Study Guide

The English Patient Memories and the Past

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Memories and the Past

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.

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