The English Patient

The English Patient

The English Patient

By Dr. Mara Wagner

My class this semester, Unconscious Dynamics in Film, recently discussed The English Patient ,  and with their permission, I decided to write it up as an example of what goes on in a course such as this.   The film offered what one student called “a great primer” for the beginning of the semester (Bianca Grace).  The weekly assignment had directed the students to think about wishes in conflict, to seek and document evidence of their inferences about unconscious dynamics, and to discover the wish represented as fulfilled in the film as a whole, as if it were a dream.  We looked at clinical challenges and transformations in the characters as well.   To these ends, we engaged in much the same process as the mis-identified patient, piecing together the unconscious story that was layered throughout the film and uncovering as much meaning as we could in the limited time we had.

The English Patient

Dr. Mara Wagner

Here is how IMDbPro summarized the film (with a few of my corrections in parentheses):

Set… during World War II, The English Patient is a story of love, fate, misunderstanding and healing. Told in a series of flashbacks, the film can best be explained by (restructuring) it into its two chronological phases.

In the first phase, set in the late 1930s, the minor Hungarian noble Count Laszlo de Almásy (Ralph Fiennes) is co-leader of a Royal Geographical Society archeological and surveying expedition in Egypt and Libya. He and his English partner Maddox (Julian Wadham) are at heart academics with limited sophistication in the swirling politics of Europe and North Africa. Shortly after the film begins, both the morale and finances of their expedition are bolstered by a British couple, Geoffrey and Katherine Clifton (Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas) that joins the exploration party. The Count is taken with the gorgeous and refined Katherine. When Geoffrey is often away from the group on other matters, an affair takes wing.

The final months before the war’s onset bring an archaeological triumph: the Count’s discovery of an ancient Saharan cave decorated with swimming figure paintings dating from prehistoric times. This period also sees the romance between Katherine and the Count rise to a sensuous peak and then seemingly fade. Katherine is plagued with the guilt of infidelity, while the Count shows a streak of jealousy along with an imbalance that will later haunt him.

The fall of 1939 and the war bring all excavation at the cave to a halt, and Maddox and the Count go their separate ways. Geoffrey Clifton meanwhile has pieced together the outline of the affair, and seeks a sudden and dramatic revenge: crashing his plane, with Katherine aboard, into the Count’s desert camp. The wreck kills Geoffrey instantly, seriously injures Katherine, and narrowly misses the Count. He manages to take Katherine into the relative shelter of the swimming figure cave, leaves her with water, a flashlight, and a fire, then begins his scorching three day walk back to Cairo and help. The mood in British-controlled Egypt has shifted since the films start and the dazed and dehydrated Count, with his non-English name, is unable to coherently explain to officials the plane crash and Katherine’s plight. Instead he loses his temper during questioning and is thrown into military jail. By the time he is able to escape and return to the cave (with German help), his Katherine is dead…

The films second phase shifts to Italy and the last months of the war. The Count by now is an invalid, having been horribly burned in a plane crash of his own not long after Katherine’s death. (Actually Katherine’s body was with him in the plane, shot down by German soldiers, after Almasy was able to finally return to the cave). The Count is wholly dependent by this time on morphine and the care of his French-Canadian nurse Hana (Juliette Binoche), detached from her medical unit and established in a battered but beautiful Italian villa  (It was a monastery).

