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Perfect Sense (A Movie Review)


Starring Ewan McGregor, Eva Green, Stephen Dillane, Ewen Bremner, Connie Nielsen, Denis Lawson, Alastair Mackenzie, Liz Strange, Richard Mack, James Watson, Caroline Paterson, Shabana Akhtar Bakhsh, Malcolm Shields, Adam Smith and Duncan Airlie James.

Screenplay by Kim Fupz Aaekson.

Directed by David Mackenzie.

Distributed by IFC Films. 92 minutes. Not Rated.

Virulent contagious diseases spreading across the Earth and wreaking havoc with the population is a pretty standard storyline in the science fiction and horror genres. You could probably name at least a dozen of these films – in which the filmmakers try to scare the bejesus out of us with a plague which decimates the planet – in just the past decade. However, I can’t off the top of my head think of a time when this storyline was used as the basis for an arty, existential love story.

Until now.

In Perfect Sense, the plague is not so much a concrete threat as it is a symbolic representation of man’s disconnect with his other man. At least, I think that’s what it is supposed to be – the movie can be a little obscure.

It is also the driving force that connects two extremely damaged, cut-off human beings and finally allows them to experience: what? Love? Compassion? The need for human contact? Dependence? Mutual interests?

Well, all of these – and yet at the same time, none at all.

It’s just one of those movies.

Perfect Sense takes a potentially fascinating idea but cannot quite connect with it. It simmers where a film about the potential destruction of the human race should burn.

In fact, it takes a good hour into the film before the disease even takes on a sense of dread. This is not one of those normal plagues where people start spitting up blood in the street and dying. The symptoms here are much more subtle and much more slow-moving – they go in stages and normally allow weeks to pass between the different outbreaks.

What the outbreak essentially does in Perfect Sense is rather chilling though. First, everyone in the world has a short-lived-but-exceedingly violent emotional outburst. Then, one by one, the condition robs all the humans in the entire world of each of their senses.

Now, that is a scary thought. And yet, the film paces its revelations in such a way that the audience quickly gets into a mindset – like the characters – of reluctant acceptance. Oh, damn, they can’t smell? Well, that sucks, but I guess you can survive that. It takes over a half hour before the second sense – taste – is removed from the human race. Even worse, still hard to imagine, but I suppose people could eventually learn to live that way, too.

Of course our main character, Michael (Ewan McGregor) is pretty much out of luck, because he is a professional chef. If people can’t smell or taste his food, they can eat anything anywhere, and what does it really matter?

Well, for the purposes of the film, nutrition doesn’t really seem to come into play. Food, like most things in this movie, is there for its sensual qualities, not for its dietetic values. In fact, during one scene, the main couple becomes slightly hysterical from their situation and impulsively eats some shaving cream and soap just because they can’t taste the difference. Still, just because you can’t taste something does not mean that it can’t be bad for you or even potentially poison you.

Mike’s partner in eating health & beauty aids is Susan (Eva Green), a gorgeous woman who lives across the alley from the restaurant – and who happens to be one of the main scientists investigating the conditions. She’s also just as emotionally cut off as he is, so naturally they fall into a passionate-but-tempestuous affair.

The third sense to vanish – hearing – is over an hour into the movie, and only then does the concept take on the gravity it is striving for. However, at that long-gestated point, either you are on board with the film or not. I suspect that Perfect Sense will have lost much of its audience well before this eventual revelation.

Everything leading up to it – including the love story – is so dark and detached that it becomes a bit hard to warm up to. The movie poster pointedly exclaims “Without love there is nothing,” but through most of the film, “nothing” appears to be winning. Mike and Susan have so many ups and downs – some due to the disease, but just as many due to their own massive personal hang-ups – that it becomes a bit hard to get a rooting interest for them as a couple. We can never quite get a handle on whether their relationship is due to love or if they are merely clinging together in the face of overwhelming odds. Would this couple really be together if the human race were not experiencing a potentially catastrophic shift?

I can’t say for sure I have an answer to this question, and this uncertainty undermines the entire basis for the movie. Perfect Sense is a very smart and harrowing film, but it is not necessarily an engaging film (and, yes, even pitch-black looks at the world can be engaging.)

Instead, Perfect Sense feels more like an academic exercise. It is a sometimes very smart academic exercise, but still rather cold and clinical about a story that is trying to be passionately moving and desperately important to the human condition.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2012 All rights reserved. Posted: February 3, 2012.


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