JAN: She's a softie. She loves me.
Poor Jan. This is one of the only lines she gets in the movie before she explodes. This terrible tragedy prompts Hana to think she is cursed. Anyone she loves will die.
KATHARINE: Love. Romantic love. Platonic love. Filial love. Quite different things, surely?
Almásy is a man who doesn't believe in adjectives, but Katharine demonstrates that there are many different kinds of love. Almost all of these loves are present in the movie.
ALMÁSY: You can't explore from the air, Madox. If you could explore from the air, life would be very simple.
Following up the last quote, Almásy is a man who maps things from the ground, but he flies through life, not wanting to get up close and personal with it. Katharine shows him the depths of love, but he has to explore her from the ground (so to speak), to understand it.
ALMÁSY: I think you've got the wrong end of the stick, old boy.
Here is an example of platonic love. Or maybe filial love, the love of a child for a parent. Hana loves Almásy but not romantically. She either loves him as a friend, or as a stand in for her own father.
HANA: I'm not in love with him. I'm in love with ghosts. So is he. He's in love with ghosts.
Caravaggio accuses Hana of loving Almásy in a romantic sense. She clarifies that she does not. But both Almásy and Hana are haunted by romantic loves of the past. Romantic love might be the strongest—and most dangerous—love.
BERMANN: How do you explain to someone who has never been here, feelings which seem quite normal?
What is it about the desert that rewrites the rules of love? Is the desert itself, and its shifting sands? Or is it simply being so far from home? Many characters fall in love with people that they probably wouldn't love if they were back home. Almásy and Katharine. Hana and Kip. And here, Bermann, a married man, and a young man named Kamal.
ALMÁSY: What do you love?
KATHARINE What do I love?
ALMÁSY: Say everything.
KATHARINE: Let's see… water. The fish in it. And hedgehogs. I love hedgehogs.
ALMÁSY: And what else?
KATHARINE: Marmite. I'm addicted. And baths. But not with other people. Islands. […]
Katharine's list of what she loves are all mostly things she can't get in the desert. Does one kind of love outweigh another? Can Katharine's love for her husband, or for Almásy, outweigh her sadness at missing all these other things she loves? We don't think so. In a love battle between hedgehog and Almásy, hedgehog wins.
DYING SOLDIER: I'd like to see somebody from home before I go.
This unnamed soldier dies at the very beginning of the movie, but his thoughts are similar to that of Almásy's, who dies at the end of the movie. Unable to see anyone from his past, Almásy instead listens as Hana reads Katharine's last words. The memory of Katharine is the next best thing for Almásy to experience before passing away.
ALMÁSY: No, sorry. I think I was a pilot. I was found in the wreckage of a plane, at the beginning of the war.
Early on, it's difficult to tell if Almásy has amnesia, or if he is lying to keep anyone from learning the true story of his past. We think it's the latter. And as he grows to trust Hana more, he reveals more of his story.
ALMÁSY: I remember her garden, plunging down to the sea, nothing between you and France.
HANA: I want you to be able to see the view.
ALMÁSY: I can already see. […] I can see all the way to the desert. An explorer before the war, making maps. Is there sand in my eyes? Are you cleaning sand from my ears?
HANA: No sand. That's your morphine speaking.
ALMÁSY: I can see my wife in the view.
For Almásy, remembering means traveling back to the desert, and in his morphine haze, he thinks he's there. The sand imagery is strong because memories are like grains of sand that Almásy is trying to gather… and they're slipping through his hands.
CARAVAGGIO: What if I told you he did this to me? […] I'm one of his ghosts and he wouldn't even know it.
Caravaggio thinks Almásy either can't remember his past, or that he's lying. But the truth is that Almásy didn't know Caravaggio. Any flashbacks into the past with Caravaggio are his memories, not Almásy's.
CARAVAGGIO: I don't think he's forgotten anything. He wants to forget.
The more Caravaggio talks to Almásy, the more he realizes this is probably true. Almost off of Almásy's memories in Cairo are tragic.
HANA: Who is this? […] Is it you? So fat.
Hana finds a baby picture of Almásy in his book. It's cute! Maybe the man isn't entirely full of misery. This picture represents a nice memory for Almásy.
SOLDIER: How do you know you're not German, if you don't remember anything?
This line at the very beginning of the movie both illustrates Almásy's shadowy identity, and foreshadows how important his nationality will be at the end of the movie, when he is trying to retrieve Katharine from the Cave of Swimmers.
ALMÁSY: Why are people always so happy when they collide with someone from the same place? What happened in Montreal when you passed a man in the street? Did you invite him to live with you?
Almásy makes an interesting point here, about the way people form alliances and friendships during war, apocalypse, zombie outbreak, etc. Bonding over where you are from is a quick way to form a bridge with another person.
ALMÁSY: Hana thinks you've invented your name.
It's interesting that Hana thinks David Caravaggio invented his name (it is a fishy name!) but she doesn't harbor any suspicion toward her patient, who has no name. Why does Hana have differing opinions on each man?
CARAVAGGIO: And I said you can forget everything, but you never forget your name.
