The spoiled little rich girl is under pressure from her parents to get married, or risk becoming cut off from their wealth. The problem is, Kitty (played by Naomi Watts) is, in addition to spoiled, shallow and pretentious. No suitor is good enough for her, because she can't possibly love anyone as much as she loves herself.
Dr. Walter Fane, played by the always great Edward Norton, falls for her despite the obvious character flaws. Emotionally distant and intelligent, Fane is the polar opposite of Kitty. Regardless, he talks her into marriage in much the same way he'd negotiate where they might have dinner later that evening: he appeals to her sense of logic, and she accepts.
Theirs is a strained relationship that ultimately becomes rather hopeless. Until, that is, Dr. Fane and Kitty become heavily involved in trying to cure a cholera epidemic in rural China, during the late 1920s. Observing her husband through the eyes of those he's trying to help gives Kitty a new perspective, and helps her discover respect and develop love for her husband.
The Painted Veil is a perfect illustration of how we humans choose our perspective and our outlook on life, and how we can lead a life of meaning under any circumstances.
My friend from The Goat Rope talks about this existential theory in a terrific post from November.
The Painted Veil was shot mostly in China and shows such beautiful scenery, a contrast which makes even more obvious the misery most of the humans who live in this region of the world endure. The film is less a love story than a story of acceptance.
But it's a terrific, well written story with great acting and an important message.