaker with injuries around her neck and can no longer talk about patients. As a punishment for his actions, McMurphy undergoes a lobotomy and enters a vegetative state.
Ratched serves as the forerunner of the novel and film, envisioning the title character from 1947 as she is looking for work in a northern California mental hospital. While Nurse Ratched is an icon, there have been feminist reviews of how she is a woman who scares men simply because of her power. Paulson's portrayal offers an opportunity for nuance and depth. And in contrast to the predominantly male film, it is complemented by perspectives from other female characters, including those of Sharon Stone and Cynthia Nixon. In the prequel, we'll see how Sister Ratched's twisted paths were created – we're already scared of wrapping our brains around them.