Is Netflix Film ‘The Good Nurse’ Based On A True Story? Why Did Charles Cullen Kill The Patients?


The Netflix crime drama, “The Good Nurse,” is directed by Tobias Lindholm and is based on Charles Graeber’s 2014 novel titled “A Good Nurse: A Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder.” This world is a strange place, and all sorts of strange people inhabit it. You never know what’s going on inside the mind of an individual just by looking at him. You never know what is fueling their motivations. It’s not easy to deal with life sometimes, but still, it does not give us an excuse to do whatever we feel like. Let’s ascertain what went on inside the troubled mind of Charles Cullen and why he ended up killing innocent patients.

Is ‘The Good Nurse’ Based On A True Story?

“The Good Nurse” is, unfortunately, based on a true story, though it is hard to imagine how such a person could exist in a civil society and how he could go about his business unhindered. In 2003, Charles Cullen confessed to killing 29 patients, though the actual number was believed to be much higher. Amy Loughren was a nurse who worked with Charles Cullen. She was the first one who noticed that Charles was giving an overdose of insulin and digoxin to the patients, through the saline dribs. She had met Cullen at Somerset Medical Center in New Jersey (in the film, the name Parkfield has been used). She did meet detectives Danny Baldwin and Tim Braun and played a key role in their investigation. She was suffering from cardiomyopathy, a heart disease and had two daughters (Maya and Alex), as shown in the film, “The Good Nurse.”

In all the interviews that Amy Loughren gave after her friend was convicted of murder, she said that it felt like there were two personalities that resided inside Charles Cullen. Amy says that if anybody saw one side of his personality, they wouldn’t be able to imagine, even in their wildest dreams, that the other could exist. Amy says that Charles Cullen was a team player and an extremely loving person. She says that he always used to take care of his teammates and was quite courteous in his approach. She says it was hard to suspect him. It was hard to believe that such a simple-looking man was harboring such terrifying thoughts inside his mind. 

The real Amy Loughren regrets that she was not able to spot his barbaric tendencies earlier, as it could have saved a lot of lives. Charles did have an extremely difficult childhood, and according to Amy, it seemed like he suffered from a lot of different mental disorders. Amy believes that it was an extreme case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. But then again, it was just speculation, as Charles never told anything to the authorities. Apart from a traumatic past and the mental disorders that Cullen was suffering from, the system had a huge role to play in making him a serial killer. The hospital authorities had decided to look away when they knew exactly what was happening. They had put a price tag on human life. It was because of them that Charles kept on going, and with each murder, he became even more confident. Charles knew that the hospitals would do anything to save their name. The hospitals were never charged with any crime, though I believe that they were equally responsible, if not more.

Why Did Charles Cullen Kill The Patients?

In the very first scene of the film, “The Good Nurse,” we witness an act of callousness that takes you by surprise, and you are not able to comprehend what exactly happened. Charles Cullen was working as a nurse at St. Aloysius Hospital in Pennsylvania. A patient had started experiencing seizures all of a sudden, and Charles arrived at the scene before anybody else. The other nurses and doctors came and started performing Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), but the patient couldn’t survive. Charles Cullen stood there without any kind of remorse. He just stared at the patient. There was a kind of inquisitiveness that could be seen on his face. It felt like he was totally immersed in what he was witnessing. If one looked at him carefully, it almost felt like he was deriving some sort of visceral pleasure out of the plight of the patient. Later in “The Good Nurse,” we come to know that Charles Cullen used to adulterate the drip bags of the patients. He used to give them an overdose of insulin and also a drug named Digoxin, which is generally used to treat irregular heartbeats. Charles Cullen never really told the detectives or the court why he killed the patients at the hospital. There were a lot of factors that had to be considered when finding a plausible explanation so as to why he did so.

John Bowlby, a British psychologist, is considered to be the one who came up with the concept of the Attachment Theory. The theory states that the relationships that a child shares during their early years are the most formative ones. The bond that a child has with his caregiver (in most cases, it is the mother) has a tremendous amount of impact on their lives. A lot of the time, it shapes the personality of the child. Charles Cullen lost his mother when he was a teenager. To add to the trauma, the hospital authorities made some major goof-up and didn’t inform him about the death instantly. Cullen claimed that they cremated the body and didn’t give him the opportunity to see his mother for one last time. It is possible that the event had an impact on his subconscious and made him aware of how hospitals could take advantage of the loopholes in the system and evade responsibility in the case of a patient’s death. Years later, he used the same loophole and killed the patients in the multiple hospitals that he worked in, as he was almost certain that he wouldn’t be caught. He knew that the hospital authorities would try to cover up the crime as they wouldn’t want their image to get tarnished.

Charles Cullen was bullied in his childhood, and he often said that it was a time period when he felt perpetually depressed and disconsolate. Maybe the desire to indulge in sadism originated long ago, during those brooding years. The abusive environment had a deep impact on his sensibilities, and he somehow started deriving pleasure out of somebody’s misery. It is a possibility that it was his coping mechanism, and by killing the patients, he felt good about himself. It is probable that Charles Cullen was suffering from borderline personality disorder (though nothing could be said for certain). He was a different man when he was not on his killing spree. He was extremely affectionate and caring. His wife had accused him of poisoning their dogs, whereas Amy Loughren saw him as a supportive and considerate individual who was always present in times of need. 

Charles Cullen was so convincing that Amy Loughren couldn’t believe that he was capable of committing such a barbaric crime, and she almost vouched for him in front of the detectives. The scene where the detectives, Danny Baldwin and Tim Braun, took him under their custody, revealed the kind of psychotic tendencies he had. He kept on repeating a phrase as if he was stuck in a loop. We get to know that he is not in a healthy mental state. It’s hard to corroborate the fact, but it seemed like he genuinely cared about Amy and his daughters. Amy was scared of him at a certain point in time when she came to know that he was actually killing the patients. She felt that he was capable of hurting her and her family. But the way he broke down in front of her in the interrogation room, and confessed to his crime, made you feel that he actually felt close to Amy.

Officially, it could never be ascertained why he committed such heinous crimes, but looking at his troubled past, we knew that there could be several causes that could have molded his personality and made him into a serial killer.

Final Words

“The Good Nurse” is the story of a woman who was willing to risk her own life and fight the system in order to save the lives of innocent patients. The film shows Amy Loughren as a person who developed close bonds with her patients. When she came to know that her own friend was killing innocent people who were already in so much pain, she felt devastated. She wanted to put an end to it, and she was ready to help the detectives in whatever manner she could. She was even more disheartened by the fact that the hospitals didn’t care about the patients and were more concerned about their image in the market. In today’s time, when the world has become so selfish, when people have become so self-absorbed, we need people like Amy Loughren, who put others before themselves and make this world a better place to live in.

See More: ‘The Good Nurse’ Ending, Explained: What Happens To Charles Cullen?

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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