And the Best Movie Nurses Are…
Posted: February 20, 2015 by Cathy Weselby in Water Cooler
No fictional nurse characters were nominated for Academy Awards this year, so we took matters into our hands and compiled a list of the best nurses to grace the silver screen.
Nurses have not always been portrayed positively in the movies. They have been vilified (Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”), depicted as crazy (Annie Wilkes in “Misery”) or seen as sex objects (“Hot Lips” O’Houlihan in “M.A.S.H.”).
However, in the 21st century, nurses are making inroads towards being represented more accurately in film (with the glaring exception of Nurse 3D). Some of these positive portrayals are a little unexpected, such as an animated robot. But still, progress is progress. We hope soon Hollywood will wake up to the idea of representing nurses as the superheroes that they already are in everyday life.
Hana, ‘The English Patient’
There’s no nurse like a wartime nurse, and Juliette Binoche plays the part well as Hana, a Canadian nurse in World War II. Hana has lost everyone she loved in the war, so she volunteers to stay behind and care for a severely burned patient in a bombed-out building. The patient (Count Laszlo de Almasy played by Ralph Fines) has amnesia and starts remembering bits of his memory in flashbacks. Hana faithfully stays with him, tending to his burns and administering morphine. Almasy asks Hana, “Why are you so determined to keep me alive?” to which Hana responds, “Because I’m a nurse.” Binoche won Best Supporting Actress in 1996 for her portrayal of Hana.
Phil Parma, ‘Magnolia’
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a cancer nurse to Earl Partridge, a wealthy television producer (played by Jason Robards). Parma’s also one of the few characters in the film who isn’t corrupt or immoral. His devotion to his patient is unwavering, as he makes him as comfortable as possible. Parma reaches out to the dying man’s son (played by Tom Cruise) in an emotionally charged scene where he pleads for help. “This is the scene in the movie where you help me out,” says Parma. Unfortunately, Hoffman was slighted by the Academy and was not nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
Madam Poppy Pomfrey, Harry Potter series
Poppy Pomfrey (played by Gemma Jones) is a school nurse at Hogwarts who appears in three of the Harry Potter films. And just as Hogwarts is no ordinary school, Pomfrey is no ordinary school nurse. But who can blame her when she’s up against curses, dangerous creatures and numerous Quidditch accidents. It’s no wonder she needs some magical powers to deal with the dragon bites, petrified students and cracked skulls. Pomfrey is a no-nonsense nurse who seldom questions her patients on how they got their afflictions but instead gets right to work on healing them. She’s also very protective of her patients and becomes upset when visitors disturb their rest.
John McFadden, ‘Precious’
McFadden (played by Lenny Kravitz) is a nurse’s aide at a hospital in Harlem. He helps Precious, a troubled teenager played by Gabourey Sidibe, while she delivers a baby. McFadden plays the role of a midwife and encourages Precious to eat healthy and care for her baby. His character is gentle and compassionate and one of the few positive role models in her life. Australian researcher David Stanley studied male nurse stereotypes in films and found male nurses are typically portrayed as incompetent, effeminate or corrupt. Stanley points out that McFadden’s character, “offers the only insight to support an understanding [of] the male nurse’s role and its relationship to masculinity.”
Baymax, ‘Big Hero 6’
And the last Best Movie Nurse award goes to…a robot? Last year, Disney released “Big Hero 6,” starring a robot nurse called Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit). “Big Hero 6” is an animated movie set in the future in “San Fransokyo” that focuses on the relationship between Baymax and orphaned teenager Hiro. Baymax may be a robot, but he has a big heart and provides comfort to Hiro. Like a human nurse, Baymax scans his patient for health problems, uses a pain scale to communicate and has a vast knowledge of health care. He also plays the role of nurse educator by teaching Hiro about his neurochemical processes.
Video courtesy of Walt Disney Animation StudiosLearn More: Click to view related resources.
- Kelli Dunham, "Why Does It Take a Movie Robot to Show What Nurses Really Do?," NPR
- David Stanley, "Celluloid devils: a research study of male nurses in feature films," Journal of Advanced Nursing
- Suzanne Gordon and Ruth Johnson, RN, CNM, "How Hollywood Portrays Nurses, Report from the Front Row," Revolution
- "Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire," The Truth About Nursing
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