The villa becomes focal point for more plot threads, some new and some unfinished from the North African phase, all themed around love, fate, and the backdrop of the war. Hana has seen a fiancé and a nursing friend die in the Italian campaign, and is left to wonder if her involvement with a British-Indian lieutenant will break her cycle of love and grief or simply continue it. A visitor to the villa named David Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe) at first believes he has simply found another source of morphine for his habit, but then realizes the disfigured Count played a role in his own ill-starred time in Egypt and Libya. (Actually, Caravaggio came looking for Almasy, having heard that a man matching his description was there.)  For Caravaggio unwittingly stumbled into the wreckage of the Count-Katherine-Geoffrey love triangle, circa 1940-42. He’s lost both thumbs in a grisly interrogation at the hands of the Nazis, and has since hunted down and killed those he believes responsible for his fate. He believes the Count was part of a web of spying and intrigue, confronts him with news of Maddox’s suicide, and posits that the Count killed the Cliftons. Only a full recounting at the villa of the Cliftons’ crash and the Count’s map dealings with the Germans to recover Katherine bring Caravaggio to understanding and forgiveness. So too does Hana find reconciliation at the film’s end. Her lieutenant survives a brush with death on the war’s last day and her hope in love is restored. Alas, time has run out on the Count; he succumbs to his burns and drifts off into dreams of his Katherine.

The English Patient’s personally traumatic history, although blocked by amnesia, was represented in clues folded into his treasured copy of Herodotus’ Histories. In the main, it was recovered by the desires of the two others at the monastery hospice, each motivated by an opposing wish.  On the one hand, Hana wished to bring him comfort; on the other hand the mysterious visitor, apparently from Hana’s part of the world as well, and improbably named Caravaggio, wanted to identify and kill him.  Nevertheless, both figures had a therapeutic effect on the patient.  And vice versa, as is often the case.

The class proceeded much like the film, in short vignettes derived from what had most impressed itself on the class members; what we re-membered then gradually became a coherent story.  Several people were aware that this method mirrored the process in any analysis in which the analysand talks freely about whatever comes to mind and the picture emerges from associations, feelings, memories, and actions.  Several of us seemed to agree that the most prominent conscious wish evidenced  in the film was to be free to explore the world (and the sexual body) without need for boundaries, a wish ardently voiced by Almasy, the” English Patient”, his good friend Maddox, and Almasy’s married lover Katherine who arrived in the midst of their explorations of Egypt.  They called themselves “The International Sand Club”.  In Almasy’s words, “I hate that in a war, where you come from is important”.    As Maddox put it, “It’s ghastly, like a witch hunt – anybody remotely foreign is suddenly a spy…We didn’t care about countries!  Brits, Arabs, Hungarians, Germans.  None of that mattered. It was something finer than that” (Minghella, screenplay).   Vera Ng, another class member, noted Katherine’s wish for this kind of free passage over the earth, a quest for love without boundaries, as she wrote in Almasy’s copy of Herodotus, “…I know you will come and carry me out into the palace of winds, the rumors of water…that’s all I’ve wanted – to walk in such a place with you, with friends, on earth without maps” (Minghella)

Opposing this wish was a great deal of evidence of the unconscious force of its opposite, the insistence on boundaries – geographic,  national, cultural, ethnic, military, personal, marital, and sexual.  This counter-wish was represented by things like maps (and the nationalistic uses to which they were put), the activities of the war itself, and the many punishments inflicted by both self and other which were visited on those who transgressed the boundaries and the laws that enforced them.  If there were a moral to the story it might be something like “Those who move within accepted boundaries are spared and those who transgress are punished”.  All three members of the transgressive triangle – Almasy, Katherine, and Geoffrey, are killed, and all three members of the non-transgressive triangle – Hana, Kip and Caravaggio – are spared and live to love again.   The conflicting wishes could be seen within individual characters as well.  Almasy’s professed wish for no boundaries was belied by his predatory and possessive focus on Katherine once they became lovers.  He says, “Dance with me. I want to touch you. I want the things which are mine.  Which belong to me” (Minghella). Where it might have seemed a noble sentiment at first, it was his hatred of the idea of national boundaries that so antagonized the English soldiers at the checkpoint into which he finally stumbled, that they arrested him as if he were German and thus “made him an enemy”.  From that point he turned to the enemy of his new enemy for help in rescuing his beloved (and here I see echoes of the story of Antigone, the daughter and sister of Oedipus, a theme I will take up in another course).  And although Maddox felt that it should not matter what country one came from, he was so distressed at the rumor that Almasy had gone over to the Germans that he killed himself.  In a war it does matter where one “comes from”.

