Top 25 Left-Wing Films: #24 – 'The English Patient' (1996)

“We are the real countries. Not the boundaries drawn on maps with the names of powerful men.”

Why it’s a left-wing film

It was at the beginning of the 1990s when I started to understand how Hollywood was using film as a propaganda device, and not just to undermine conservative ideals and make noble all things liberal, but to attack and undermine the very ideals of both our country and liberty. The difference between today and 20 years ago is that today (thankfully) Hollywood truly sucks at it. But in 1996 there was still some mojo out here and the winner for that year’s Best Picture, writer/director Anthony Minghella’s” English Patient,” is what you might call one of Hollywood’s last creative leftist gasps but also a slyly effective argument of moral equivalence that says the West is no less responsible for the world’s suffering than the likes of Hitler. The problem isn’t evil men and regimes, the film tells us, the problem is ownership and that countries exist at all.

For anyone paying attention to Hollywood back then, you knew it was only a matter of time before they turned against WWII and attempted to deconstruct and undermine the legions of films that had come before, films that ennobled a cause that represents those values most anathema to the left; the cause of self-determination, democracy, and that which is bigger and more important than one’s self. And so through this WWII-era story of a map maker (Ralph Fiennes’ Laszlo), who flies his plane high above the North African desert (above it all) mapping the Sahara, and his torrid sexual affair with the very married Katharine (Kristin Scott Thomas), “The English Patient” attempts to sell and make noble a litany of disastrous anti-values by audaciously presenting them during a historical era when such morally diseased detachment and self-involvement would’ve surely plunged the world into dark times, the likes of which we can’t imagine.

This film’s appalling philosophy all comes together in the final act after Laszlo and Katharine’s wicked ways come home to roost and they find themselves stranded deep in the desert. He can walk the three days out but her ankle is broken. Having to leave her behind with only a few days’ supply of water and food, her mortality clock is ticking and after a series of complications back in civilization, our “hero” deliberately sells out the British — the West — to the Germans in order to secure the plane necessary to save Katharine. He gives the Nazis (the Nazis!) crucial maps. Afterwards, when he’s informed that this act likely caused the death of thousands of Allied soldiers and civilians, Laszlo’s reply is like something you would normally hear from a James Bond villain…

“Thousands of people die. They were just different people.”

….except that rather than be chilled and repulsed by this response, we’re supposed to put finger to chin and bask in the poetic profundity of it all.

And it gets worse.

Laszlo doesn’t make it in time and Katharine’s found dead but not before writing out the film’s theme in her journal, this bon mot of leftist narcissism and nihilism:

“We are the real countries. Not the boundaries drawn on maps with the names of powerful men.”

Then, to help we crazed nationalists — who probably wouldn’t sell out to the Nazis, even for a crippled adulteress — swallow this intellectual drivel and become enlightened to the New Morality, the film’s most devious but ingenious masterstroke is Willem Dafoe’s character, David Caravaggio, a double-agent captured and brutally tortured by the Germans; a scoundrel, thief and sometimes patriot who knows who Laszlo is, knows what he’s done and intends to kill him for his crime. After hearing Laszlo’s story, though, Caravaggio comes to understand and sympathize.

And if this man can, who are we to judge?

You can tell yourself that in the end Katharine and Laszlo pay for their betrayal of husband and country, but there’s no doubt that the film is firmly on the side of Laszlo’s monstrously selfish decision to sell out the West. A ton of thematic and dramatic pipe is laid throughout so that when Laszlo’s most desperate to save Katharine it is nationalistic “evils” such as passports, papers, borders, I.D., and the winning of a war that causes her to die slowly of exposure. It’s all so meticulously manipulative that every once in a while you have to shake your head like a cartoon character in order to box your moral compass and see that this beautifully produced and acted drama is nothing more than a tub-thumper for wickedness wrapped in the sheep’s clothing of a higher ideal..

For those of you who haven’t seen “The English Patient,” just imagine what Satan would’ve done with “Casablanca.”

Why it’s a great film

Arguably, “The English Patient” does not hold up very well once you’ve cracked its insidious code, but this takes a while because the film is so gosh-darned gorgeous to look at and the performances so good. Most of the credit should probably go to the legendary Walter Murch, who won two no-brainer Oscars for his editing and sound work. Based on Michael Ondaatje’s novel of the same name, thanks to Murch the film itself unfolds like a grand novel, taking us back and forth through time as a horribly burned and disfigured Laszlo lies on his deathbed and pieces together the story of his ill-fated affair to the young nurse, Juliette Binoche (who won a supporting Oscar), taking care of him during the last days of his life and the war.

Filled with poetic dialogue, lush cinematography, some truly extraordinary scenes — such as the sandstorm sequence where Katharine and Laszlo fall in love — and a charming subplot involving the short-lived but sincere romance between Binoche’s Canadian nurse and Kip, a brave Indian (“Lost’s” Naveen Andrews) who defuses bombs, you almost will yourself not to notice the film’s depraved and shockingly selfish philosophy. The film is seductive, you want to give into it, but in the end the only moral outcome would be to have the cast of “Inglorious Basterds” storm in and beat Laszlo to death with a baseball bat.

What’s not on the list

Erin Brockovich” (2000)

Director Steven Soderbergh and writer Susannah Grant might have thought they were crafting a left-wing film but in Hollywood’s pre-Bush Derangement Syndrome era, when liberal filmmakers (but I repeat myself) worked the story’s theme harder than the agenda, it was possible that they could outsmart themselves and accidentally create something closer to a conservative-themed film, which is exactly what happened to this superbly entertaining vehicle that won Julia Roberts an Oscar and should’ve done the same for an even better Albert Finney, who plays her boss.

The antagonist in “Erin Brockovich” is not capitalism, the free market, big business, or even a big corporation. The antagonist is elitism and a kind-of Ivy League prejudice against a gorgeous but otherwise everyday young woman who has everything in common with Sarah Palin and absolutely nothing in common with Maureen Dowd, Katie Couric, Barbara Walters, or Kathleen Parker. As a matter of fact, it’s quite easy to picture that aging foursome of mean girl snobbery sitting in mahogany board rooms and sneering at our Erin from across a conference table.

Erin is a self-made, tell-it-like-it-is scrapper constantly fighting the snobs who humiliate, insult, and otherwise write off as an unsophisticated outsider and rube anyone not like them. Best of all, Erin doesn’t like them right back. which only makes them crazier (sound familiar?). She has no desire to earn their approval and knows full well that when it comes to fighting against corruption and for justice, her instincts, compassion, work ethic, endless resourcefulness and unwillingness to quit is more valuable than any law degree. You can’t get much more American than that.

The big bad corporation here is a MacGuffin, nothing more than a plot device that allows for the audience to sit back and enjoy the hell out of watching elites get knocked from their lofty perches. Frequently the story also takes an unflinching look at the mercenary impulses of one of the Democratic Party’s primary supporters: trial lawyers — a club of kn0w-nothings in the humanity department that Erin is proud not to be a member of.

Furthermore, as someone as suspicious of big business as I am of big government, as someone who has watched the Obama Administration pick winners and losers through immoral bailouts and a failed stimulus, as someone who has watched the Left collude with GE/NBC, GM, Goldman Sachs, Hollywood, Wall Street and big greedy unions in both the private and public sector — it’s the Democrats who are now the protectors and benefactors of big business.

Conservatives believe in competition, free markets, and entrepreneurship. Too many big businesses and the unions they enable do not.

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