Defending Nurse Ratchet

I remember back during my Introduction à la Psychologie (yes I speak French ooh) class, students had to pick from three possible films, studying the effects of… psychology of course. It seemed like a no-brainer for me. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest remains, to this day, the Mona Lisa of films in its respect, at least in my eyes. When I revisited it a few days ago, I remarked that the plot is still intact. The story of a man, an agent of liberating chaos, visits a mental institution, but it should be stated that he is transferred there from prison for psychiatric evaluation. Under the control of a genteel, arguably-tyrannical Nurse Ratched, the mental institution feels the effects of McMurphy’s insubordination. By the end of this adventure, the main character almost spurs his timid peers toward outright rebellion, earning him a lobotomy.

While it is obvious that the hero of the film is McMurphy, the actor playing him, Jack Nicholson, is a good cast as well. Credit must go to whoever scouted the guy playing the leads in The Shining and Batman. Maybe it’s just me, but Nicholson just seams well into the stream of psychotic bad guys. Again, this is not to label anyone the “bad guy” per se, yet an argument can be made defending Nurse Ratchet from the bad light. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest jolts us with the scary lobotomy, and sheds more light to the importance of mental health. People claim that Nurse Ratchet is bad, unfit for the care of mental patients. I say, it’s not entirely her fault.

Often, Nurse Ratched is regarded by many to be the villain of the audience, her cold eyes, likely perpetrator of the classic “facts-don’t-care-about-your-feelings”. It is an effect far more real and complicated than just a bad guy’s niche. She is adamant in her actions, believing that everything she does is for the good of the patients – denying the men their freedoms, and curbing their independence, and in all these acts, she does what she deems the necessary for the sake of welfare. Naturally, this is a fantastic idea, faultlessly executed, rendering the film intricate and much more enduring. It is easy to say that Ratched is the big bad wolf, yet what difference does it make when the patients are indeed, mentally unstable? Like all the villains out there, Ratched is a fearsome prospect precisely because of her conviction and her normality; how do you convert someone when they don’t think that they are at all, wrong? By doing so, would be like swaying a mental institution’s Thanos another way. Impossible.

It is practically a fact that children don’t enjoy eating the medicine. Bitter, sour, weirdly sweet. Sometimes, parents have to pry their children’s mouths open just to force that chemical goodness into their throats. It is not pragmatic, but it is for their own good. That is exactly what Ratched believes.

Imagine one day, you’re running your psychiatric floor, and then some rabid and rancid dude shows up to initiate havoc. Sometimes, it seems as if the audience forgot about what got McMurphy thrown into prison in the first place. Statutory rape of a 15-year-old. Then, this guy has the audacity to justify his actions, some leering, taboo slang to describe the allure of the child’s genitalia. Can you say without a shadow of a doubt that McMurphy is faultless? Sure, he is a rebel against the tyrant, but is he rebelling for the right reasons?

In an epic climax, McMurphy tries to choke Ratched out, which is completely uncalled for. She is terrified, and at the same time, baffled. The world-view by which she has defined her entire life has collided with its exact opposite. The film ends in a cliffhanger, that both the memory of McMurphy and Ratched co-exist without the squabbles, avoiding the need to force an answer out of the audience. What Nurse Ratched really that bad? Bias comes into play here. Back in 1975, the film was a rabble-rouser. Since then, the years have had a sobering effect.

Leave a comment