Netflix’s new series called Ratched is something I thought I would watch slowly. As it turned out, I binged it in one night as the series is really interesting and raises some important questions.
In the series set in the 1940s California, we meet Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson), a nurse who clearly carries darkness in herself. Therefore, Mildred is killing people by convincing herself to show them mercy and being an angel. The environment in which she works echoes historical stories of historical psychiatric institutions where patients were neglected and abused. It is also well-known that methods of treating mental health were torture. This film portrays that well when showing lobotomy and keeping people locked up in a bath with water well over boiling level. The latter was used for curing homosexuality and it is well documented that LGBT individuals historically faced this type of abuse.
However, the series has some interesting elements. For example, I was absolutely thrilled with the way governor’s press secretary was portrayed. Unlike for all academic works that portray women working in PR role as young, supportive and often as sex objects, this series portrays PR woman as successful, confident, smart and she is lesbian and sick of hiding because of which she leaves her gay husband and decides to stop living a life of lie. I am not sure this would all work out for her at the time, but I appreciate the message because we know too well that LGBT individuals still suffer harassment in many countries of the world whilst some countries also never moved away from the torture. As a scholar from Journalism and PR fields, I see this series as a light at the end of the tunnel because, FOR ONCE, a woman working in PR is portrayed in an empowering way. For once!!!
But, the above is not the only good thing about this series however exhilarating. Another good thing is that the series starts initially with Mildred being portrayed as a notorious killer and a psychiatric case but then it also delves into showing us why this happened. Therefore, instead of creating a sensationalist series where we cheer for Mildred to be captured and persecuted, we actually start thinking of the society and how society fails children and that while some are born as lunatics and psychopaths who kill for joy, there are cases where a life-long abuse and the failure of the system has created abusive behaviour in which the victim becomes the abuser. Thus, towards the end, the viewer does not know what kind of ending they want anymore and what to cheer for.
Ratched is a sequel to Ken Kesey’s novel ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1962), which was already made into a film by Miloš Forman in the 1970s and starring Jack Nicholson as McMurphy, and Louise Fletcher as Mildred Ratched (she won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1976). Some writers were critical of this second aspect of the film by saying
“We have now entered the age of the anti-hero, of attempting to understand the psychological development that has led an individual to become a villain. But must it always be due to a horrible childhood? Ratched’s childhood isn’t just horrible, however, it seems to be the worst possible one the writers could think of. Quite frankly, a character such as Mildred Ratched did not need such a backstory.” (Forbes)
The series tries to tackle mental health illness and abuses people faced for developing mental health issue. While it might not do so in a way that some well-known films have done (The Rain Man, A Beautiful Mind, The Breakfast Club, etc), it still provides food for thought and thus contributes towards the ongoing debate on how we, as a society, treat mental health illness and the importance of early socialisation in later life choices. Nevertheless, the addition of the press secretary as an independent woman is also a nice add on.
Thank you for reading.