MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #5 – NURSE RATCHED
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Directed by: Miloš Forman
Produced by: Saul Zaentz, Michael Douglas
Screenplay by: Lawrence Hauben, Bo Goldman
Based on: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson, William Redfield, Danny Devito, Brad Dourif, Christopher Lloyd etc.
“Now calm down. The best thing we can do is go on with our daily routine.” Nurse Ratched
Not all film monsters come from outer space or the mountains of Transylvania or from beyond the grave. In fact, some of the scariest monsters from literature and the silver screen are often humans. A magnificent example of this is Ken Kesey’s controlling matriarch figure from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nurse Mildred Ratched. Even the name conjures up feelings of evil, manipulation and pain. There has been a recent Netflix origin story with Sarah Paulson in the iconic role, however, today I will concentrate on Louise Fletcher’s mesmerising rendition of authoritarian villainy.
Evil comes in many guises and can be overt, perverted or, in Nurse Ratched’s case, extremely covert. She is the personification of calm on the outside, but clearly raging with poison and anger on the inside. Her obsessive desire for routine and control makes her ideal to be the Head of the Department, however, it is the burning internal joy she appears to take from manipulating and bullying the inmates which makes her an extremely dangerous person. The battle of wills she has with Randall P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) powerfully drives the narrative in the film. Nicholson gives an electric performance as the convict faking lunacy. But he is more than matched by the subtle pragmatism in Louise Fletcher’s portrayal. Both deservedly won Academy Awards.
Apparently the role of Nurse Ratched was offered to esteemed actresses such as Anne Bancroft, Angela Lansbury and Geraldine Page, but eventually Milos Forman and his producers offered the role to then unknown, Louise Fletcher. It’s a serendipitous piece of casting as a well-known actress would arguably have provided less surprise within the characterisation. Fletcher herself has commented that she felt Ratched was a virgin. Further going on to say in an interview with Vanity Fair, “She hasn’t married, hadn’t done this, hadn’t done that, and was self-sufficient on her own leading this life, because she dedicated her life, her earlier life, to other people who needed her.” Perhaps this caring for others eventually wore her down and Ratched may suffer from compassion fatigue. Either that or she is genuinely the most insane person in the asylum, while ruling with quiet and ruthless efficiency.