Overview: The Oscar Winning film adaptation of Michael Ondaatje’s lyrical novel. Miramax; 1996; Rated R; 162 Minutes.
Full Disclosure: Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient is my favorite novel and my favorite singular application of the English language. Ondaatje’s application of language (both English and storytelling language) is lyrical, poetic, historical, scientific, layered, and culturally transcendent. Watching riter and director Anthony Minghella’s attempt to frame that language in film is comparable to watching a not-so-clever teenager attempt to rap Shakespeare. Or watching a non-native student of Spanish 101 attempt a reading of 100 Years of Solitude after he/she is introduced by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The event loses its culture. The love affair between Katherine and Almásy loses the fire and violence that ties it so comfortably and tragically against a war-torn backdrop. A backdrop where betrayal and loss are so commonplace. And that historical, scientific, and cultural prose poetry of the novel feels awkward from the mouths of these straining and limited actors.
In my defense: I know that adaptations of books to film can and do work, and in many case work quite well. You can check out my reviews of Apocalypse Now, Where the Wild Things Are, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Jesus’ Son for examples of successful movie adaptations of books that I cherish…
But I Can’t Do This One: The disappointment is too bitter. So, I’ll leave this here as evidence.
One of my favorite favorite passages from the novel (page 157-158):
Now there is no kiss. Just one embrace. He untugs from her and walks away, then turns. She is still there.
“I just want you to know. I don’t miss you yet.”
His face is awful to her, trying not to smile. Her head sweeps away from him and hits the side of the gatepost. He sees it hurt her, notices the wince. But they have separated already into themselves now, the walls up at her insistence. Her jerk, her pain, is incidental, is intentional. Her hand is near her temple.
“You will,” she says.
From this point on in our lives, she had whispered to him earlier, we will either find or lose our souls.
The script’s interpretation?
He walks towards her, his smile awful
I just wanted you to know. I’m not missing you yet.
She nods, can’t find this funny.
You will. You will.
Then she turns sharply from him and catches her head against the gatepost, staggers at the shock of it, then hurries away.
Yep. She hits her head on a gatepost.
Grade: C –