I remember watching One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest couple of years back from Thiruvananthapuram Sree theater during IFFK. I went in knowing the fact that this was the film that Priyadarshan got influenced to make Thalavattam. One character that will stay with everyone at the end of the film is that of nurse Ratched; a cold, unique and highly unlikeable antagonist who doesn’t even has an ounce of empathy in her. In his new series for Netflix, Ryan Murphy is trying to empathize with that character and even when you admire the stellar cast and the quality production values, this characterization somewhere makes it problematic.
The series is set in 1947. Mildred Ratched arrives at a psychiatric hospital in Northern California and she applies for the job of a nurse and eventually gets the job. The hospital ran by a doctor named Dr. Richard Hanover had a peculiar way of functioning and his methods of treatment weren’t that usual. The hospital was in need of Government funding and Ratched who came there had some other intentions too. The plot here is basically about Mildred’s secret mission that has a close connection with Hanover’s hospital.
Because they put this note at the beginning of every episode that this character is based on Ken Kesey’s bestseller, we will be constantly comparing the Sarah Paulson’s version of Ratched with the academy award-winning performance of Louise Fletcher. But the characterization in Ratched has no connection with the Ratched we saw in the 1975 movie. Well, they can have an excuse that this is more of an origin story and as there is a confirmed second season for the series, we may end up seeing the Ratched we are familiar with by the end of the whole series. Coming to the writing part of it, there is also that tonal difference here. While the 1975 version felt more real in terms of the depiction, this 1947 story feels a bit more on the fantasy side.
The production design, the costumes, and even the cinematography to an extent will remind you of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Well, the treatment also has that Shining like spooky realism. The colors on the screen and the depth of field were pretty similar to the Kubrick movie and much like The Shining here also there was that emphasis on the green to depict something gory but in a very unsubtle way. Rather than making it a suspenseful drama, the effort here is to make it more about Mildred Ratched’s manipulative abilities. Ryan Murphy and Evan Romansky are not really hiding Ratched’s secret agenda as a mystery for a long time. By the end of the first episode itself, we are clear about that and the series somewhere becomes a depiction of the moral dilemma of this character in executing her secret plan. The screenplay was a bit uneven, especially towards the last episodes. There were multiple tracks in the movie converging at that point and the series almost ignored the existence of the key character Edmund Tolleson for some time.
I must say that the series offers a lot of space for actors to perform. Sarah Paulson performed the role of the highly problematic character of nurse Ratched effortlessly. The existing image of Ratched and the interpretation of the series put the depiction of the character in a tough space as both empathy and cunningness have to be visible in Ratched’s behavior. I would say Paulson did really well to strike that balance. Finn Wittrock as Edmund Tellson gets a largely monotonous character of a psychotic patient. Cynthia Nixon who played the role of Gwendolyn Briggs was another actor who got to perform a character with a wider range. Jon Jon Briones very convincingly pulls off the conflicted character of Richard Hanover. Judy Davis’ Nurse Bucket is a bit of an eccentric and cheesy depiction of an egoistic head nurse. Out of the several character roles in the series, two performances that stayed with me were that of Sharon Stone as the arrogant and controlling mother Lenore Osgood, and Sophie Okonedo as Charlotte Wells, a patient with a dissociative identity disorder.
The emotional connection is the key here with this series and that has a lot to do with whether you are watching this series before or after watching the Jack Nicholson starrer One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Because for those who have witnessed Nurse Ratched played by Louise Fletcher, this interpretation will be really tough to accommodate. It has performances that will impress you and the visual craft of the series is also pretty engaging. It’s just that this empathizing aspect of the story just puts it in a clumsy setting.
It has performances that will impress you and the visual craft of the series is also pretty engaging. It’s just that this empathizing aspect of the story just puts it in a clumsy setting.
Green: Recommended Film
Orange: Okay, Watchable, Experimental Films
Red: Not Recommended