One of the most haunting motifs in the film the English Patient is the idea of communication across time: modern travelers visiting ancient cave paintings depicting images of people swimming in a region that is now desert; the words and stories of Herodotus, speaking to modern readers across the centuries. The most poignant of these communications across time features the words of a woman, injured, in pain, dying alone in a cave, and writing her final thoughts and reflections using the worn nub of a pencil, in the faltering light of a flashlight–and the way in which the man who loved her was able to share those final moments with her, when he himself was close to his end.
The poetic imagery of the film, and its beautiful depiction of this thematic motif, was a paradigm shifter for me. It made me look at books, paintings, art of all kinds, differently–added an edge of reverence and weight to my encounters. With the possible exception of improvisatory theatre, there’s always a time shift in encountering artistic works, because some aspect of them was created in the past, while one’s encounter with them is in the present. Of course this is the most noticeable and powerful with works written hundreds of years ago, opening windows into the past through which we can glimpse, often as through a glass, darkly, what the world used to be like.
This past summer, we were lucky enough to board a time machine that took us back somewhere between 14,000 and 16,000 years. Continue reading