Several people mentioned the conflict between The English Patient’s wish to forget his traumatic past (the screenplay says “the man makes no sound as the flames erase all that matters – his name, his past, his face, his lover….”(Minghella) and his wish to remember, to connect the fragments.  Paul Foglia noted that “Our names carry not only identity and integrity, but also histories, replete with pain, loss, compromises, mistakes, guilt, futility, and humiliations”.  Julio Gutierrez tuned into the conflict between wishes to be known and “to remain unknown, or psychologically and emotionally ‘undiscovered’ in symbolic actions such as the sandstorm burying the jeep containing Almasy and Katherine, and the darkness of the cave where the paintings of the swimmers were hidden and where Katherine died.”    We agreed that the English Patient’s wish to know himself triumphed in the end.   As Vera Ng put it, “When he comes to grips with reality and finds who he is, he dies knowing the true self” (as did Oedipus in the second play in the trilogy, Oedipus at Collonus).

Others noted the theme of love posing dangerous threats.  Bianca Grace put it this way:

The theme of love being one of deadly risk, utter defeat at times, deceit and unfulfillable desire was repeated time and again – from the car crash (homosexual love) to the plane crash (husband/wife) to the plane being gunned down (wife/lover) to being in love with a bomb deactivator.

Desires to live and to die were everywhere.  By another name, several people noted that these are the forces of Eros and Thanatos, Freud’s life and death drives and their derivatives, “the wish to love or be loved, and the wish to kill or be killed” (Jeremiah Tessier).  Jenna Mutlick homed in on the drive derivatives of “envy and desire, greed and hate” and Jessica Baker added “the punishment for incestuous wishes”.  Julina Rundberg put it this way:

Throughout the English Patient, characters struggle with their conscious desires for love and their unconscious destructive impulses.  On another level, this conflict is between conscious wishes for creation and libidinal striving, and less conscious or unconscious wishes to destroy – a more general way of describing the conflict.  Exploration by the Royal Geographic Society – a libidinal endeavor – countered by the Second World War – humanity at its best and at its worst.

Jeremiah Tessier noted that the film seemed to fit the literal definition of tragedy, complete with the hero’s fatal flaw. The most classical psychoanalytic lens would illuminate a fairly traditional Oedipal tragedy, and one class member in particular noted this aspect:

The core conflicts represented in the movie are the conflicts between (the) life and death drives of the pre-Oedipal and Oedipal complex.  This complex is represented in the movie in the form of triangular relationships between the English patient, Katherine, and Geoffrey (her husband), and between Hana, Kip, and The English Patient” (Ewa Hut).

Almasy, as the Oedipal character, enters the relationship of Katherine and Geoffrey Clifton as if by fate, before they actually meet.  They have read his monograph, and greatly admired it.  Almasy immediately becomes the victor, possessing the affections and later the sexual body of the wife and defeating the husband.  He is duly punished for this transgression in much the same way as Oedipus, wounded by his own actions, wandering in the desert, reviled, without a nation-state willing to shelter him, attended faithfully by his daughter/sister Antigone, a part played by Hana in the film.  Like Oedipus (and so many other literary and film characters we know such as Andy in the Shawshank Redemption, for one), he eventually solved the riddle of his identity by understanding his guilt, in his case in the deaths of Katherine and her husband and his friend Maddox.  And like Oedipus in the second play of Sophocles’ trilog, he was redeemed in the end, and the “plague” of his suffering was lifted.  Like in the myth, the plague on the populace, represented in the film by the Second World War, came to its end at the same time that the English Patient was redeemed and forgiven.

