A while ago while playing around on Netflix I ran across a film called The Painted Veil (2006) that intrigued me. It looked like a pretty movie – you know beautifully shot, great locations, good story. Many of my favorite movies are pretty: Out of Africa, Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility, her ex-husband Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado about Nothing (don’t you just love them both in the Harry Potter series?) Far from Heaven (the use of color is way cool – especially red), Chocolat, blah blah blah. I decided that I’d add it to my queue but that I’d read the book first. That’s one of my rules – read the book before you see the movie. So I hit the library’s online catalog and found myself a copy.
Since my to-read pile usually resembles a small mountain, the book sat around for a while before I got to it. I finally started it near the end of my time at the house in Mayodan. Prior to this all I knew about W. Somerset Maugham was that a girl named Cyndie in my senior AP English class adored him. When we were writing practice essays for the AP exam she managed to mold every topic so that she could use her favorite Maugham book. (I think she made a 5 on the AP exam. Way to go, girl!) I don’t even recall which book she loved.
So how did I like The Painted Veil (1924)? Maugham kept my attention; I finished the book within a couple of days. One thing I can say for certain is that I didn’t like his main character, Kitty Fain, all that much. She did redeem herself somewhat for me. Her work at the convent showed that she could be compassionate and her discovery at the end of the book that she, her mother, and her sister had ignored her father – except when they needed cash - their entire lives showed that she really could see past the end of her own nose. (I’m sounding uncharacteristically harsh here I realize so I remind myself that these are fictional characters, not real people.) As for her husband, Walter Fain – I know, I know Kitty hurt him with her deceit and betrayal - but he took her into a cholera epidemic hoping that she would die and he’d be rid of her. It felt a bit on the severe side to me. You may have guessed the Dr. Fain and I were not buddies. He didn’t even forgive her on his deathbed. Then, last week I watched the movie. Twice.
This is definitely a pretty film. Not only was the location shooting well done, but Kitty’s hats and dresses added to the prettiness. (I’m a sucker for a festive chapeau.) The men were not unpleasing to the eye either.
Kitty and Walter are definitely more likeable in the film. Kitty plays piano (some of my favorite people are pianists so that made her more appealing to me right away). As for Walter, the film shows much more of his work in the cholera-infected community. In the book all we ever see is him with his head in a notebook as he scribbles research notes – not to say that research is not important work – but when you see a handsome man smiling from ear to ear because he’s figured out a way to give sick and tired people clean water you just gotta like him at least a little. And the kicker? Walter saves Kitty from an angry Nationalist mob, they spend a lovely afternoon together during which Walter shows Kitty all the good work that he’s done with the water supply, he forgives her and they fall in love.
So this got me thinking about forgiveness, a topic that’s come up a lot over the past couple of weeks: on Christine Kane’s blog, in an article in Pure Inspiration, from things said by the Buddhist monks I met last Friday (more about that later) and in a conversation I had with a new friend via the comments on this blog. Honestly, I think I’ve gotten pretty good at letting go. Of course, sometimes it’s really really really hard, but usually I can get there – eventually. So with this whole Walter Fain thing I began thinking about how sometimes people don’t forgive you. That’s one of the ways things get messy. If you’re like me, most people like you. You’re approachable, helpful, true to your word, caring, sensitive, kind, empathetic and silly-funny. So when someone really gets angry or upset or hurt by you and can’t find it within themselves to forgive you it can hurt – like crushing hurt, man. What I think I have finally learned is that the only things that I have any say in are my own thoughts, feelings and reactions. If someone is unhappy with me then that is their stuff to deal with. All I can do is be kind and hope that for their sake they will be able to let go of the damaging feelings inside them.
The other issue that the film brought up for me was how we define tragedy. I’m not talking about big, world changing events; I’m thinking of individual tragedy. In this movie, for example, there was a time in my life when I would have labeled Walter’s death as tragic. [Begin on-the-verge-of-weeping voice and large sweeping arm gestures now, please.] He traveled to this cholera town, saved a bazillion people’s lives, made up with his wife, he was going to go back to London and have a happy little family with his pregnant-by-someone-else wife. It’s just so tragic! Yeah, it’s sad. People die. We lose people. You know what though, nothing is permanent. Everything ends. Yes, mourn, process, let go. Then be grateful for that person, for the time you shared with them. Realize what you learned through your experiences with them. Take that stuff, the good stuff, and keep that in your heart. And miss them when you need to. (And I am well aware that none of this is easy. I work on this stuff constantly.)
So now we’re back to my opinion on The Painted Veil. At first I couldn’t decide if I was upset that the movie people Hollywooded up the film. So I went searching online to get some other opinions. Most people seem to have hated the book and loved the movie. I didn’t hate the book; the characters made me angry, made me cry, isn’t that what good writing is supposed to do? Move you in some way? I found a few hold outs who liked the book and enjoyed the movie as well – I think I’m in their camp. It’s neither yee-haw or no way for me. Once again I’m in the middle of the road. I can appreciate them both – as separate pieces of art that made me do more exploring of what’s inside my heart and my head.