The True Story Behind ‘The Good Nurse’ Is Even Darker Than We Realized

The Good Nurse has become a streaming hit with its disturbing look at medical malpractice in the American health sector. Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne star in the dark drama, which reveals how nurse Charles Cullen committed numerous murders while evading detection. But did Netflix tell the whole truth behind this shocking story? Time to separate the facts from the fiction...

What is the movie about?

Directed by Tobias Lindholm and adapted by Krysty Wilson-Cairns from the non-fiction book by journalist Charles Graeber, The Good Nurse focuses on real intensive care unit nurse Amy Loughren, played by Chastain, and her colleague Charles Cullen, played by Redmayne. They worked together at Somerset Medical Center — now called Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset — in Somerville, New Jersey.

Murder and medicine

As the film tells it, Loughren gradually becomes aware that Cullen isn’t the caring nurse she thought he was, as a picture emerges of patient deaths and murderous behavior. Through all this, however, Loughren and Cullen had a friendship, forged in the heat of the hospital night shift and its various pressures. The filmmakers wanted their relationship to be at the heart of the movie.

Jessica Chastain speaks

Those involved in the production wanted to tone down examinations of Cullen’s motives and to touch on the alleged institutional failings that led to him going undetected for so long. Speaking to Harper’s Bazaar, Jessica Chastain described the film as “a true story about how a woman stopped a cycle of violence with humanity and compassion, and by reminding someone that he was human when everyone else was treating him like a monster.” That said, the human side of Cullen isn’t used to muddy the moral waters. “Tobias doesn’t want to give him an excuse,” she later added.

What’s the true story?

The question is, though: is The Good Nurse a strong reflection of its subject matter, or does dramatic license win out? Well, let’s begin by looking at the life of Charles Cullen. Born in 1960, he was raised in the Essex County township of West Orange, New Jersey. One of eight children, he lost both parents during his younger years. Father Edmond passed away when Charles was seven months old. Mother Florence died in a car accident after an epilepsy attack in 1977.