We talked about Katherine’s motives in seducing Almasy, wondering how conscious she and/or the men in her life were that the story she told on the night they all played spin the bottle was a prescription for what she desired and what eventually happened.  She told the story of Candaules, King of Lydia, who hid his favorite warrior, Gyges, in the room where his wife undressed, ostensibly to prove to Gyges that she was as beautiful as he said.  Looking intensely at Almasy as she talked, she told of the challenge the queen delivered to the intruder when she discovered him: either accept death as his punishment for “gazing on that which you should not” or else kill my husband who shamed me and become King in his place” (Minghella, screenplay).  And this is what Almasy effectively did, albeit indirectly.  Geoffrey, who had left his wife in the desert with the explorers, despite Amasy’s protest, and who had shortly discovered their affair, later flew into a jealous vindictive rage, finally destroying the entire Oedipal triangle as he aimed his plane at Almasy on the sand, causing his own death, and Katherine and Almasy’s eventually fatal injuries.

Katherine played a much more active role than did Jocasta in the Oedipus myth, and it was partly obscured, as noted by Melissa Skepko-Masi in class, by our current tendencies to see the woman in such scenarios as more a passive object than she might actually be.  Granted, Almasy was predatory, as Katherine said, but so was she.  She was actually the one who started the seduction, in her very first comment and gaze as she disembarked from the plane, and she pursued him doggedly on many occasions, finally resorting to turning up in his room “dressed all in white like a bride” (Ewa Hut).  She addressed and questioned him repeatedly.  When he insisted that adjectives were superfluous, “Big car, slow car, chauffeur-driven car – still a car” she switched the noun:  “Love? Romantic love, platonic love, filial love-?  Quite different things, surely?” (Minghella).   In fact, in another echo of the myth, he called her a sphinx.  At first Almasy was a reluctant Oedipal object, refusing Katherine’s advances, her gift of the drawings from the cave of swimmers, calling her” Mrs. Clifton” as a way to refrain from accepting her invitation to “come in”, explicitly asking Geoffrey if he thought it was safe or appropriate to leave Katherine behind with the male explorers as he went off in his plane.  But Katherine did not see herself as a seductress. There was evidence that she had made a “filial love” marriage to her childhood friend and that she now felt neglected by him.  In the scene with the sandstorm, she revealed that if she stayed behind she thought it might cause Geoffrey to return from his mission to rescue her.   After Almasy became so demanding and possessive, she beseeched Geoffrey to take her back to England, saying it was “too hot” in Egypt.   And in her original prescription for Almasy to act like Gyges, she wished for him to make her an honorable woman by rescuing her from her husband who had demonstrated his selfishness.  Although Katherine did not get her wish, her double, Hana was indeed rescued by her lover, once on the road, and once in the monastery as he defused the bomb in the piano.  And Hana could sew as well as take the role of explorer and healer.  Almasy’s double, Kip, was confident that Hana wanted to dance with him and remained unthreatened when Caravaggio was included in the celebration of the war’s end.  In this way, the doomed wishes were fulfilled in the “new” lovers.

We looked at many bits of symbolic evidence of unconscious themes and wishes and connected them, piece by piece to the whole.  A partial list included:

the earth (desert, sand) as sensuous body without  nationality or ownership, and the Bedouins as its free occupants; Mother Earth; the desert sands as female body ardently explored by everyone.  As Almasy said in the film, “You can’t explore from the air … or life would be very simple” (Almasy).

the wind as passion, both amorous and aggressive, “desert winds and their symbolic potential to usurp, destroy, or bury, and the desire for these actions” (Jessica Baker)

the heat, the fire, the explosions as sexual and destructive passions that the characters were so attracted to, for example Kip, a very loving figure whose “job (was) working so hand in hand with the reaper of death that is explosives” (Jenna Mutlick).  Almasy said it explicitly in a letter to Katherine written on a firecracker wrapper, “Betrayals in war are childlike compared with our betrayals in peace. New lovers are nervous and tender, but smash everything – for the heart is an organ of fire” (Almasy’s note to Katherine).

