The Role of Nostalgia in The English Patient Essay

The Role of Nostalgia in The English Patient Essay

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In “Theory Number Five: Anatomy of Nostalgic Films: Heritage and Method (1977), one of the first writings which addressed nostalgic representations of the past in cinema, Marc Le Sueur notes that nostalgia is “a concept of history”, one for which “few have attempted to establish the general working principles” (p.189). It is not a conservative phenomenon, but rather a way of engaging with the past and bringing into the present that which other approaches to history ignore, as he further indicates. His conception prefigured two dominant tendencies of research into nostalgia in film studies. While the first examines the use of intertextual devices and flashbacks to evoke nostalgia (Lurry 2000, Wollen 1991), the second aims to evaluate the relationship between nostalgic film and history (Boym 2001, Dika 2003, Grainger 2002, Hutcheon 1989, Jameson 1985). Although the former identifies useful tools for cinematic analysis of film texts, the latter is more relevant to media and cultural studies, for it assesses nostalgia in relation to our historical consciousness. The film “The English Patient” (1996), written for the screen and directed by Anthony Minghella, presents its audiences with a complex mise-en-scène viewed through the filter of nostalgic memories and demonstrates those vital issues of cinematic nostalgia on various levels. Therefore, in this essay, I shall examine the way in which nostalgia in the movie helps reflect on issues of the “present”, subvert the undisputed history and offer competing mythologies of the 1930s.
The film tells the life story a critically burned plane crash victim, who was at first reluctant to disclose any personal information and only known as “the English patient”. In the last days of World War II, ...


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...inema of the 1990s. In R. Murphy, 2000, ed., British Cinema of the ‘90s. London: British Film Institute Publishing, pp. 100–108.
Provencal, V., 2002. Sleeping with Herodotus in The English Patient. Studies in Canadian Literature / Études en littérature canadienne (SCL/ÉLC), 27 (2), [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 January 2014].
Rubenstein, R., 2000. Home Matters: Longing and Belonging, Nostalgia and Mourning in Women’s Fiction. New York: Palgrave.
Sprengler, C., 2009. Screening Nostalgia: Populuxe Props and Technicolor Aesthetics in Contemporary American Film. Oxford, New York: Berghahn Books
Wollen, T., 1991. Over Our Shoulders: Nostalgic Screen Fictions for the 1980s. In J. Corner and S. Harvey, eds, 1991, Enterprise and Heritage: Crosscurrents of National Culture. London: Routledge, pp. 178–93

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