Friday, 17 April 2009

The Painted Veil - W. Somerset Maugham


The Painted Veil


I definitely have to thank my dearest Cecilia for talking about this movie and book in her blog. I didn't read her review, because I decided straight away that I had to watch the movie, possibly after reading the book.
What convinced me, was the awe-inspiring poster of the film.
I've been lucky enough to have the book lent by Kitty and David (thank you my friends!) and I read it in a few nights, and then I ran to the cinema to watch the movie.
First of all, you might know already how much I usually prefer the book rather than the movie version. And this is what happened.
But I liked the movie as well.
I just think it's a completely different story!!!

Anyway, let's start with the book.
I thought it was a romantic novel; I was more than wrong.
And, strangely enough, it's not a negative comment.
There is something else I really love reading besides romance (^_^): it's the characters' psychology. And this is one of the strong points of this books.

The story is quite simple.
The pretty and vain Kitty accepts to marry the boring and cold Walter Fane to run away from her ambitious mother and to get married before her uglier and younger sister Doris. Walter Fane brings her to Hong Kong (in the movie it's China, not Hong Kong) where he works long hours as a bacteriologist. Here the bored Kitty falls in love with the sexy English Vice Consul Charlie Townsend, and the two become lovers.
When Walter discovers that, he accepts to volunteer as a doctor in the village of Mei-tan-fu, where people are dying like flies because of a cholera epidemic.
Kitty is forced to go with him, after realizing that her lover has no intention to divorce his wife and leave his children to marry her.
In Mei-tan-fu, Kitty grows more mature, while Walter becomes even more silent than before, despising her in his heart, unable to forgive her.
He is eventually infected by cholera and dies. Kitty, pregnant (and not sure about the father) comes back to Hong Kong, where she falls once again in Charles's arms. Despising herself, she is ready to move back to her family's house. Her mother dies before she arrives, and Kitty is ready to start a new life with her father, who has never been respected and loved by his wife and daughters and finally deserves a happier life.

This is the original story.
Quite far from being romantic!

Kitty is a spoiled and fun loving lady, not particularly intelligent. But the reader can't help sympathizing with her. She is humane. She is down to earth. She admits her faults and she asks for forgiveness. Nobody is perfect, after all!
In Mei-tan-fu, witness of horrid deaths, she only asks her husband to be friends, not to make life harder than what it already is.
Walter, on the contrary, is a hopelessly repressed, boring, clumsy man. He should be handsome, but Kitty (and she's not alone!) is unable to be attracted by him. He is considerate, and polite, very intelligent, but it seems very difficult for Kitty to fall in love with him.

I haven't understood well why he fell in love with her, and what he expected from her. He knew every silly thought of her, he knew why she married him, he knew she didn't love him. And still, he fell in love with her and married her.
He was as passionate as an ice-lollipop, he talked to his wife only when strictly necessary, he loved his job more than her: how could he have been so shocked that his wife fell for the first good-looking idiot who wooed her properly?

At first, I hoped to see a new Mr. Darcy, or Masumi Hayami, to come out. Maybe the unfaithfulness could give him a shock and wake him up!
Wrong guess!
Walter is simply not humane, I would rather say diabolical.
He's proud and serious, unable to forgive a woman he probably idealized, till the end (and unable to forgive himself as well).

He gives me gooseflesh to imagine what was in his head when he decided to volunteer in Men-tan-fu. He got completely insane! I can imagine his devilish sneer when he told his wife about his decision.

If there were any doubts about his folly, the scene of his death would wipe them off. Kitty, who still doesn't love him but is sincerely sorry for him, asks him for forgiveness. Even if he's suffering badly, before dying he manages to say: "The dog it was that died".
Like everyone, when I finally learnt that it is the last line of Goldsmith's "An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog", I looked up the poem in internet. I found it, read it, and my last hope of a sign of humanity from that icy dull robot disappeared.
The elegy is about a dog who bit a very good man. Everyone thought the man would die, but in the end it was the dog that died.
I will not comment what the poem actually symbolizes.
What did the mad man mean by whispering this verse before dying, is not 100% sure for me. I don't think he refers to cholera, but I think he refers to his wife and himself. Even if he knew he was committing suicide by volunteering in Men-tan-fu, he expected his wife to die.

I feel that the death of some characters is a source of relief, for Kitty (Walter's death) but also for Kitty's father (Kitty's mother's death).
Also, I would say that other two keywords for this novel are punishment and redemption.
Walter punished Kitty for her unfaithfulness, but life itself punished Walter and Kitty's mother (who dies without knowing about his husband's promotion) for their stupidity.
At the end of the book, Kitty is finally ready to start a new life, loving her father as she has never done before. The good ones are not the most virtuous ones, but the most humane ones, who made mistake and try to learn from them, who are able to forgive themselves and then the other ones.

I love the final scene of the reconciliation of father and daughter very much.
What a pity it has been completely cut off in the movie!
But this is not the only thing I don't like.
The poster of the movie reads "Forgiveness comes at a price".
Haha. I don't need to add anything.
Hollywood is Hollywood.
Walter Fane on the big screen is just someone else. He's sexy and charming, he's far from looking boring and cold; in Men-tan-fu he shows his feelings for his wife more than once and eventually jumps on her (lucky Naomi!!!). He becomes sweet and passionate, he doesn't even care about the fact that he might not be the father of Kitty's baby. Who's this man who stole Walter's role?
Honestly, I enjoyed the movie. The photography is very good, Naomi Watts is perfect, Ed Norton is: wow! The movie is skilfully created to enter your heart and break it into pieces.

I really like the movie if I consider it an other story from the book I read.

1. Walter is not Walter the robot, but a sexy mortal man who makes teenagers' eyes get starry (LOL am I a teenager?)
2. Charlie is less charming than Walter's shoes, while in the book he's supposed to be irresistible.
3. The Mother Superior is neglected in the movie, but in the book she is one of the most wonderful characters
4. I wrote this already, the final scene has been cut off! *sigh*
5. In the last part, Kitty says that she hopes her baby will be a girl, so that she can give her a different education from the one she has received. When I read that, I thought: "Haha, at the cinema it would be a boy, named after the father - actually supposed father". I've seen that too many times in the movies. I hoped so much this wouldn't happen in this movie. Unluckily, it happened :p
6. In hte movie Kitty ignores Charlie when she meets him again in China (in the book Hong Kong) after Walter's death. But well, since Kitty in the movie basically falls in love with Walter, which never happens in the book, this is not too surprising!!!

In spite of that, the movie is worth seeing.
The novel is not so popular, so if you don't care about reading a very good book, don't bother. If you do, just watch the movie forgetting the book.
Fall in love with Ed Norton's Walter, and cry for his death, and enjoy the photography. There are a few beautiful romantic scenes created for the movie (I like the scene of the piano very much!).
And, my very favourite scene in the book exists also in the movie!
I'm talking about the scene where she eats salad in Men-tan-fu, even if it's very dangerous, and then he eats it too. It's completely insane, perfect for Maya and Masumi! I got crazy when I read that part!!!

→ Highly recommended!
→ I also really love the soundtrack. Lang Lang rocks!!!