Film and TV show comparison of Nurse Ratched

Film and TV show comparison of Nurse Ratched

Photo Credits: AGGIE FILE

“Ratched” should be a prequel to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” but ultimately fails to deliver\

To begin, it’s important to preface that if I had not known going in that “Ratched” was supposed to serve as a prequel to the film and novel “One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” I would have perhaps enjoyed this show more.

“Ratched,” as a series without the weight of it’s preceding film, is confusing and at times disturbing, in a way that is typical of show’s developer Ryan Murphy’s style. Murphy is best known for his other series “American Horror Story,” which also stars actress Sarah Paulson in several seasons.

While watching “Ratched,” I could not help but draw comparisons between it and “American Horror Story: Asylum,” which also takes place in a mental institution around the same time period. As my favorite season in the series, I did enjoy watching the classic Murphy style of disturbing scenarios and soft gore translate into “Ratched.”

Perhaps it’s Paulson’s role in both series that influences this comparison, or perhaps it is the evident Murphy-esque qualities that make the show seem like it was straight out of “American Horror Story” itself. In any case, it served more as a spin-off lightly dedicated to “One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” rather than a prequel.

It did accomplish the goal of shedding light on Nurse Ratched’s persona and the origin of her wickedness. It does so, however, in a confusing way because there is no indication of these particular qualities in the film.

Without giving too much away, the series covers Nurse Ratched’s gruesome upbringing in the foster care system, leading to the heinous plot that lands her employment in the facility in collusion with her brother. 

It goes into tangents, however, on other plot points that are unrelated to Ratched’s direct storyline. While I understand that these plot points are meant to highlight the disturbing and inhumane nature of conduct in psychiatric institutions at the time, from lobotomies to gruesome experiments, it effectively confuses the audience.

The series also shows Ratched constantly switching up her ideals. Not only does she switch from helping the leader of the ward with lobotomies to the patients’ side by helping them escape, Ratched also takes the side of the random assassin that is targeting an employee, all while following her own personal evil agenda.

If the purpose of the plot was to highlight the humanizing aspects of the cold and detached Nurse Ratched by bringing awareness to the horrific upbringing that led to her ultimate cynicism and cold-heartedness, it fails to do so. It does, however, provide an interesting aside to Nurse Ratched’s origin that draws some sympathy from the audience, but does not do so in a way that is excusable for her behavior.

“Ratched” fails to demonstrate a solid connection to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” While the film only shows the subtle aggressions and techniques Ratched uses to keep her patients sedated and under her rule, it does not at all indicate any of the origin story that is depicted in the series. The violence and first-hand criminal activity that Paulson’s portrayal of the character has is one that is much more rooted in Ryan Murphy’s created world of grisly scenes. 

In general, the film does a good job of keeping the audience impartial to the main character, McMurphy, due to his off-putting and demeaning behavior, while slowly amping up the tension between him and Nurse Ratched. 

If you watch the series, try to approach it by allowing it to stand alone without comparing it too heavily to the film it is supposed to precede. It’s more likely that, if you are a fan of “American Horror Story,” you will find this series worth watching, but if you are a fan of the original film and novel, you may be disappointed.


Written by: Mariah Viktoria Candelaria –– arts@theaggie.org