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Diamond, D. (1999). Narrating Desire and Desiring Narration: A Psychoanalytic Reading of The English Patient. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 80(2):385-389.

(1999). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 80(2):385-389

Narrating Desire and Desiring Narration: A Psychoanalytic Reading of The English Patient

Review by:
Diana Diamond

The English Patient plunges the viewer into an ambiguous world of visual splendour: a wash of luminous golden colour, contours suggestive of the desert or a woman's body, a brush drawing of a figure on a grainy surface, a hieroglyphic, a swimmer, a woman swimmer. The figure floats over desert dunes, until it merges with the shadow of a small plane carrying a woman, pale and seemingly asleep, and a man, a pilot with goggles and a leather helmet. As the plane flies over a desert ridge, it is fired upon by German troops. The figures become incandescent with fire, and as the man falls burning from the sky, ‘the flames erase all that matters—his name, his past, his face, his lover’ (Minghella, 1996p. 4). In subsequent scenes the figures first seen soaring over the desert are replaced by the image of a man lying in the sand burned beyond recognition. We hear his laboured breathing, we view the Bedouin caravan, the itinerant Arab doctor, the searing sun, in part through his makeshift mask of plaited palm leaves; and these shots of perceptual subjectivity establish our primary filmic identification with this anonymous man who comes to be called simply, ‘the English patient’. Among the few possessions that survive the smoking wreckage of the plane is a worn leather-bound volume of the Histories by Herodotus, filled with letters and clippings, in which is a drawing of the film's opening image of the female figure.

These two artefacts, the figure drawing and the Histories, introduce the film's major theme—the centrality of representation and narrative, both imagistic and lexical, to human experience.

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