the water, Katherine the changeable bather’s element, so scarce in the desert, yet implicit in the paintings of swimmers in the desert cave, once abundant, now gone.  When Katherine asked Geoffrey to take her home, away from her illicit love, she said, “Wouldn’t you die to feel rain on your face?”  Water was the cleansing element, the redeeming force for Almasy as well, and in the scene where he was forgiven by Caravaggio and the war was officially ended, it finally rained and they took him out on a stretcher so he could feel it on his face.  (Interestingly there were several water scenes in the script which evidently did not make the cut, but they did strengthen this theme).

the cave (where Katherine died and Almasy returned for her) as vulva, womb and tomb (with echoes of Antigone’s place of death)

the garden (in Katherine’s letter and Almasy’s memory) as symbol of female sexuality and fertility, with its “devil’s chimney” …”wild, a secret way plunging down to the shore…” .  And Hana’s garden at the monastery, not dangerous or devilish at all, but angelic.

the map as coveted object implying both free discovery and national ownership, and the mappers as symbols of those looking to find “the true self” (Vera Ng)

the woman’s back (both the rock formation that marked the location of the cave and Katherine’s back as she left Almasy) as both promising and denying access to treasure, leading and leaving

the light, eros, the life drive, as in the little lamps Kip left in a trail for Hana to find him and the torch Almasy left for Katherine in the cave as she waited for his return;  the light he could not bear when first in the monastery

the darkness, thanatos, the death drive

the skin as boundary between characters, but also where they touch, where they paint maps; and the disastrous combination of skin and fire: “Almasy’s burnt skin may represent his attempts at breaking psychological and emotional boundaries in order to allow himself to be owned by Katherine” (Julio Gutierrez).

eggs, as symbols of fragile new life, and the cliche, “You have to break the eggs if you want to make an omelet”.  And chickens, as their cause and effect partner, separated from each other according to Caravaggio when he first arrived at the monastery .  He said, of Almasy, “It’s like he slammed a door in Cairo and it trapped my fucking hands in Tobruk”.

the cross , the monastery, the chapel frescoes, as Christian symbols of sanctuary, sacrifice, and healing

the thimble, and sewing, as a traditionally female art, in this case performed by both Almasy and Hana.  The saffron (made from the sexual organs of a rare flower) contained in the thimble (the vagina, the womb) that Almasy gave Katherine, and that he used to paint the map on her face as she had asked in her last letter to him.  The adventurous Katherine eschewed sewing, saying, “A woman should never learn to sew, and if she can, she should never admit to it.”

thumbs and their lack, and Caravaggio as the symbol of castrated transgressor, in his case for thieving and spying

the book as personal and universal history, and as useful object of repair, both metaphorically and literally,  to bolster the stairs in the monastery.  “The heavy volumes are perfect for treading on” (Minghella, stage direction).

Another lens used by several of the class members revealed the ways in which the film mirrored an analysis, with Hana in the role of analyst.  As she insisted on doing what was best for him, initially out of a sense of duty and compassion, “because I am a nurse”, and as she listened without judgment or much comment , she created the kind of containing space needed for him to begin to piece together his story.  He began by trying out adjectives, “It’s a very plum plum”, moving eventually to emotional nuance, even playing Cupid for Hana and Kip.

Some noted the theme of the power of art to “bring opposing forces together” (Melissa Skepko-Masi).  The cave paintings and the copies Katherine made of them, the chapel frescoes Kip showed Hana, the Herodotus volume, the piano, and the many songs and laments all served to bind the suffering and loss with beauty, with eros, and transform it.  When Kip surprises Hana with a trip to the chapel of frescoes, the script says, “Hana’s flare makes a halo around her head” and “Kip guides the rope as if they were making love, which in a way, they are” (Minghella). The tinkling of the glass vials around the Bedouin healer’s neck as he came to treat the burned “English Patient” in the desert, and the empty glass morphine vials and broken bits of mirror and windows comprising Hana’s improvised garden scarecrow left a hauntingly beautiful wake.  The script called it “…tiny chimes…a music of glass.”

