Perfect Sense an Under-appreciated Film

Be among the tens who have seen this film! 

Directed by David MacKenzie
Scottish Screen, 92 mins. R (full frontal nudity and sensuality)
* * * *

Perfect Sense was a hit at Sundance and nowhere else; it bombed at the box office in both the United States and Britain, where it was released. Too bad, because it’s a very well acted and provocative film, despite several shortcomings.

There’s no getting away from the fact that Perfect Sense is ultimately a depressing film. It’s a science fiction romance set in the near future, one in which Armageddon unfolds slowly and mysteriously. Across the globe people experience sudden, violent temper tantrums and then lose their sense of smell. As in all such films, the scientific community is baffled by what it labels S.O.S. (Severe Olfactory Syndrome). Susan (the scrumptious and sexy Eva Green) is a Glasgow epidemiologist, one of many who are clueless about what causes S.O.S. Just outside of her apartment, Michael (the hunky Ewan McGregor) has a different dilemma; he’s the head chef of an upscale restaurant and he, his boss (Denis Lawson), and his food artist assistant James (Ewen Bremmer) worry about the financial future of a business in which aromas matter almost as much as how the food feels in the mouth. Michael, as it turns out, is a man of other hearty appetites; he’s a serial womanizer as well as a master chef.

One can, of course, predict that he and Susan will become an item, but this is not your conventional good-girl-tames-rogue picture. The two will be thrown together as much by a desire to retain a balance between passion and normality as by animal magnetism. As it turns out, loss of smell is just the outside leaf of the apocalyptic iceberg lettuce. It’s followed by mass outbreaks of sheer terror, followed by insatiable hunger, then loss of taste. So what does one do in a world without smell or taste? What do humans generally do in the face of tragedy? They seek routine and pattern. Thus Michael continues to consult his recipes, and James lovingly crafts each plate that leaves the kitchen, though neither cooks nor patrons can do other than feel the food and drink upon their tongues.  By this time, though, Susan and Michael have quite a lot of tongue action of their own on their private menus.

If only loss of smell and taste were the end of the bad news! But, of course, it isn’t. Waves of worldwide sadness bring deafness; momentary eruptions of bliss give way to blindness. All that is left is touch, which we presume to be the “perfect sense,” though one can’t hold out a lot of hope for a planet filled with humans who have no way of communicating, let alone farming, hunting, or foraging. I presume we’re supposed to muse upon how the world we live in overloads our other senses to the degree that we’re both figuratively and literally “out of touch” with one another, though I give director David MacKenzie credit for not moralizing, sorting out, or gift-wrapping an ending for us. I would yield to anyone who said the film is manipulative, but one can’t escape musing upon how the world would cope with catastrophic loss, or what one would cling to if all else was lost.

Green and McGregor are both terrific, and there’s real frisson and electricity between them. Okay, so you watch this film and wobble away off your stride because it’s unlikely that anyone lives for very much longer, let alone happily ever after. Still, you’ll be thinking about what you’ve seen and what it made you feel for days afterward, which is quite a bit more than can be said for 99% of the goes-down-easy pabulum we’re fed these days. My only beef is with critics that have heaped praise upon Danish writer Kim Fupz Aakeson, who blatantly expanded upon the central premise of Portuguese novelist José Saramago’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Blindness (1995). I kept waiting for some acknowledgement of inspiration, but none was forthcoming. As I warn students, changing a few details but pirating another’s major idea is plagiarism unless you give credit. So a thumb’s up for the film, but a raspberry to Aakeson.--Rob Weir


Anonymous said...

Is it mandatory to warn people of full frontal nudity and sensuality? I'd have thought this was to be welcomed. In humans as well!

Phoenix Brown & Lars Vigo said...

It's a good idea to warn people in case they have kids they need to tuck into bed before viewing. The kiddies will find out about all of this, but it's best if they discover it in due time rather than via a shock.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes I forgot - you internet TV folk are absent from cinemas now. I have an answer thouugh - Ethel Merman! The universal cure for art house dependency.