The English Patient

Direction and screenplay by
Anthony Minghella

based on a novel by Michael Ondaatje

Discussion Questions

Scene 1: The International Sand Club
1. What are the team of explorers doing in the desert? For whom are they working? To whom are they loyal?

2. Why does Almasy tend to use few adjectives in his monograph?

3. What issue(s) separate Almasy and Clifton in their discussion about cars and love?

Scene 2: The Story of Gyges
1. Why does Katharine recount the story of Gyges to the men around the campfire? To whom might she be speaking?

2. What effect does her telling the story have on Almasy?

3. What effect does this scene have on the viewers of the film?

Scene 3: Leaving Katharine
1. Why does Almasy warn Clifton about leaving Katharine in the desert?

2. How well does Geoffrey know Katharine? In what ways does he know her?

3. Why doesn't he understand the threat Almasy poses?

Scene 4: The desert storm
1. What does Almasy learn about the winds from Herodotus?

2. Why does he tell Katharine that Herodotus is "your friend"?

Scene 5: Gazing On Katharine
1. Do explorers seek to behold, as Katharine and Almasy do the drawings in the Cave of Swimmers, or do they seek to possess?

2. Katharine claims to Almasy that "This is a different world." Is this true? If so, in what way? Does love, or war and politics, make it a "different world"?

3. How is Katharine "a different wife"?

Scene 6: Under your mittens
1. What does Almasy's discussion with Madox about maps indicate about the differences between the two men?

2.Can anyone "own" the desert? In what ways? Are there elements of the desert that cannot be possessed? How does nature impose limits on ownership?

3. Is there any connection between Almasy and Madox's conversation about maps and the desert and Almasy's questioning Madox about the name of the place at the base of a woman's throat?

Scene 7: The Consequences
1.Why does Almasy present his returning for Katharine as "keeping a promise"?

2. What further light does Almasy's memory of his and Madox's saying farewell to each other shed on the differences between Almasy and Madox?

3. What does Madox refer to when he says that they cared about "something finer" than countries?

4. What effect does learning about Madox's suicide have on Almasy? Does it effect his understanding of his responsibility for Katharine's death?

5. While Almasy admits his responsibility for Katharine's death, does he simialrly admit his responsibility for Madox's? For what happened to Carvaggio?

Scene 8: Finding an army
1. Why does Almasy tell the officer that his "wife" is dying?

2. Almasy does not answer the officer's question about his nationality. Does his nationality play any part in Almasy's life?

3. Why does Almasy think it ironic that he was identified as an Englishman?

4. Why can Carvaggio not kill Almasy now?

5. Does Almasy change in the course of his stay at the monastery? If so, what accounts for his change? What effect does Carvaggio have on him? What effect does Hana have?

6. Was Almasy a spy?

Scene 9: Katharine's last words

1. What does Katharine means when she writes, "we die rich with lovers, and tribes"?

2. Why does Katharine die wishing for an earth without boundaries?

3. Why does the Cave of Swimmers-and its swimmers-play a recurring role in the film?

Paper Topics
1. Do Hana and Kip love each other? Why do they not stay together?

2. Hoes the relationship between Hana and Kip provide a foil for that between Katharine and Almasy?

3. Are there differences between Almasy once he has become the English patient and the Almasy whom we see in his own memories of himself? If so, what accounts for the difference?

4.. Is Katharine's dying wish for an earth without maps similar to Antony's observation that Cleopatra must find out "new heaven, new earth"?

5. Would Almasy sympathize with Antony's wish to "let Rome in Tiber melt"? What do the two men have in common? How are they different?

6. Do Antony and Cleopatra, on the one hand, and Almasy and Katharine, on the other, live "in different worlds"? What are the differences between the worlds in which they live?

7. Discuss the role Herodotus plays in The English Patient. Why is a copy of his Histories, in the words of Carvaggio, Almasy's "one possession"? Katharine tells Herodotus' story of Gyges and of the dangers of passion, while Almasy tells her about Herodotus' description of the winds, and thus how nature threatens human life. Do Almasy and Katharine see different sides of Herodotus' Histories? How does the film as a whole, in contrast to both Katharine and Almasy, present Herodotus' more complex vision?

8. Compare and contrast Diotima's teaching about love in the Symposium and Almasy's understanding of love in The English Patient. Would Diotima's teaching that we desire the good to be ours forever, for example, confirm or correct Almasy's position "against ownership"?

9. In light of Antony and Cleopatra and/or The English Patient, does Hobbes's teaching that life is the restless pursuit of one desire after another ceasing only with death suggest that he has an inadequate understanding of love?

English Patient Readings

Guide to unit 6

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