David Mackenzie’s Perfect Sense is a twist on both thriller and love story as a couple find each other while the world around them crumbles, sense by sense.
Sense and Sensibility by Laura Bennett
CAUTION: Here be spoilers.
Set in Glasgow, Perfect Sense, the love story, begins like any other. Susan, played by the almost supernaturally beautiful Eva Green has been recently hurt and is ready to give up on love. Michael, Ewan McGregor, plays fast and loose, picking up girls in clubs and casting them aside without even allowing them the luxury of a good night’s sleep. A chance meeting between the pair ignites a spark; it’s all fairly standard stuff, albeit played with a haunting, delicate touch.
Beginning as a challenge flummoxing epidemiologist Susan during her working day as distraught lorry drivers check themselves in to hospital confused by a sudden onset of perplexing symptoms, it quickly becomes apparent that something unprecedented is happening. Across the world in apparently unrelated incidents people are being struck down by a brief moment of utter grief and despair, followed by the loss of their sense of smell. There are no other, more serious symptoms and the “condition” is swiftly and arbitrarily defined by the authorities as Severe Olfactory Syndrome, SOS.
The world draws a blank and speculation is rife. Is it terrorism? An environmental breakdown? The capitalist system trying to stimulate the flagging economy? All these suggestions are offered by the liltingly poetic Scottish narrator by means of a persistent voiceover. Susan and Michael are also inevitably struck by the illness, finding comfort in each other as the misery hits.
Eventually the initial onslaught of the disease diminishes and the world begins to come to terms with an aroma-free world. Scientists are stumped, Susan’s place of work seems unable to offer any constructive suggestions but people begin to cope, compensating by leaning more heavily on the remaining four senses. Even the restaurant in which chef Michael works is resilient and it begins to fill up again with hungry olfactorily-challenged diners, keen to get back into the outside world after fear-induced confinement.
As life begins to return to normal another violent development rapidly takes hold. Extreme but short-lived paranoia and fear strike, followed by a ravenous hunger that makes up one of the film’s most memorable scenes as the cast are seen guzzling and gorging on anything and everything that may or may not be edible. Again, after this insatiable appetite abates another sense has gone – taste.
As before there is much speculation but society adapts and even Michael’s restaurant is eventually reborn through focussing on the appearance and textures of food. Michael and Susan’s love story develops as their relationship deepens. They spend more and more time together, unable to bear being parted. In spite of the changing world around them they enjoy each other, laughing and joking at the novelty of gnawing on flavour-less soap, dancing in underground nightclubs and sharing deeply-buried secrets.
Despite Susan’s vain hope that smell and taste are both chemical and that the sensory deprivation may not snowball any further, there is an unmistakable sense of foreboding that pervades all the lovers’ pleasure in each other. Reports eventually begin to come in of a moment of rage and shouting being followed by extreme hearing loss being experienced across the world. Any attempts at social adaptability, or attempts to remain calm in the midst of chaos, are finally cast aside and society begins to meltdown – riot police are sent out onto the streets, looting and fires take hold, the deaf are quarantined in their houses with meals delivered by workers in contamination suits.
Michael and Susan are parted by the chaos, Michael’s moment of rage having been directed at Susan causing her to flee, the breakdown of their relationship mirroring the pandemonium at large. Deafness takes over everything; the film’s soundtrack is deafeningly silent, dragging the audience into the blankness of the new world order in a way that is highly disorientating.
Silent but for the questioning narrator’s voice Perfect Sense draws to its conclusion. Families try to reunite as people try to learn sign language. Desperate to be near their loved ones Michael and Susan set out to find each other across the seemingly war-torn city. As they do this desperation subsides and the screen begins to go fuzzy as sight is challenged. Finally meeting up where they started, Michael and Susan blindly embrace, able only to cling onto the powerful love that binds them.
Perfect Sense is a Wellsian vision. It challenges the fears and preoccupations of modern-day society, only to ultimately return to the strength of human bonds and emotions. Highly evocative and thought provoking, it’s a film that lingers long in the senses.
Perfect Sense is released in the UK on October 7th 2011