Very rarely does a film complete its life cycle with the quiet dignity and unassuming grandeur as did The English Patient. It seemed that everything about the film, from its marketing to its release to the almost indifferent manner in which it captured award after award, carried with it an unassailable essence of the film itself: an air of understated, intellectual romanticism and pensive artistry. Of course, this is precisely the effect that the makers of the film intended.
In an industry that relies so much upon image, and to some extent upon how a film is perceived by an audience rather than how it is actually viewed, the marketing of a film is vitally important. What is the film's target audience, and how will they be attracted? What signifiers and beacons must be used and have in past uses enticed their viewership? In short, how must a film be generically constructed in order to be sold? All questions of marketing inevitably come to questions of genre, and of which generic elements of a film can be accentuated (and in some cases fabricated) in order to ensure the best possible audience reaction. A step beyond genre, though, and related to the above-mentioned signifiers and beacons, are aspects of intertextuality, or the precise utilisations of shared knowledge within a generic construct. Intertextuality is invoked whenever a film is marketed based on its principal star personae, or on the previous merits of its director or crew, or in the similarities between it and other films.
The English Patient marks a zenith in intertextual relay, a paragon of carefully crafted marketable imagery and assumptions. The factors contributing to its makeup, its marketing, its release, and its critical reviews are among the most beneficial for any film in history. The resultant product is uniformly the object of its own desire, in this case an enigmatic, wonderfully artistic, emotionally compelling love story that is at once complex and ultimately accessible. At least, that is what the marketing would lead one to believe.
The questions, then, become clear: how did such beneficial circumstances arise? What exact factors contributed to the successful marketing of the film? How have discursive practices (i.e. reviews and critical commentaries) reflected the impact of the intertextual relay? And perhaps most importantly, how did spectators actually view the film? Is it even possible, in a media-saturated culture, to arrive at a reading of the film that is antithetical to the media-forced view?