Through the events of the war, Kip gazes in on the Western World's changing, growing in political and military stature, and its attempting to control and colonize others. The gap between West and East that was exacerbated by World War Two is addressed by Ondaatje in the English Patient, but not by Heller, Hemingway, Barker, or Remarque in their novels.
When Kip hears about the atomic bomb toward the end of the English Patient, his attitude grows cynical. He feels a striking sense of ethnic identity, an issue that is not addressed in a Farewell to Arms, Catch-22, Regeneration, or All Quiet on the Western Front. Moreover, the atomic bomb is not alluded to in the other four books. Ondaantje's decision to include the bomb in his novel underscores his commitment to providing a global and universal perspective on the war.
The ethnic and national identities of both Kip and Almasy are challenged throughout the English Patient. Ethnicity and national identity are not issues in a Farewell to Arms, Catch-22, Regeneration, or All Quiet on the Western Front. Almasy is like a national shape-shifter: his identity seems detached from place or nation. He seems unattached to any race or ethnicity; rather, he floats between many and assumes whatever identity others confer upon him. Unlike other central characters like Paul B. umer in All Quiet on the Western Front and Yossarian of Catch-22, the English Patient never struggles with compromised patriotism; patriotism and nationalism mean nothing to him. Characters like Yossarian and Paul B. umer deal directly with the disillusionment of glorified nationalism; they come to realize that patriotism is largely about propaganda and platitude. Kip, on the other hand, develops his sense of identity through his ethnicity, and at the end of the book, his national identity as well. As a visible minority with dark skin, Kip remains fully conscious of his being different throughout the novel. However, his ethnicity is downplayed in the film version of the English Patient.
Sweeping scenes of desert sands juxtaposed over white folds of bed sheets; calligraphy illustrations of cave paintings and careening planes: it was visual imagery like this that earned the 1996 film production of Michael Ondaatje's novel the English Patient Academy Awards for best picture and best cinematography. The on-screen version of the English Patient explores a musical dimension that the printed page cannot convey. However, Anthony Minghella's film diverges considerably from Ondaanje's novel. While both film and book weave in and out of the present moment, presenting the title character's story in nonlinear fashion, the way the tale unfolds is different between the two works. The book begins with Hana gardening in her Italian villa, then taking care of the badly burned English patient. The film, on the other hand, opens with a shot of the English patient soaring over the Saharan desert with the dead Katherine in the passenger seat. The plane is bombarded by explosive bullets from below. The next scene in the movie depicts the nurse Hana on a train taking care of patients; the train scenes do not occur in Ondaatje's novel. The filmmakers likely introduced the train scenes to underscore the theme of displacement and motion, which are conveyed through the novel but would have been difficult to describe on-screen without the visual symbol of the train. Nevertheless, details like these distinguish book from movie. Another key difference between the film and book versions of the English Patient is the way the narration unfolds. At times during the film, the shift between past and present is strikingly fast to create momentum and keep the audience's attention. The narration unfolds slightly slower in the novel, with greater portions of the English Patient's tale being told at one time. Furthermore, the chronology of the English Patient's tale differs between book and film. For example, in Chapter Six of the book, Almasy tells the tale of the plane crash in reverse; in the film most of his flashbacks occur chronologically. One of the most salient differences between the printed and screen versions of Ondaatje's story is the role of Kip. Kip plays a far more important role in the novel, whereas in the film he is but an ancillary character. The filmmakers do not portray his perspective as Ondaatje does; nor do they offer insight into Kip's former life in India or his life in India after he leaves Italy. Ondaatje's novel, on the other hand, ends in Kip's perspective, with his reflections on the war and his relationship with Hana.