The totem of the microscope: Film Review of A Painted Veil

The film engenders ethnocentricism, white mans burden and colonialism quite well, despite it bring pitched as romance. I am mainly focussing on the part of the film that takes place in the village with cholera.

Unfortunately the way the film is delivered makes you realise that it does not seem to be of aware of the stereotypes it celebrates as hallmarks of the aforementioned ‘isms’.

On the other hand scenes such as the absurd reality of those that ride on manually carried chairs does cast a little question of whether there might be a sneaky subversive element. Unfortunately the film as a whole leads to the conclusion that even these stark realities are not realised for what they are, all the worse for their poryrayal then.

The dialogue between the two main characters is excruiating in its constant contradictions, which again might be seen as depictions of the absurd reality. For example when both characters have a conversation about the complexity of the situations they are handling but then the male character puts both his and the womans thoughts ‘in place’ by proposing the opposite of appreciating these complexities. This is somewhat ironic as it represents an illogical train of thought by the depicted scientist. Unfortunately this does not seem to be something the filmmaker is aware of.

What I did learn from this film is that it acted as an allegory for how some ways of life have developed to understand the multi-implicatedness of the bigger context in local life in contrast to the directally causal approach to understanding events in life (e.g. why cholera is killing people and respecting the dead). In neither case do these ways of understanding need to be self-conscious for this to occur.

Ultimately the lesson of the film then is not to engage in the hubris of disregarding what appears to be the stupidity of another way of understanding the world, but undetstanding why and how it works and in doing so realising that what your doing may also appear stupid.