The True Story Behind The Terrifying-Yet-Stylish Nurse Mildred Ratched From Netflix’s ‘Ratched’

From her eerie backstory to her show-stopping wardrobe

From The Politician to American Horror Story—every Ryan Murphy creation is a narrative delight, with endless symbolism and metaphorical relics sprinkled throughout.

And for his latest project Ratched, Murphy certainly hasn’t disappointed.

The series follows the story of asylum nurse Mildred Ratched, the infamous character from 1975 film One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, who was known for both her inhumane treatment of patients and her incredibly chic wardrobe.

But while the film and Ken Kesey’s 1962 corresponding novel are works of fiction, there are some truths that inspired the character.

Before you dive into your newest binge-watching obsession, we’ve unpacked the truth behind the Nurse Ratched, from her real life persona to her breathtaking wardrobe.


What Is The Inspiration Behind The Plot Of Netflix’s Ratched?

Author of the original novel, Ken Kesey, working in a psychiatric hospital as a nurse’s aide back in the 1960s, where he participated in altering drug trials.

And apparently, said experiences were what influenced the story that he eventually wrote of R.P. Murphy and Nurse Ratched, a patient in a mental institution who overthrows the nurse who’s been ruling over patients with an iron fist. Meaning that the character of Nurse Ratched was apparently inspired by his boss, the head nurse at the time. 

What Is The True Story Behind Nurse Ratched?

While the book paints Nurse Ratched to be an awful human being, it is still unclear as to how “evil” the nurse who inspired the character actually was. However, when the original Nurse Ratched, whose name remains unknown, first read the book she knew that the character was based on her.

Speaking to The New York Times in 2001, Kesey admitted that he ran into his former boss at an aquarium, where she walked straight to him and asked: “Do you remember me? ‘Nurse Ratched’?”.

“‘She was much smaller than I remembered and a whole lot more human,” Kesey revealed in the interview. “I didn’t know what to say, whether to apologise or what.”


What Does The Character Of Nurse Ratched Represent In The Show?

A former Army nurse, the character apparently represents the oppressive mechanisation, dehumanisation, and emasculation of modern society.

According to Chief Bromden, the patient who narrates the book, Nurse Ratched’s nickname is “Big Nurse,” which sounds like Big Brother, the name used in George Orwell’s novel 1984 to refer to an oppressive and all-knowing authority.

Bromden also described Ratched as being like a machine, and her behaviour fits this description. Even her name is reminiscent of a mechanical tool, sounding like both “ratchet” and “wretched.” 


Why Is Her Sense Of Style So Important In Ratched?

Known for her heinous acts of torture and charming personality, Nurse Ratched’s 2020 adaptation is also known for serving some jaw-dropping fashion moments—but her attire was more symbolic than you’d think.

Speaking to Refinery 29, Ratched‘s costume designers Lou Eyrich and Rebecca Guzzi revealed that Ryan Murphy’s choice of colouring in costuming was deliberate. 

“I think more so than any other show, though, this was the tightest colour palette directive that he’s given us for something,” Guzzi revealed.

“Up front he said: ‘No red, no orange, no purple. The only red is lipstick and blood.’” Which led to their decision to use mostly cool colours, with a focus on greens.

“Green became this colour that was used in a variety of ways. Because to [Murphy], green represents lust, envy, oppression, violence, many different things,” she says. “So we used that to foreshadow and indicate characters’ moods.”

And with Nurse Ratched’s look specifically, the pair chose to give hers more of a symbolic meaning.

“Mildred wears several different types of things, but we saved the capes to mirror this idea that she’s trying to be the perfect nurse and that she’s, in her mind, trying to care for people in the way that she thinks is appropriate.” 

Fascinated? Ratched is currently available to stream on Netflix here.

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