By Brian Lafferty
February 27, 2012 (San Diego) – Perfect Sense starts out innocently. After it creeps up on you, it snowballs with emotional intensity before hitting you with maximum impact. It subverts every Disease of the Week and End of the World cliché, resulting in a fresh script additionally laden with originality. It opened my mind to new possibilities.
Eva Green is Susan, a pretty scientist asked to examine a patient who inexplicably lost his sense of smell. Other similar cases have been reported around Europe. No big deal, it seems. Maybe it’ll pass.
She meets Michael (Ewan McGregor), a cook whose restaurant resides near her flat, and the two fall in love. That love is tested, however, when all of civilization loses their senses one by one. First smell, then taste, then hearing, and finally sight.
What differentiates Perfect Sense from disease movies like Outbreak is its shunning of highly pumped-up suspense, hyperbolic harbingers of doom, and stock characters. It’s not a criticism of Outbreak, a movie that I admire. I’m saying the approach is different and unique. There’s more mystery and curiosity than panic. The film’s characters and its tone are calm and peaceful.
Why is this? Mankind’s ability to adapt. The disease doesn’t kill. When people lose their hearing, they find new ways to communicate. People experience new sensations or uncover dormant ones that they would never thought of using. I wondered how I would have adapted if I could no longer smell or hear. It’s merely one of the many benefits of writer Kim Fupz Aakeson’s thorough and incisive exploration of this premise.
Notwithstanding the film’s less-than-doomful tone, cinematographer Giles Nuttgens soaks the film with bleak, somewhat desaturated blue-greenish and cool colors; little warm colors are present. He adds dark tones and deep shadows to the interiors. Composer Max Richter’s melancholy strings and piano further add to the pleasant paradox.
In disease films, an outbreak will invariably cause people to act in ways they normally wouldn’t. Perfect Sense is no exception, but there’s something in Aakeson’s script, director David Mackenzie’s cinematic vision, and Jake Robert’s deft editing that indelibly etched certain moments in my mind.
Prominent among them is when mankind is deprived of its ability to taste. Preceding this loss is an abrupt insatiable hunger; everyone gets so famished, they feast on literally anything they can put in their mouths, regardless of whether or not it’s edible or safe to eat.
Among the gluttons are restaurant workers guzzling hot sauce, cooking oil, and mustard; fishery workers consuming their raw catches; people shoveling heaping mouthfuls of beans into their mouths; a laboratory worker with the eyes of a hungry wolf about to eat a live rabbit; a woman ingesting lipstick; and a butcher shop worker wolfing down raw venison.
Editor Jake Roberts rapidly assembles this montage in a shocking, harrowing, and disgusting fashion. He emphasizes the temporary transformation from human to irrational savage beast. Roberts then succeeds this sequence of shots with a slower-paced set of these people returning to a new normal…a world without taste.
Perfect Sense is Ewan McGregor’s second great love story in as many years, the other being 2011's Beginners. It’s genuinely touching and romantic. It’s a love that has the same heart-melting qualities as the one McGregor and Melanie Laurent’s characters enjoyed in Beginners. That it successfully withstands the onslaughts it faces is a testament to its robustness.
The ending, in which everyone is about to lose their sense of sight, is one of the best and most perfect that I’ve seen in recent years. I won’t reveal it except to say that it has stayed with me to this day. It could not have been any better constructed, built up, and acted. It shows that even when the world ends, it doesn’t have to end on a bad, gloomy note. It’s a powerful emotional contrast to such a cataclysmic event.
Perfect Sense is currently playing at the Reading Gaslamp.
An IFC Films release. Director: Andrew Mackenzie. Screenplay: Kim Fupz Aakeson. Original Music: Max Richter. Cinematography: Giles Nuttgens. Cast: Ewan McGregor and Eva Green. 92 minutes. Unrated.