"Sometimes the Greatest Journey is the Distance Between Two People"

Kitty a naive, yet intelligent, middle class young woman is living in China.   She lives in a colonial house with her family and at a dance meets clinical, astute MD bacteriologist who is on a research assignment in China.  He falls instantly in love with her, knowing that she is spoiled, yet he senses something within her that has not yet had the chance to be free. Perhaps because of the constraints of her restricting environment.  This leads her to dally pretentiously and mock others within the limitations that have been imposed upon her.  Walter approaches Kitty and there is an awkward exchange, in which Walter asks her to marry him.  Being taken aback at the sudden proposal she is not quite sure how to answer. Not yet knowing her own mind, she accepts and they live together in relative indifference to each other.  They do not yet understand the unknown territory that is to be explored within themselves and between each other.  Kitty, trying to stimulate conversation between them, receives often cold responses from Walter.  He is interested in little of what she has to say in comparison to the complexities of his scientific research.  
   They`re invited out by another married couple to the theatre in Shanghai.  Charles Townsend, a British vice consul sits with her, seemingly translating the Chinese from the woman performing before her eyes.  He whispers into her ear a tale of woe for the love never felt in a loveless marriage.  Kitty, gullible as she is, thinks that her story is indeed what is being spoken. She asks him if it is true, to which Charles replies that he hasn`t a clue about the Chinese language.  This charms her and seduces her further into believing that he not only knows her plight, but also that he understands her.  This, often being woman`s greatest desire: to be understood.  Foolishly, not knowing herself, she believes his perception of her reality instantly, looking only outside of herself for a mirror and not looking within.
     Having presented this false mirror to her, she trusts Charles Towsend implicitly, before even trusting herself and her own perception.  To this end, she believes herself in love with him and she lets him into her life, not knowing that he is seducing her for his own pleasure and has no intention of taking it further beyond his own ego.  Kitty has moments of clarity, knowing this deep down, but Towsend, selfishly has her believing that his intentions are pure, confusing her in her naivety.  
     Walter discovers their affair, when he comes to her room to deliver a present to Kitty, ironically enough, finally facing and expressing his feelings in a note saying that he misses her.  Realising on the other side of the door that she is with Townsend, instead of coming in, he leaves them and the present outside.  Only later does he confront her with the affair when she tries to hide it.  To which she claims that they are in love.  Knowing Townsend`s ways, Walter thinks this is ridiculous.  He had asked her to accompany her further into rural China because of a cholera epidemic, which had left the Chinese doctor dead.  To this request she had refused, instead asking him for a quiet divorce on the condition that Townsend leaves his wife and marries her.  When she suggests this to Townsend he refuses and his seduction motivations become all too clear. Kitty returns to Walter who is hardly surprised by Townsend`s response.  Kitty asks to accompany him to where he will help find a solution to the cholera epidemic to which he mockingly accepts from her.  Here begins a painful, yet moving exploration of Walter and Kitty`s shortcomings and realization of their own repetitive mistakes that have been keeping them apart.  
     Walter takes Kitty the longest way overland, through the unbearable heat of China instead of by river, in a way to punish her.  Again Kitty is unaware of alternative routes he could have taken her upon until she meets their neighbour, Waddington. He is the British Deputy Commissioner that has been posted there and is surprised that they ventured overland in such heat.  She realises that Walter has been testing her patience and endurance.
     Walter begins his research with detached arrogance.  Almost immediately after facing Cholera in reality, he has a nauseous physical reaction that catches him off guard.  Meanwhile, Kitty, alone for hours in the house, longs for love and imagines that Townsend is still in love with her.  Writing a letter to him, she sets out to post it, through Waddington who has contacts to deliver post to Shanghai.  Through a conversation with Waddington, who knows Townsend, she is confronted with the fact that he is indeed just concerned with flirtations and little else.  Realising her own foolishness she rips up the letter.
    Walter, simultaneously discovers that the town`s well is contaminated and directs the people to gather water from the river, much to the anger of the people because they have to carry the water further and disrupts their rural ways.  He tries to ignore this and instead focuses his attention instead on the scientific benefits.  They are both alone dealing with their own weaknesses.  Kitty, with her need to get love from the outside. As well as the lack of faith and doubt in her own self perception, intuition and intelligence; Walter, with his singular focus on scientific research, often ignoring his more compassionate side that is welling beneath the surface, that he dare not let out due to fear. 
   Kitty is invited to come to the convent where some French nuns are helping the sick and teaching orphans.  Here she finds some respite from her loneliness teaching the children music.  She learns of Walter`s tenderness coming to tend to babies with cholera at the convent, beyond his normal duties.  However, Walter is still struggling with the town people.  Ignoring their spiritual practices in favour of scientific methods, he is only concerned to protect them from getting further contaminated.  What he is perhaps failing to recognize is that if you just impose western scientific methods into a place that has years and years of tradition embedded within their cultural consciousness, you will be confronted with resistance and conflict.  New scientific methods and apparatus for sanitation need collaboration, cooperation and respect and knowledge of their traditions so that an understanding can be reached.  However, failing to see this, he reaches an argumentative impasse.   Finally there is nothing else that he can do except find ways of not only cooperation with the Chinese nationalists, but also a way in which he can make life easier for the townspeople and their rural ways. After an honest talk with Kitty, they finally relax in each other`s presence. She reminds him of his fascination with the Venice canal and the water system, which eventually leads him to build a waterwheel, so that they can gather fresher water from the river that flows down bamboo shoots he builds, so that the rural people don`t have to walk as far to retrieve the water.  With this he is able to find peace with them, as gradually they are beginning to see how he is adapting his scientific methods to their cultural practices and rural environment.
 Later at night, they trying to relax in the intense night heat by drinking and listening to music in Waddington`s house. Kitty learns of Waddington`s true love for his partner who is native Chinese.  Kitty is further confronted with her own prejudices, thinking that Waddington was just amusing his Chinese lover instead of having sincere love for her.  It is through Waddington`s honesty that she is able to continue seeing beyond her own limitations.  Walter similarly begins to see past his and they find each other.  The following day, Walter allows her into his world.  Walter shows her the water wheel and how he`s built it half mile in some places.  With the strength of some Chinese military that had been educated and see the good that Walter is trying to do, it seems as if things are getting better, but the perfection that he has been trying so hard to create starts to crack apart again when the next town arrive with Cholera looking for help, risking contaminating the town that was finally getting sanitized. 
    Walter goes to help the refugee camp and quickly falls ill with cholera.  Kitty rushes to nurse him.  Walter, warns her that it is going to get much worse. She insists to stay and remains by his side as  he looses all water from his body and begins to die through dehydration.  Walter`s final words "Forgive me", to which Kitty replies "There is nothing to forgive.  I´m sorry."
    In London five years later, with her son,  Charles Townsend recognises her in the street.  Greeting him politely, but indifferently he tries to invite her out, but she stops him mid-sentence and confidently says  "Goodbye Mr. Townsend". 
   Even though their time was short-lived, Walter and Kitty found courage and strength to accept their weakness, forgive themselves and each other and in doing so were able to, together, go beyond themselves, learning from each other and unlocking each others intelligence and kindness that helped so many others.

The Painted Veil( 2006) Director: John Curran, Screenplay: Ron Nyswaner.  Based on the 1925 novel: The Painted Veil W. Somerset Maugham