This is another good point, this time from Caravaggio, that echoes the soldier's question at the beginning about Almásy's nationality. Caravaggio knows enough to be suspicious of Almásy's alleged amnesia. And he turns out to be correct. Almásy does remember his name; he's just feeling guilty about his actions. He probably wishes he were a different person.
HANA: I thought you were very, very tall. You seemed so big and giant. And I feel like a child who can't keep her balance.
Hana says this to Hardy, Kips' lieutenant. Early in the movie, he saves her from a landmine, so she saw him as a huge hero. But when she meets him again, she sees he's just a normal person, albeit a very heroic one.
CARAVAGGIO: I saw you writing in that book, at the embassy in Cairo, when I had thumbs, and you had a face… and a name. […] Before you went over to the Germans. Before you found a way to get Rommel's spy across the desert an in British headquarters.
Identities, appearances, and allegiances can change on a daily basis. But even though Caravaggio and Almásy now look different, are they different people?
ALMÁSY: So I got back to the desert, and to Katharine, in Madox's English plane, with German gasoline. When I arrived in Italy, on my medical chart, they wrote "English Patient." Isn't that funny? After all that, I became English.
This line can be seen as symbolic of all the different parts of Almásy's identity, parts of which are seemingly at odds with one another.
GEOFFREY: Uxoriousness. That's my favorite kind of love. Excessive love of one's wife.
Thank you, Geoffrey, for defining this word during the discussion about different types of love. This line makes Geoffrey seem very sweet and devoted to Katharine. On the flip side, it makes him seem like even more of a sap when she betrays him.
GEOFFREY: Let's toast then. Absent wives. […]
KATHARINE: And future ones.
Almost all the men in the Royal Geographic Society are married. Would Katharine still want an affair with Almásy if he were married too?
HANA: I'll probably marry him. […] My mother always told me I would summon my husband by playing the piano.
Hana's little superstition about marriage seems silly, but it makes sense that a woman who believes she is cursed would believe this too. And after a terrible war like WWII, people have to believe in whatever they possibly can.
ALMÁSY: And the marriage? Is that a fiction?
KATHARINE: No, the marriage isn't a fiction.
People lie a lot in The English Patient, but one thing no one ever lies about is marriage. They might not take their marriage vows seriously, but they don't ever lie about it.
GEOFFREY: What's the symbol of your first anniversary? I should get something. Is it cotton or paper?
Geoffrey loves Katharine, but it's telling that she doesn't remember their wedding anniversary. She seems to have married him because nothing else was working out. Yes, she loves him, but it's not the same kind of passionate love she feels for Almásy.
KATHARINE: This is a different world is what I tell myself. A different life. And here I'm a different wife.
ALMÁSY: Yeah, you are a different wife.
This conversation continues our thought from the last quote. Katharine has two different relationships with two different men. She gets something from Geoffrey that she cannot get with Almásy, and she gets something from Almásy that she cannot get with Geoffrey.
ALMÁSY: Am I being interrogated? You should be trying to trick me, make me speak German.
It's difficult to trust anyone during a war. Almásy and English soldiers have a mutual distrust of one another. Almásy is distrusted because of his nebulous identity, and he doesn't trust English soldiers because they captured him during the war.
HANA: There's a war. Where you come from becomes important.
ALMÁSY: Why? I hate this idea.
These lines foreshadow the ending, when Almásy is unable to return to Katharine because he cannot prove where he comes from. Him saying, "I hate this idea" so simply here might be the understatement of the movie.
KIP: The Germans left mines everywhere. The pianos were their favorite hiding places.
War destroys even seemingly innocent things. The monastery is damaged by bomb blasts, and not even a piano is safe. War tries its hardest to extinguish art itself.
MADOX: By order of the British Government: All international expeditions to be aborted by May 1939.
Prior to the war, the Egyptians and the British worked together, mapping the desert. But national security becomes the most important priority in a war, and the Egyptians don't want the British around making them a target.
MADOX: In a war, if you own the desert, you own North Africa.
ALMÁSY: Own the desert! (scoffs)
War is all about ownership, and we know how Almásy feels about ownership. He hates it. But what is the alternative?
NEWSREEL: Nowhere is there any wild patriotic excitement, but everywhere there is a deep hatred of war.
This movie reel adds some historical context to this point in time. England is reluctant to enter the war, just as Katharine is reluctant to stay in Egypt as war breaks out. But everything is beyond her control.
ALMÁSY: Thousands of people did die. Just different people.
This sounds cold, but it is an interesting point. Almásy couldn't have stopped the course of the war, and he didn't make it worse. He only changed it. But he changed it in a way that added many casualties to the Allied side.
MADOX: It's ghastly. It's like a witch hunt. Anybody remotely foreign is suddenly a spy. We didn't care about countries, did we? Brits, Arabs, Hungarians, Germans, none of that mattered did it? It was something finer than that.
Madox reiterates the point of how people worked together, in peace, before the war. War tears not just nations apart, but smaller communities too, like the community of international mapmakers in the desert.