A memorable and attractive nurse image is found in the movie “The English Patient” in the face of Hana, a young French-Canadian nurse skillfully played by Juliette Binoche. Hana is one of the central images of the plot, appearing in ‘present’ part of the film that intersperses present with reminiscences of the past. She does an exceptional job tending to the ‘English patient’ who is surviving only thanks to her determination, perseverance and commitment.
She both performs her professional duties towards the patient and develops a personal attitude towards the mutilated man left in her care. Hana seems to be in love with her patient who is far from sexually attractive with his maimed body, perhaps as extrapolation of her caring attitude towards him.
Hana is put in a difficult situation, tending to the patient all alone at the time of the war. Her experience shows that a nurse’s job can at times be extremely challenging as nurses have to follow their patients through the most difficult of times and deliver care equally in the time of peace and war. Hana’s job involves many things – she delivers professional care to the patient, washing his wounds and giving him morphine, reads aloud to him, but also fixes the villa and does the gardening. Hana is left alone with her patient – there are no other medical professionals in the vicinity, and she is the sole decision-maker in her professional actions, which underscores the importance of her nursing role.
However, Hana is not devoid of natural women’s desires: she gets attracted to men, exemplified in her relations with Kip, who later becomes her lover, and the English patient himself who she admires secretly as a man who suffered his wounds in the cruel and heroic warfare. Hana’s relationship with the English patient is a complex cobweb of professional commitment and the burgeoning love of the young woman for a man she sees as ideal. Hana is young and attractive, and the viewer takes her infatuation with men as a natural order of things, because it does not seem to interfere with her professionalism.
Thus, Hana demonstrates the values of service to others and humanism, since she does not limit her care to professional interactions, but is ready to take the patient as a human being. She maintains his belief in the favorable outcome of the treatment and makes him feel that he should make an effort to survive, since it is personally important to her. There is not much in the movie to depict Hana’s understanding of scholarship or achievement, though. Maybe the reason is that Hana just happened to become a nurse because she wanted to make a contribution to her nation in the time of the war and does not see her future as connected with nursing career.
Rather, Hana attends to her duties with a Christian attitude that intertwines the requirements of the nursing profession with the religious beliefs. She talks of her patient as a saint and compares his bones to those of Christ. This religious background clearly serves as an important motivator for Hana, inspiring her in her nursing activities.
Hana wins recognition with the surrounding people thanks to her role in providing care. Eventually, she succeeds in building a little world around herself that unites the thief Caravaggio, the English patient, the Indian ‘sapper’ Kip, and herself. All these people find consolation in their association with a lovable woman who also has a caring and affectionate character. Hana wins the affection of the viewer, too, by being thoroughly professional and at the same time deeply humane.
The English Patient. Dir. Anthony Minghella. 1996.