I knew Nurse Ratched, or at least I had a glimpse of her after having appeared in a local theatrical production of Dale Wasserman’s play, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” based on Ken Kesey’s legendary novel. As performed back in the 1980s by the great Rosemary Crawford, the character was larger-than-life and certainly formidable.
Audiences had another glimpse of her still fresh in their minds from the 1975 Milos Forman film starring Louise Fletcher in the role of Nurse Mildred Ratched, for which she and the film were honored with numerous Academy Awards.
It’s been a while, but she’s back in a new Ryan Murphy and Evan Romansky production for Netflix simply titled “Ratched.”
The show is not limited to a two-hour film format. It is stretched out over eight episodes that are so beautifully made they may as well be a lavish big budget feature. It stars the fabulous Sarah Paulson in the title role, and given Murphy’s involvement, one might imagine a slight nod to the long-running FX series “American Horror Story” (which has featured at times the Taos-born actor Naomi Grossman). But, if there is, it’s a glancing blow in terms of style and visual language.
“Ratched” offers a deeper and very dark impression of the imposing nurse at a late 1940s mental health hospital. Expanded over several episodes we learn more about the character before her appearance as adversary to the Ken Kesey character Randle P. McMurphy.
Here, the series begins with a rather grisly depiction of a mass murder of several Catholic priests perpetrated by a man named Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock), who we discover is related to Mildred Ratched. Caught by police and deemed insane, Tolleson is scheduled to be transferred to a mental hospital in California. The case is sensational, with a newspaper even offering a tidy sum to anyone who can snap a photo of Tolleson as he is taken to the facility.
In the meantime, Ratched arrives in the town. Dressed like she stepped out of a Vogue photo spread, she wrangles a position on the staff of the hospital, though it is unclear she is really a nurse. The facility is beautiful but more fitting as a luxury hotel than a mental hospital.
It is run by a Dr. Richard Hanover (Jon Jon Briones), who is barely keeping it afloat, so when word gets out that the famous serial killer is coming to his establishment, it’s a big win. That’s especially true when the corpulent state Governor George Wilburn (Vincent D’Onofrio) shows up with an entourage to take credit for capturing the evil Tolleson.
By now, Ratched is ensconced on the staff and is finagling a way to meet with Tolleson.
That’s about all I can say at this point because the tip of this iceberg goes down very deep and strange. It is, however, a joy to watch the acting talents of this stellar cast that includes Sharon Stone, Judy Davis, Corey Stoll, Sophie Okenedo, and Cynthia Nixon, along with the gorgeous production values lavished upon this story.
Murphy has said in media reports that this series is mapped out over several seasons with the last set to meet up with the Kesey story.
“Ratched” is not rated, but does contain strong bloody violence including grisly images, language throughout and some sexual content/nudity .
Tempo grade: A.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres in Taos and the Taos Community Auditorium remain closed for the time being in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Until they reopen we will focus on movie reviews available online and through the TCA’s Big Screen @ Home series.