Review: Perfect Sense
PLOT: When a contagious disease seemingly steals away the sense of smell in Glasgow, a chef and a scientist discover a need for human connection. As the sickness begins to further deaden society, the two become lovers in spite of all their disappearing senses.
There is much that could be respected from the gloomy new film PERFECT SENSE (currently playing in limited engagement and available on VOD). Part love story and part science fiction, director David Mackenzie creates a somber and original tale of love, loss and paranoia. When two very different individuals - played by Ewan McGregor and Eva Green - fall in love, it is in the midst of a strange contagion. The epidemic begins with a deep depression followed by the victims’ sense of smell disappearing, the remaining four senses soon follow. Yet SENSE lingers on a very melancholy and subtle approach to the story. Unlike most films portraying a possible deadly outbreak, this is a slow and precise telling. We see this story through the eyes’ of Susan (Green) and Michael (McGregor) whose relationship grows as the infection spreads.
Mackenzie approaches his subject delicately, much like he did in his earlier collaboration with McGregor (the impressive YOUNG ADAM). While the sexual nature isn’t nearly as prominent as it was in ADAM, it still plays a major role in this modern romance. First off, the two lead characters are an odd pair as Susan is a scientist and Michael is a chef. They meet because he works at a restaurant across from her home. After the two professionals share a cigarette on their first meeting, the relationship begins to develop. However as they connect sexually, it makes for a unique – if not very convincing - pairing. This is one problem with SENSE, it is a task to really feel anything for these two as a couple. Theirs is a cold and implausible romance to be sure, even if both actors give fine performances.
The first half of PERFECT SENSE mostly fails to evoke much in the form of sympathy or interest partly due to the romantic angle. Although the failing human senses’ is a fascinating idea that is handled well enough, and Eva Green’s narration is quite compelling, it was difficult to remain involved. Yet somehow the last half comes together to create a disturbing and heartbreaking look at how much we rely on even the simple nature of smell triggering a memory. Imagine losing your sense of smell, taste, your hearing and so on. This is a frightening thought. Nonetheless, even with the promising last half, it never really takes you on the emotional journey that it could have. The final scene is certainly powerful though, as are a select group of moments that came before. It would have been a much more satisfying experience if Michael and Susan could have been a more believable couple.
The good news is that, while it wasn’t a complete success, it was certainly not a total failure. PERFECT SENSE is a risky romance that doesn’t necessarily choose the most audience friendly route, and that in itself is worthy of respect. The characters here are deeply flawed and for the most part, offer a more honest picture of humanity. The use of a series of montages to show how the infection spread are used to further the story as opposed to shock your senses. There is a low key element to this narrative much like what CHILDREN OF MEN offered, however this is not nearly as successful as Alfonso Cuarón’s brilliant feature.
Frankly, the one element that is near perfect is Eva Green in a very impressive performance. Her Susan is an honest and flawed woman placed in the midst of what could possibly be the end of the world. While it seems like a scientist would have more on her mind than dating and sex with the widespread loss of sense going on – and the fact that she and McGregor’s Michael don’t always work - she somehow manages to make it credible. You could even say that this odd pairing sort of makes sense with society falling to pieces. And it is her work that connected me to PERFECT SENSE, even if the film itself didn’t quite live up to its profound nature. As well shot and well acted as it may be, SENSE never really brought me to the emotional level it was seemingly searching for… and all my senses were intact.