We also looked at what could be called “psychoanalytic questions” as a path through the transformations depicted in the film.  The first of these was Hana’s question about her role in the repeated deaths of her loved ones:  “I must be a curse.  Anybody who loves me, anybody who gets close to me – or I must be cursed.  Which is it?” (Minghella).    Of course this question was central to the Oedipus myth.  Oedipus was cursed as a punishment for the sin of his father, a pedophile rapist.  To complicate matters, it was the son’s  effort to try to avoid his fate, that he would grow up to kill his father and marry his mother, that led him away from the couple who had found him and raised him, back to these biological parents and their fates.  Where he came from turned out to matter a lot, as it did with Almasy. This question could be applied to most of the characters in the film and turn up interesting dynamics and overlapping layers.  What was Kip’s role, for example, in the death of his sergeant, who died by a bomb that neither of them had discovered?  What was Geoffrey’s role in Katherine’s turn toward another man?  And so on.  We noticed that the question of individual compulsions to repeat the past was amplified and put in context by the larger social repetitions, for example the war itself, and the ethnic tensions and divisions depicted in the film.  (These colonially driven tensions, by the way, were much more developed in the screenplay in scenes which did not make the cut.  One gave perspective to Almasy’s naming of the hollow at the base of Katherine’s throat, for example.  Another expanded Kip’s character a bit).

Caravaggio’s entry onto the scene with stolen eggs called another question to the fore:  Can you separate the chicken from the egg?  He claimed that all the chickens were in Italy and all the eggs were in Africa.  In his plan to kill Almasy, whom he believed had caused his capture and torture by the Nazis, he would execute the effect as an inevitable consequence.  But who betrayed whom, Almasy or the British checkpoint soldiers?  Who started it?  Was it Oedipus’ arrogance that made it impossible for him to give the right of way to the king, his unknown father?  Or did his father start it, when he raped the son of a neighboring king, or when he struck Oedipus at the crossroads, or when he first insisted on abandoning him as an infant to prevent the prophesy from coming true?  Was Oedipus’ and Almasy’s tragic flaw their naiveté in thinking they could escape the consequences of killing the king, of trading the maps to the Nazis in exchange for the plane that would allow the return to Katherine?  “I had to get back to the desert.  I made a promise. The rest meant nothing to me.” (Minghella).  (Again, this was Antigone’s sentiment in insisting on an honorable burial for both her brothers regardless of the side of the war they fought on).    In Caravaggio’s case, the compulsion to take revenge was broken when he was able to forgive Almasy in the end.   The film showed that things have effects, but that they are not always in our control, or even in our awareness.  Nevertheless, we are responsible for them, as Almasy and Oedipus found out.  We have fates, but must be held accountable anyway.  Fate played a positive role in the film as well, with Kip surviving and defusing even “the bomb with his name on it” (Minghella), embedded in the serial number. And who knows, if he and Hana do meet again at the chapel with the frescoes, she may indeed have summoned her husband by playing the piano, as her mother predicted.

Geoffrey asked, “Why are you people so threatened by a woman?” a very popular analytic question and an excellent window into an examination of the pre-Oedipal layers of the conflicts depicted in the film.  In fact, we are all afraid of “a woman” because she was our mother, the all-powerful giver of life, and therefore, the potential dealer of death.  The sphinx.  In the first love scene between Almasy and Katherine, he sings her the lullaby that his Hungarian daijka (nanny) sang to him as a young child.  It is this lament that we heard in the opening shots of the film by the way, not an Arab song, as I had thought:  “Szeralem, szeralem…” the screenplay describes it as “a haunting lament for her loved one”).  Teasing Katherine in a nevertheless sadistic way he tells her it was a tale of a young innocent who fell in love with an Englishwoman turned harpy, who beat him and abused him and made him sew her clothes.  In another scene, when she first turns her back on him in the bazaar, he actually calls her a sphinx.   The role of woman/mother as powerful, uncontrollable agent of creation and destruction ran throughout the film.

