There are two ways of looking at hospitals. There is the side that says they suck. Who willingly goes to one? Typically, the reason for you being in one is that either you or someone to whom you are close is there with some malady. I have had too much experience with them lately, and I cannot blame anyone who would rather be anywhere else but at one. The other side of this is the miracles that can take place in them. Now, I am not about to suggest that you go into one to look for signs of divine intervention. On the same token, it is there that they are often found. People dying on operating tables have come back from the point of death to report an experience with God. There have been turnarounds for patients who are told they have moments to live. These are the bigger ones. There are smaller ones, too. One I always think about as a Catholic are those that volunteer to go into these facilities to bring the Eucharist to patients who cannot make it to Mass. The miracle has already taken place on the altar when the priest consecrates the host and it becomes the body and blood of Jesus. I like to think that the miraculous goes with it when those ministers bring them Communion. Simpler still are the family, friends, and loved ones that visit people in such settings. You may not be able to see it, but there is a grace in being present to the suffering. This is all warm and fuzzy sounding. And then there is The Good Nurse.
Not to spoil it right away, but The Good Nurse is not Charles “Charlie” Cullen (Eddie Redmayne). He is the first caregiver we meet back in 1996, working at a different hospital. He finds a patient on the verge of dying and calls for help, slowly backing out of the room as others attempt to revive the patient. Instead, our eponymous practitioner is Amy Loughern (Jessica Chastain). She has been working for a short time as a nurse, which is significant. We see her going about her tasks, and she does seem to live up to the title. The problem is that she is suffering from cardiomyopathy, which is doctor-speak for a potentially fatal heart condition. Her doctor tells her that to survive, she needs a heart transplant. In order to be able to afford this procedure, she needs health insurance, which she currently does not have. Hence, not only can she not take off from work to rest, but she also has two daughters for which to provide as a single mother. Things at work get a little easier when Charlie is hired. He and Amy work the same shift and develop a close friendship. He figures out what is going on with his new co-worker. As their friendship blossoms, he promises to help her get through the next few months until she has been at the job long enough to qualify for health insurance. He also becomes friendly with her two daughters due to the frequent carpooling they begin doing. Then there is the mysterious death of Ana Martinez (Judith Delgado). This happens soon into Charlie’s term of employment. Weeks after the incident, the administrative board calls on the local police department to look into the situation. It is clear from the moment that Detectives Danny Baldwin (Nnamdi Asomugha) and Tim Braun (Noah Emmerich) that this is merely a perfunctory meeting in order to prevent being sued. The one at the center of this effort is Linda Garran (Kim Dickens), herself a former nurse, and now in charge of the suspiciously titled department of rick management. From her the detectives only get bits and pieces of information, and she insists on being in the room when they question staff about the incident. This is the case when they interrogate Amy. Fortunately, Danny and Tim are able to ask a different set of questions when Amy is forced to leave the room for a moment. In addition to showing Amy charts of medicine given to Ana, they suggest that, based on their preliminary inquiries, that Charlie is not who he says he is. This is in reference to the cloud of suspicion he has left behind at the nine different hospitals in which he has worked. At first, Amy does not want to believe the worst of her friend. What convinces her to look into the matter further is when she has lunch with an old acquaintance who worked with Charlie at another hospital. Based on this discussion, she concludes that Charlie has been dosing the intravenous (IV) bags with harmful medicines. Her hunch is proved correct, and thus corroborates her friend, when she finds IV bags with small puncture holes in them. Unfortunately, they cannot just arrest Charlie. They need evidence, which is difficult to come by when their system’s method of dispensing pills can be easily circumvented. Tracking these illegal withdrawals is easy enough for Amy, but the police want proof. This involves getting Charlie to confess. To do so, Danny and Tom turn once more to Amy. They agree to have lunch together where, while wearing a wire, Amy attempts to coax the right words out of Charlie. He is agitated, but just as quickly shakes it off before reverting to idle chatter about moving on to work at another hospital. To prevent this, the police step in and take him into custody. With less than a day left in the maximum amount of time they can hold him, and Danny and Tom’s questioning going nowhere, it once more comes down to Amy. She apologizes for her apparent betrayal, and uses his desire to help her to admit to his crimes. We close with the awful notion that he may have killed as many as 400 people scrawled across the screen.
While watching The Good Nurse, I could not help but anticipate some kind of motivation for Charlie’s heinous crimes. There is some suggestion that he was greatly affected by the death of his mother, but nothing is made of this notion. The end text, though, states that he never gave a reason for why he killed so many people. That is chilling, almost too much so to comprehend. Such evil needs to be rejected outright, and prayed against fervently. What might be almost as bad are Linda’s actions. For one thing, she is a consummate liar, and you do not need the Bible to understand what a bad thing that is to do for someone in her position. She is also meant to be essentially a symbol for a medical industry that the movie (and I am guessing the book on which it is based) seems to want to say is corrupt. I was specifically annoyed by the fact that two of the named hospitals at which Charlie worked each had Catholic sounding names, like St. Aloysious and St. Elizabeth. That is two of the three facilities named that have such titles. I know there are those among you who might not find anything wrong with these titles. In any case, I would like to point out that, while not far from being perfect, the Catholic Church has maintained for centuries a safe place to treat people’s sicknesses. It is part of the mission of those places. The issue is with a system that puts business over medicine, a running theme throughout. The correct way of looking at such things can be found in the medical system of my alma mater, Loyola University Chicago, where, as their slogan goes, they treat the human spirit. Our woundedness goes beyond the flesh, which is something that is somewhat addressed in Amy’s good work. She is not purposely modeling God, but her routine would say otherwise.
The Good Nurse is a slow-moving film. It is not a bad one. It is just a little hard to bear when you kind of figure out the ending before too long into the proceedings. It is well acted, but it takes a while to get anywhere.