Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Top Movie Nurses of All Time

Nightingale, Ratched, Houlihan, Focker - Nursing professionals have often had central roles in movies. They have been the subject of inspiration derision, laughs and fears in movies that are comedy, tragedy, satire, horror, or action infused. All-in-all, the nurse typically portrayed in films is not your true-life professional with a masters degree in nursing.
Catherine Barkley in A Farewell to Arms (1932) Early silent films included melodramatic stories of nurses as long-suffering selfless women, ultimately crossed in love. Among the early talkies, Hemingway's huge best seller, A Farewell to Arms, is set in a WWII romance between nurse and patient set in Italy. Their attempts to stay together are the background for Hemingway's commentary on war and nature of heroism.  

Nurse Edith Cavell (1939) WWII films featured Anna Neagle in the biography of the saintly Edith Cavell, an English nurse martyred by Nazis for assisting prisoners-of-war to escape. Later-made war films would featured Mitzi Gaynor as Ensign Nellie Forbush fighting prejudice in South Pacific(1958), Juliette Binoche as Nurse Hana in the epic The English Patient (1996), and a corps of beauties in Pearl Harbor (2002).

Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) Any survey would put Louise Fletcher's Academy Award performance at the top. Ratchedis the institutional enemy of all those with free-spirit and will. She is everything you fear in the an unremittingly faceless mental institution and stands out among film icons. English films of the period humiliate nurses in burlesque skits and satires in the Carry On series.  

Loretta Swit in M*A*S*H (1979) Nurses serving the military in the Viet Nam era did not fare much better if you remember Major Houlihan in M*A*S*H*. Houlihan is the subject of endless sexual abuse and low humor, but in the best episodes, she rises above the call of duty to save lives and hearts. At her worst, Houlihan did not touch the murderous Annie Wilkes in Stephen King's Misery(1990).  

Audra McDonald in WIT (2001) Emma Thompson dies of a rapidly progressing cancer before your eyes under the steadfast and marvelously feeling care of Audra McDonald's Nurse Susie Monahan. More real world nurses come to the screen with Whoopi Goldberg as firm but sympatheticValerie Owens, RN in Girl, Interrupted (1999), Jeffrey Wright ministering physically and emotionally to AIDS patients in Angels in America (2003), and Lenny Kravitz as the empathetic Nurse John in Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire (2009).  

Ben Stiller in Meet the Fockers (2004) Greg Focker may be the most memorable male nurse at the lead in the Focker's film franchise. Greg is humiliated and beaten at every turn, but the movies never minimize or overturn his nursing skills or bedside manner. Michelle Williams' medical career past and future is ambiguous in Blue Valentine (2010), but the story spins vaguely around the tension between her desire for a career in medicine and her love for Ryan Gosling. Television may come closest to portraying nurse professionals in their hectic lives, trying to balance family and career pulls. Female and male nurses weave in and out of Nurse Jackie, Scrubs, ER, House, Gray's Anatomy, and the like - not to mention a host of soap operas. Interestingly enough, while most TV series focus on the doctors, nurses appear in almost every scene, supporting, advising, fixing, and healing. Clearly, this is a market for nurse-centered film, rich in the variety of human foibles, textured characterization, and life and death struggles.