RATCHED – Review by Diane Carson

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Ratched offers an expressionistic, deranged psychiatric world.

Author Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest made an unsettling, confrontational statement about the dysfunctional nature of an Oregon psychiatric facility obsessively controlled by Nurse Ratched. A Broadway play followed, and then director Milos Forman’s 1975 film adaptation, which captured that unnerving world, with credit to Jack Nicholson as R.P. McMurphy and Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched.

One of only three films in Oscar history to sweep the top five Academy Awards, Cuckoo’s Nest provided backstory for McMurphy, but what about Big Nurse? It begged for a prequel. Enter Evan Romansky, credited as creator, writer of two of eight episodes, and co-writer of the final one, with Ryan Murphy listed as developer and director of the first two in the series simply called Ratched.

Now the best news. Every frame of Ratched communicates the off-kilter nightmare realm. The art direction, including lighting, gives an expressionistic twist to its bizarre, hermetically sealed setting. The cinematography intensifies the garish greens, antiseptic whites, shimmering blues, and rainbow of psychedelic colors, complemented by red lipstick, so bright it all but jumps off the women’s lips that look more like wounds. The cinematography adds its unnatural feel with wide-angle lenses warping compositions. There’s no question this is deranged, with seriously disturbed individuals on both sides of the rooms.

As Nurse Mildred Ratched, Sarah Paulson, calm and controlled, registers a sadistic indulgence of major proportions. She’s already cruelly sociopathic, inspiring dread and fascination in equal measure. Her nemesis, Judy Davis gives Head Nurse Betsy Bucket verbal and nonverbal quirks, exaggerated as much as Ratched’s are understated. No spoilers, but they will compete, in part for power over Dr. Richard Hanover (Jon Jon Briones), Lucia State Hospital’s director who plays politics for money with California Governor George Wilburn (Vincent D’Onofrio.) Supporting actors include Cynthia Nixon, Sharon Stone, Corey Stoll, Amanda Plummer, and imprisoned inmate Finn Wittrock, a sadistic killer with secrets of his own.

Set in northern California in 1947, the period details enhance the milieu from the nearby motel to the cars, the diners to the absence of digital intrusions. With a second season slated, the superb eight-episode first season of Ratched is available on Netflix.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.