The release of Ratched on Netflix in September has brought the origin of one of pop culture’s most infamous villains into spectacular technicolour. Louise Fletcher’s exemplary performance as the wicked Nurse Ratched in 1975’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest defined the role. Sarah Paulson’s performance as the arguably more human Mildred Ratched honours Fletcher, and brings the titular character to places unseen.
Show developer Ryan Murphy (creator of American Horror Story and a frequent collaborator of Sarah Paulson’s) was given the almost impossible task of honouring the original Nurse Ratched whilst creating a distinctly horrific vibe. Fans of the 1975 film will know that Ratched’s villainy lies in her careful manipulation of the mentally ill patients she cares for. She isn’t violent, she plays by the rules and she is revered by her superiors. She plays the long game, making necessary sacrifices and humiliating her vulnerable patients in order to get her way. She embodies the twisted, evil nature of bureaucratic power, and does it all with a perfectly maintained updo.
The Ratched we meet in Netflix’s new series is completely different. There’s the shared name and profession, and that’s where the similarities end. Paulson’s portrayal of Ratched is a constant ebb and flow, the harsh strictness we’ve come to expect of the character punctuated with moments of shocking vulnerability. Everything about Ratched is so perfectly constructed that when she does show emotion, the audience is left waiting with bated breath to see if this is another one of her schemes. Every actor gives their all, with another standout performance to match Paulson’s coming from Sophie Okonedo, who effortlessly weaves through five distinct characters . The actors in Ratched relish the opportunity to play twisted, multidimensional characters, which leave the audience questioning their motives and wondering if anyone is truly innocent.
The 1947 of Netflix’s Ratched is an almost surrealist fantasy of post-war America. The colours pop almost too brightly, the clothes are tailored too perfectly to the actors’ bodies, the office of Doctor Hanover (the psychiatrist at the hospital Nurse Ratched finds employment with) is so symmetrical and perfectly styled it seems lifted from an interior design magazine. Atrocities are contrasted with hyper-glossy, picture-perfect styling. Shrieking violins and tinny radio sounds cloak the sunny beachside setting in an uneasy air, and remind us that nothing we see on the surface is accurate.
Not once does Murphy or Netflix try to make Ratched an accurate prequel to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. And this is to the show’s benefit. Ratched is pure horror; an augmented yet recognisable society that keeps the most terrifying aspects of the original villain and transforms everyone’s least favourite nurse into something else entirely.
Ratched is available on Netflix now. Happy Halloween and stay spooky!