How many times have you seen a movie of a novel before you read it? I couldn't tell you the number I personally have seen, but The English Patient is one of those. I first saw it when it was released in theatres back in the spring of 1997. My husband and I saw it at the Battlefield Mall Cinema in Springfield, Missouri. I loved the movie almost instantly--the romantic story line, the amazingly beautiful cinematography, and of course Ralph Fiennes. I like Ralph. A lot.
So here is the series of events that caused me to read the book 14 years after seeing the movie: my husband finds the book laying in the hall of the high school he teaches at two years ago; he keeps it in his room and asks around to see who lost it but no one claims it; he puts it in the closet in his classroom and forgets it; about 10 days ago I'm talking with our foreign exchange student about movies we love and I mention it; Dog remembers he has the book at school and says he'll bring it home; he brings it home a couple days later after we both forget about it; I read it. Not so dramatic, but there are so many turn along the way that might have led me to never reading it.
So, now that I've read it the question is what do I think of it. And I'd have to say I liked the movie more. Don't get me wrong, Michael Ondaatje's writing is beautiful and poetic. He is a poet as well as a novelist, so this makes a great deal of sense. A poet can convey emotion very succinctly--just a few seemingly unrelated words can be strung together and make a portrait of feeling that you can feel to your core. But I guess I'm just a very pragmatic, practical person. For me, there has to be a good reason for the emotion. Why would someone shoot themselves? To me you'd need a pretty darn good reason. Why would someone turn their back on love when both of them desperately need it? Again, I crave a solid reason. And in the book, but not in the movie, for me the reasons just didn't seem real.
Dog and I watched the movie again after I finished the book and it just confirmed my feelings about it. I love the movie, and I think the characters from the book are carried over very well into the movie. But I feel more comfortable with the motivations of the movie characters.
If you've neither seen the movie or read the book, I suggest reading the book first. Then watch the movie and tell me what you think.