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APRIL 25, 2011 12:30AM

Saved By Pop Culture: The English Patient and Me

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engpat

 

      In 1997, I was going through hell – The man I was in love with was going to marry someone else and the job I loved had just disappeared.  "The English Patient," the film directed by Anthony Minghella – from the novel by Michael Ondaatje – and that had opened a year earlier -- was the only place --  in its exploration of devastating loss and epic love – that I felt I could live.
            The hurt in Almasy’s eyes, conveyed by the incomparable Ralph Fiennes; the damaged nurse Hanna, played by Juliette Binoche, and all the other lost and searching souls caught up on the cusp of history in pre-war World II Cairo – and then in a villa somewhere in Tuscany just before the war ended caught my imagination and heart as no movie has done since.
           Living in the aftermath of my own broken love affair, I found myself going to the film over and over.. I knew every line before each actor uttered it. I would quote them for all my friends – who of course did not share my passion for the film.
       “Betrayals in war are nothing compared with Betrayals in peace… New lovers are nervous and tender  smash everything - for the heart is an organ of fire…” the Hungarian explorer Almasy wrote on the wrapping of a  Christmas firecracker before a passionate rendezvous with Catherine Clifton, the woman with whom he was having an adulterous affair – and who would eventually broke his heart. 
        I watched it over and over – even at home – for many years.  One day, I even met Ralph Fiennes on the street – who didn’t seem at all tortured and was very sweet – even when I told him of my obsessive devotion to the film.
         And life moved on.    All that loss I had felt somehow became absorbed into the fabric of my life – I got another job – many other jobs – met many other men – though none have equaled yet that Grand Passion.    And one day recently – I put on  "The English Patient. " And I just couldn’t finish it .  It just seemed impossibly sad.
        
I didn't live there anymore.

 

 

 

 

      

      

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Nice post...it's funny how we change & different stories resonate over time. I've never seen the movie, but loved the book...I just love Michael Ondaatje. His writing is like some kind of feverish dream of reality. My favorite book of his was Anil's Ghost, also very sad, about the civil war in Sri Lanka...

I'm glad you're at a happier place in your life now! I love your avatar!
When I went through my first divorce in 1994, I watched "A Claymation Christmas Celebration" over and over again. More times than I could ever count. For anyone who hasn't seen it, it's an animated cartoon featuring the California Raisins as a rhythm and blues band. I liked the music, I liked the personalities of the animated characters, I love Christmas ... for whatever reason, it mesmerized me. But why over and over again? I couldn't tell you. It just felt so comforting to know exactly what was going to happen, and that it would be something nice. In other words, completely unlike my real life had been in the years leading up to the divorce.

The things that happen in "The English Patient" aren't generally nice, but Almasy's devotion to Katharine was absolute and steadfast. Contrasted with your real life at that time, I wonder if that was the source of its appeal for you?
Beautifully succinct piece. I loved that movie.
I'm glad you are not "there" any more. Certain book, films and music eventually become reminders of milestones in our lives.
♥R
The English Patient (the book in my case, although I still think the movie is magnificent) was the keystone of 1997 for me too. I was working a job that required so much physical energy that I couldn't stay awake reading more than a page or two a night--I would go on to do a few degrees in literature, but that year, The English Patient was the only book I read. I'm not sure there is any other book I could have lived in that long. Now, like you, I can't go back.
Really nice post.~r
Oh I want to read the book. I think it's really interesting to read. Thanks for sharing this one.

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A wonderful movie to obsess over. Same thing often happens with songs. And then they become associated with a time and a place...that's sometimes very hard (physically and mentally) to return to. Thank you for sharing this.
Thanks for sharing this. I really relate to it - both how comforting something can be at a certain time, and then how you just can't go back there, even if you want to, again. Same with songs and also, for me, places.
I was alert as I read this for any indication that you were inspired to read Michael Ondaatje's novel of the same name. I hope you did. I read it before there was a movie. I could not bear even to try the movie and have never seen it. I did not wish to have any of my own mental images from the novel altered in any way.

Nonetheless, I am happy that the film helped you through a difficult time. This was quite well written.
Guys -- Thanks so much for all your beautiful words -- meant so much to me -- and yes -- I have read the book -- I was as obsessive over that as the movie! Much love, Annie!