Another analytic question was posed twice by Katherine to Almasy: “Will we be all right?”  His answer, “Yes” reassured her.  But when he added “Absolutely” the comfort disappeared. It is so reminiscent of analysands asking, in the dark periods of the therapy when all the harpys and curses and guilts and losses are in full play, the eggs all broken open but the omelet not fully cooked, “Can this end well?  Will I be all right?  Will I ever feel better?”   It seemed related to the implicit question in the interface of Almasy’s and Caravaggio’s stories – “Can we be redeemed?  What makes us put down the sword of vengeance?”  The answer in the film, as it is in real life, seems to be that by encountering our own full humanity, with all its destructive and loving aspects known and accepted, we can then accept this humanity in another.  In the immortal words of Pogo Possum, “I have met the enemy, and they is us!”

There were a few enactments as well, which I noted only after the fact, events which added a few layers to the ways in which life imitated art in the classroom.  These are common events in process teaching, actually, and can open a window for the kind of understanding that comes from the immediacy of the “here and now” experience.  In the first, I consciously chose an article to pair with the film that came from a psychoanalytic lineage that we do not usually study at BGSP, the hermeneutic school popularized by people such as Spence, Schafer, and Hanly (Diamond, Diana, 2001. “Narrating desire and desiring narration: a psychoanalytic reading of The English Patient”. In Gabbard, G.O. and Williams, P. Psychoanalysis and Film.  London: Karnac Books).   I was aware that it fit the film well as an exploration of “…controversies about the nature and construction of narrative in contemporary analytic theory and practice…the interconnection between narrative and identity…the relevance of relationships, transferential and otherwise to narrative construction… and the points of contact and divergence between narrative and historical truth” (Diamond, p. 130),  and that it presented an opportunity to fulfill our charge to present many perspectives to the students.  I was unaware, until I drafted this blog post, that my assigning a paper which crossed the “nationalistic” boundaries of psychoanalytic lineages was an echo of the theme of the film itself.  So like Almasy, Katherine, and Maddox, I was acting on the wish that we could all move freely through analytic  ideas and not have to be defined by or loyal to one or another.

The other enactment became clear as I read some of the logs, which expressed curiosity, pleasure, and some unease about the presence of the visitors I had invited to the class that evening.  The unease was not unease about the actual visitors, who were received as interesting participants with illuminating insights; rather it was my role in their unexpected arrival.   An email I had drafted in advance, announcing that a faculty member and a board member would be attending that night, and that we had a new class member, was never sent, although I did not realize it at the time.  Instead I was, albeit unwittingly, inviting guests to “gaze on” the class without their knowledge in something of the same manner that Candaulles had invited Gyges to gaze on his wife.   I was reminded that despite the fact that we cannot often control much in our worlds, we are nevertheless responsible for the effects of our actions.

In “The English Patient” we see a continuum of the ways we can deal with the problems of love and loss, of freedom and possession, of chicken and egg, of hiding and being found.  We see why we need boundaries, and why we don’t want to honor them in all cases.  We see that the drives toward life and toward death are mixed in all actions, and that we are better off for knowing them.  And we see the power of telling the whole truth to someone who wants to understand it.  Almasy, Hana, and Caravaggio were all healed by their time together.  As Hana returns for Almasy’s volume of Herodotus, we are left with the wish that she can learn, from the history of those who went before, how to love freely but without transgression, undue jealousy, or vindictiveness.

3 thoughts on “The English Patient
  1. meryem says:

    Interesting article, Thank you for the post.

  2. Michael Fraley says:

    By all means please share!

  3. nooot says:

    thanks for the nice sharing 🙂

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