This post includes a brief plot summary, an explanation about the ending of the film The Painted Veil (2006) and a relationship analysis between Walter and Kitty. Beware of spoilers.
Directed by John Curran, the 2006 drama is based on a 1925 novel of the same name written by W. Somerset Maugham. The film stars Edward Norton as Walter Fane and Naomi Watts as Kitty Fane. Today’s post is solely based on the film, not the novel.
The Painted Veil (2006) – Plot Summary
The story takes place in the 1920s. A bacteriologist named Walter Fane meets a woman named Kitty at a party in London. Shortly after, Walter proposes to Kitty. Although, she did not see it coming, Kitty agrees to marry him.
The newly-wed couple moves to Shanghai, because of Walter’s job. During a social event, Kitty meets Charlie Townsend, the British vice consul. They initiate an affair. Despite of seeing each other secretly, Walter eventually finds out about the affair.
Enraged, Walter informs Kitty that they must leave Shanghai immediately and move into a remote village in China plagued by cholera. Kitty refuses and Walter teases her. Then, he agrees to a quiet divorce, if Charlie leaves his wife to marry Kitty. That never happened as Kitty was just another fling for Charlie.
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Out of options, Kitty agrees to move and follow Walter. Their new house in the village is a far cry from their comfortable Shanghai residence. During their stay, Walter and Kitty barely speak to each other. Their unique relationship draws the attention of their neighbour Waddington.
After visiting an orphanage run by French nuns, Kitty decides to do some volunteer work. The nuns assign Kitty to teach music to the orphans. During her time at the orphanage, Kitty learns that Walter is very caring towards children. Learning that side of Walter made Kitty hate him less. On the other hand, Walter is actually surprised to see Kitty helping.
As time passes by, the couple learns how to forgive each other. The animosity between Kitty and Walter slowly fades away. After an intimate night with each other, Walter and Kitty reconcile. Shortly after, Kitty finds out that she’s pregnant. However, Kitty is not sure who is the father. Walter reassures Kitty and tells his wife that it doesn’t matter.
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The village has water supply again, thanks to Walter’s idea of building a system of aqueducts. Meanwhile, people from another cholera infested area force themselves into the village. In order to control the spread of the disease, they send the infected to another camp outside town. During this period, Walter contracts cholera. Kitty rushes to see Walter. Despite of her efforts to take care of him, Walter ends up passing away.
After Walter’s burial, Kitty decides to leave China. Five years later, Kitty and her son Walter are buying flowers. On her way out of the flower shop, Kitty runs into Charlie. He asks Kitty to meet up again, but she declines his invitation. Walter asks his mother who Charlie is and Kitty replies: “No one important, darling”.
The Painted Veil (2006) – Ending Explained
Although it’s easy to side with Walter and demonize Kitty’s adultery, it’s hard to say whose fault it was for how things ended. Having said that, let’s first analyse Kitty and Walter’s relationship. Then, let’s discuss who is father of that child.
WALTER AND KITTY – RELATIONSHIP ANALYSIS
So it’s very clear that Kitty did not marry Walter for love. However, Walter knew that. The man married Kitty with hopes that one she would love him back. In the end, Kitty learned how to love Walter, but cholera took him away.
If Walter was such a good man, why didn’t Kitty love him from day one? Like many, Kitty had her own ideals about romantic love. Sadly for Walter, he wasn’t exactly her dream man. Someone like Charlie was closer to Kitty’s fantasy. However, reality hit her really hard and the man turned out to be such a let down.
Kitty’s affair with Charlie taught her a big lesson: never fall for sweet talkers. It was foolish of Kitty to believe that a man like Charlie would ever leave his wife to be with her.
Although Kitty was naive, Walter was not. He knew exactly what type of man Charlie was. Therefore, Walter never had any intentions of divorcing Kitty. Although, the bacteriologist gave Kitty the option of persuading Charlie to divorce his wife, he knew that would never happen. In a way, Walter was trying to open Kitty’s eyes, but also humiliate her.
