The English Patient is an enthralling movie about the violent upheavals of war and the healing power of love. Writer and director Anthony Minghella (Truly, Madly, Deeply) has brought Michael Ondaatje's 1992 award-winning novel to the screen with all of its poetic intensity and sprawling mysteries intact.
A badly burned patient (Ralph Fiennes) is taken to an Italian monastery at the end of World War II by Hana (Juliette Binoche), a Canadian nurse. Her spirit has been shattered by the deaths of her lover and best friend, and she welcomes the opportunity to care for this one man in the peace of the countryside. In the silence and solace of this holy place, the text of the dying patient's life is slowly unraveled.
Through flashbacks to the prewar Sahara desert, we learn that he is a Hungarian count and an archaeologist on a map-making expedition in North Africa. His routinized life is turned upside down when an English woman and her pilot husband (Kristin Scott Thomas and Colin Firth) join the expedition. The reticent Hungarian is swept away with a passion for this beautiful and intelligent woman. "The heart is an organ of fire," he later writes, and the fallout from their tempestuous affair is a blaze that damages and even destroys the lives of others.
One of these is Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe), a Canadian who turns up one day at the monastery. A badly damaged survivor, this morphine addict has a special interest in the English patient's story. Another arrival on the scene is Kip (Naveen Andrews), a Sikh bomb disposal expert who falls in love with Hana. He romances her with an exultant surprise in a church filled with stunning frescoes.
The English Patient, winner of nine Academy awards including Best Film of 1996, is a soul-stirring film that conveys the potencies of erotic love, the mesmerizing beauty of the desert, and the importance of memory and grief. The monastery turns out to be a divine milieu where the healing balm of confession, compassion, forgiveness, and personal renewal are administered. The count's battered copy of Herodotus filled with a lifetime's memorabilia turns out to be a holy book. Best of all, The English Patient is a bearer of deep spiritual meaning a testament to those mysteries that make life such a bold, startling, and sense-luscious adventure.