English Patient Essay, Research Paper
The English Patient, directed by Anthony Minghella, is a romantic, melodramatic film which defines the art of cinematography. The internal and external rhythms, lighting, camera angles, lenses, music, dialogue, and editing are displayed in a way which conveys the meanings and themes to the viewer in such a clear and efficient manner. Due to this fine exhibition, it is of the belief that film schools should use this piece of artwork as a guide to students who wish to learn what cinematography actually is. So poetically did this phenomenal cast tell the story based on Michael Ondaatje’s novel, that after each viewing , a greater love, understanding, respect and admiration arose without any signs of boredom. One of the numerous themes of The English Patient is the troubles, hardships and ever lasting negative emotions that war causes. It tells us that: even if one is lucky enough to escape the war without physical wounds, emotionally there is no escaping its impact. All of the main characters undergo some sort of “pain” as a result of the war between the Axis and Ally forces. The protagonist, Count Laszlo Almasy, a Hungarian cartographer, perhaps has been struck the hardest of any. Almasy is rescued from his plane after it is shot down and is soon mistaken for an English soldier. However, his troubles continue as his body is burnt from head to toe leaving the majority of his body immobile. Almasy is dependent on heavy doses of morphine in order to temporarily relieve him of the excruciating pain that he suffers from. Also, if that isn’t enough, Almasy fails to save the life of Katherine Clifton, a woman who he loves so dearly. Hana, the British nurse caring for Almasy, fortunately gets through the war without any physical damage. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the emotional impact that she suffers from. At times, the pain is so severe that Hana wishes death upon herself. The diligent Nurse feels as if everyone she has ever loved eventually leaves her. Hana has the horrifying experience of seeing through her very own eyes the death of her companion Jenny during an automobile explosion. In addition, Hana’s job requires her to care for war wounded, dying patients who rely on solely hope to survive. Hana sheds some light on the situation when she meets, and perhaps falls in love with, the intellectual Indian bomb specialist, Kip. However, as the war moves on and nears its end, Kip must transfer positions leaving Hana alone with only Almasy and Caravaggio. This sudden departure is just one of the several disappointments Hana faces. Minghella outlines this negative theme throughout the film by displaying numerous tragedies. There exists a parallel between this film and Enrique Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front as both show the horrors of war. However, differences lie in the fact that Remarque’s novel took place during World War I and was a factual retelling. On the other hand, The English Patient was based on a novel that set during World War II. It is of the opinion that although The English Patient is a fictitious piece of work, the style in which it was filmed made the viewers feel that it was as real if not more realistic than Remarque’s novel/movie. This was accomplished with the remarkable cinematography involved in the making of this film. Another theme of the film is that of love and romance. These two themes are repeatedly brought out by the actions of the characters. The most illustrious example of this lies in the relationship between Count Laszlo Almasy and Katherine Clifton. Almasy first encounters Clifton, in the desert where they flirtatiously argue about the use of adjectives in literature. Almasy later sees Mrs. Clifton in an outdoor market in Cairo where Almasy shows his affection towards her for the first time. These feelings are become evident through their powerful dialogue. Later, Clifton confronts Almasy about him following her home after leaving the market during a slow dancing at a formal affair. The married Clifton, at first reluctant to have any sexual relationship with Almasy, later finds herself unable to resist temptation and soon falls in love with the obsessed Almasy. The handsome Almasy shows his love towards Clifton in many ways including walking for days across the deserts of Cairo hoping to find a doctor who can save the wounded Clifton. The film extrapolates on their relationship by showing numerous sexual interactions between the two. The love scenes displayed are intense and intellectual rather than explicit. This was done in order to allow the entire audience to benefit from its beauty rather than be offended. Perhaps the most dramatic of these scenes takes place on Christmas in Cairo in the courtyard of the British Embassy. This scene was extremely significant, and perhaps even climatic, as we see Almasy and Katherine Clifton passionately sexually interact for the second time. The scene commences when the screen shows the British soldiers sitting at a long table in an open courtyard. Katherine walks over to a window on one of the walls. This window isn’t made of glass, but rather possesses metal bars. Inside the Embassy, on the other side of the window is Count Almasy. The camera pans as Katherine walks over to the window at which point Almasy tells Katherine of his plan to get her alone. The camera cuts back and forth between the two. At this point, a telephoto lens is used to concentrate the viewers’ attention on Katherine and Almasy and their dialogue rather than on the background events taking place. Music from an orquestra is heard. The music is soft and displays a happy theme as the soldiers celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ The bars on the window are also extremely significant as they are representative of a force keeping Katherine and Almasy away from each other. Almasy stands behind the window with a shadow casted on his head from metal bars. The bars, running perpendicular to each other, cast a shadow in the shape of a cross. An ironic twist comes as a result of many things. First, there are two Christians planning to commit adultery. This is both a crime and sin in the Christian religion. It is also ironic