Walter taking Kitty to a small village infested with cholera was indeed extreme. On the outside, it seems like Walter is just punishing Kitty. However, Walter is not only mad at Kitty for cheating on him. The man is also angry at himself for believing that Kitty would change her feelings after the marriage.
Why did Kitty cheat on Walter? Calling Kitty a spoiled brat is just one way to see things. Women like Kitty didn’t have many options at that time. In order to support herself financially, her only option was to marry someone that had a job. That person happened to be Walter. Despite of living a comfortable life beside Walter, there was something missing in Kitty’s marriage: an exciting love life. As she didn’t find it in Walter, Kitty decided to look somewhere else.
Charlie Townsend was in many ways, an escape for Kitty. There she was having an affair with a handsome man, who showers her with gifts and compliments. Their fling was doomed from the start, because it was nothing more than a fantasy. In reality, Charlie was never going to leave his wife for Kitty. Deep down, Kitty knew it.
In a way, it was easier for Kitty to believe that Charlie would one day divorce Dorothy. Why? That belief lessens her guilt of cheating on Walter. If Charlie leaves his wife, then Kitty’s actions would sort of have a “righteous” justification: to be with Charlie, the man who Kitty thought she loved.
What Walter did to Kitty is pretty bad too. Basically, the man took his cheating wife to the worst place possible just to punish her. In addition, to make things worse: Walter avoids Kitty at all costs. This type of behaviour hurts way more than calling Kitty ugly names: Walter is denying his wife’s own existence.
As one can see, Walter and Kitty went from being in a non existing relationship to a toxic one. What Kitty did to Walter was wrong, but what Walter did to Kitty is also bad. Thankfully, both were able to let go of their past mistakes. Walter truly forgave Kitty. Even without knowing whether he was the biological father of Kitty’s baby or not, Walter agreed to raise that child together. That’s true love. On the other hand, Kitty also took care of Walter until he passed away. She didn’t have to, but Kitty did it because she loved her man.
WHO IS THE FATHER?
The film never mentions who is the biological father of Walter Jr. but there are some hints that it might be Walter’s.
When Kitty ran into Charlie Townsend at the flower shop, she did not flinch. If that man was the father, she would’ve agreed to meet him again, at least to tell him that Walter Jr is his. However, that did not happen.
Another strong evidence that Charlie is not the father: when Walter Jr. asked who Charlie was, Kitty replied: “no one important”. That says a lot. Therefore, these tiny details points towards the following: Walter was indeed the father of the child. If that’s the case, then the ending of “The Painted Veil” is a bit less depressing. Although, Walter was no longer in Kitty’s life, there was a part of him that will always stay with her.
“The Painted Veil” hits differently when you watch it during different stages of your life. When I first watched it, I thought that Kitty was a foolish woman who didn’t know how to value a good man. Then, the second time I watched it, I was able to see why Kitty did it. Although, I do not condone adultery, I can now see the events from Kitty’s point of view.
As I said before, it’s very easy to vilify Kitty’s actions and put Walter on a moral pedestal. However, Walter is not exactly a victim either. He also made a mistake: marrying Kitty and knowing that she didn’t love him back. Having said that, the sum of many wrong decisions led the characters to that sad ending.
Walter is a man that keeps his feelings to himself, including his frustration. So, when we see Walter ignoring Kitty, he’s actually punishing himself. When Kitty cheated on him, that really hurt Walter’s ego. She messed up his pride and Walter decided to retaliate by taking her to the middle of nowhere.
Overall, “The Painted Veil” is a very interesting film to watch. Edward Norton and Naomi Watts gave amazing performances. Despite of its long duration (about 2 hours), there isn’t one single dull moment in the entire film. In addition, “The Painted Veil” depicts the struggles of married couples in a very realistic manner. Not everything is a bed of roses between Kitty and Walter. By the way, loving someone is not enough to make them love you back. In a way, Kitty did not owe Walter her love just because he loved her.
Going through the entire film really gives the viewer more insights about what went wrong in Kitty and Walter’s marriage. Having said that, “The Painted Veil” is one of those films that are meant to be watched more than once.