Movie Review: John Curran's The Painted Veil (2006)

I am a sucker for love stories. I am a special sucker when love happens between 2 people that don't seem to be able to stand one another. Isn't that essentially what happens in Pride and Prejudice?

In The Painted Veil, Kitty (Naomi Watts), a beautiful, vivacious girl from a moderately wealthy family agrees to marry Walter (Edward Norton), a serious doctor. You couldn't find a seemingly more mismatched pair. Kitty likes to play games, especially tennis and cards. She likes dances and the theater. Walter has a scientific, rational mind, and shows little interest in emotion or passion or any kind. He is a bacteriologist (he informs Kitty) and is leaving for Shanghai the next day. Of course, we know it's always those quiet ones . . .

Walter believes he can make Kitty happy in the typical way men think they can. Give them pretty things and an occasional fun night out, and they'll be happy. A fun girl like Kitty wants companionship, something the doctor lacks experience in. She might have allowed him to make her happy if he wasn't such a bore. Even I found this doctor boring, and I am an Edward Norton fan. Divorce was not an option in those days, so she begins an affair with the more suave politician (Liev Schreiber).

When Walter discovers the infidelity, he gives Kitty and ultimatum: come with him to an agricultural town that is suffering from a cholera epidemic or he will divorce her in a public humiliating fashion.
Option 2 is no option for Kitty. She would return to her parent's house ashamed with no hopes of escape. She chooses to follow Walter although she realizes she'll probably die from cholera. What Walter hopes to accomplish by doing this is unclear. Maybe he's trying to punish Kitty or himself. Maybe he couldn't think of going alone no matter how despicable the company might be. These two treat each other with a casual indifference one reserves for small garden worms.

Whatever his intent, Kitty is utterly miserable in her new home, a barren looking landscape with no companionship. Stuck at home with nothing to do, she chooses to put her hands to work in the same hospital her husband labors each day. And so they begin to notice things about one another. He is good with babies. She plays beautiful music that makes the orphans smile. He is working hard to save people's lives. She is a girl with no fear of death.

And they finally love for the same reason that Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy finally do: they realize the inherent goodness and bravery in the other person and cling to it like a lifeboat. When you live through a tragic situation, you see what a person is really made of.

The foggy, haunting setting in agrarian China is an appropriate backdrop for this love story. The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer echoes the lush landscape.