that it is the holiest of holidays, Christmas. Next, there is an appearance of a cross on the head of Almasy. Along with the separation of the two by the window, these other factors are attempting to hint to them not to go through with their plan. The cutting rhythm of this scene is quite dynamic. After we see the shadow on Almasy’s face, the camera cuts numerous times in a quick manner and displays the faces of numerous characters. The camera pans as Katherine walks back to her original position before going to the window. At this point she is located around the upper left to upper middle portion of the screen. The only lighting observed is the key lighting coming from the sun. To the right of her is the table where the soldiers sit. They are dressed in uniform, facing one another across the table as they prepare for a toast. In unison, everyone in the room raises their glasses and chants “Merry Christmas.” At this precise moment the camera is located at a high position directly above the courtyard, tilting down. The downward tilt gives the feeling of being controlled, restricted, or even spied upon. This adds to the suspense and drama of what is yet to come. Immediately following the toast, Katherine begins to follow up the conspicuous plan. Minghella uses on a normal lens for this shot. Both Katherine and her background are in focus. Also, in view at this time is Count Almasy, still in his position behind the bars of the window watching the acting Katherine. The window is shown at the middle of the right third of the screen. Katherine fakes an illness and then denies permission to an escort who offers to take care of her. She meets up with Almasy in a doorway and walks behind him as they hold hands and go into a back private room of the Embassy. The lighting in the doorway is dark. At no time during this scene is there any artificial lighting. The sound heard at this time is of people talking as they congregate just outside of where the two are interacting. The viewers see a close up of the Katherine and Almasy through a telephoto lens when Almasy begins to undress Katherine Clifton. A beautiful cutting rhythm is incorporated as the camera swiftly moves from the face of Katherine to the face of Almasy back to the face and body of Katherine and then a shot of both of their faces. When shown, the heads of the characters dominate the entire screen and little background in visible. To add irony to the situation, the song “Silent Night” has sounded during their interaction. This music starts precisely when Almasy puts his hand on the dress and bra strap of Katherine and gets louder as they proceed to undress and climaxes as they are having sex. In addition to “Silent Night” we also hear echoes coming from an orquestra. Katherine and Almasy contradict the lyrics of the Christmas carol. The emphasis here reinforces the fact that it is Christmas and they are committing a severe wrongdoing. As the scene progresses, there is a zoom in on the neck of Katherine. The camera focuses on the neck of Katherine. It is specifically on the sensitive section right above the collar bone. This shot foreshadows a later remark made by Almasy during a sequence when he and Katherine make love and Almasy states: “I claim this for me.” The other object which is in extreme focus and is zoomed in on is Katherine’s pearl necklace. The pearl necklace, which is a valuable accessory and could also be used as a term which contains sexual reference, is representative of Katherine’s marriage to Geoffrey Clifton, her current husband. The off white color of the pearls suggests innocence, a characteristic which Katherine obviously contrasts. The shot cuts to show the man playing the bag pipes. The musician is located on the left half of the screen leaving the right side displaying a window characterized by smoked glass. Through this window, we are able to see shadows of Almasy and Clifton making love. The music reaches its climax in terms of intensity and loudness at this point and the suspense also reaches a maximum. The scene cuts to Katherine one final time and her head is dominating the entire screen from left to right. The sound of “Silent Night” fades out and the scene cuts back to the courtyard where the soldiers are sitting. The camera at this point is where it was for the original toast, high above, tilting down. The scene ends with the soldiers raising there glasses for another toast. The toast shows satire as it appears as if they are drinking to the fact that Katherine and Almasy just finished their lovemaking when they are actually making a toast with regard to the war or holiday. The English Patient utilizes all aspects of cinematography so brilliantly which is why there is such a tremendous amount of meaning. The dialogue is so deep and significant that every line should be carefully listened to and thought about. Although the dialogue was limited in my scene, the sound of “Silent Night” and the music from the orquestra played a significant role in determining the scene’s meaning. All of the rest of technicalities of the scene are consistent with the rest of the film. In the scene, along with the rest of the film, there is no artificial lighting. Most of the key lighting came from the sun or the moon. For scenes inside, either light came through windows or certain objects that were used on the set gave light. For example if a character utilized a flashlight, that would provide the source of light. Other examples include light from bonfires and lanterns. The type of camera lens which dominated my scene and most of the film was a telephoto lens. The telephoto lens is characterized by a shallow depth of field. Given that, only the close objects are in focus while the background images are blurred. Minghella’s use of a telephoto lens time and time again during climatic points also highlights and emphasizes the two themes mentioned above. I feel it is also necessarily to complement the superb job on the costumes and makeup. It added a sense a realism in an extraordinary amount. Lastly, the cutting rhythm during my scene and the entire film were similar. Although sometimes slow, often times they were quick creating a sense of realism and suspense which made the viewer want to watch on.