By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on February 18, 2012)
David Mackenzie’s post-apocalyptic drama, Perfect Sense tackles the age-old question: Can a chef and an epidemiologist find meaningful, lasting love in the wake of a pandemic that is insidiously and systematically robbing every human on Earth of their five senses? I don’t know about you, but I’ve lost count of all of the sleepless nights I’ve had contemplating that scenario…or is it just me?
Alright, fellow hypochondriacs, listen up. According to screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson, it starts like this: A spontaneous onset of melancholia and despair, followed by uncontrollable weeping; after which you realize that (sniff, sniff) you have lost your sense of smell. Then, days (maybe weeks, maybe months) later, a spontaneous onset of fear and paranoia, turning into the worst panic attack imaginable. This is immediately followed by an insatiably ravenous hunger; you grab anything that’s handy and looks edible (from lipstick to pet rabbits) and stuff it in your mouth. Then, you realize you have lost your sense of taste. Then…well, you get the idea.
It appears that Patient Zero resides somewhere in Scotland. That’s what brings an epidemiologist (Eva Green) to a Glasgow lab to help analyze the data as more cases pop up. