Why Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest is an American icon.

Inside the Mind of Nurse Ratched, One of the Most Fearsome Villains in Movie History

Inside the Mind of Nurse Ratched, One of the Most Fearsome Villains in Movie History

The Peabody Award–winning show from PRI.
Oct. 12 2017 5:01 PM

American Icons: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

This is the story of America’s fight against authority.

Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.

Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Listen to this episode of Studio 360 by clicking the arrow on the audio player below:

Ken Kesey had worked in a mental hospital, but One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, his first novel, was really a parable of what happens when you stand up to the Man—a counterculture fable that doesn’t end well. Despite his far-reaching influence, Kesey was shut out by filmmakers who turned the story into an Oscar-sweeping phenomenon. Still, Cuckoo’s Nest changed how many people thought about mental illness and institutions. In this American Icons episode, Sherman Alexie debunks the myth of the silent Indian; we visit Oregon State Hospital; a psychiatrist explains how the movie gave mental hospitals a bad name, with tragic consequences; and actress Louise Fletcher takes us into the mind of one of the most fearsome villains in the history of the movies—the sweet-faced Nurse Ratched. “She doesn’t see her behavior as it really is. Who does? Who sees that they’re really evil?”


Originally aired Sept. 20, 2013.

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Passages from the audiobook narrated by Ken Kesey were provided courtesy of HighBridge Audio.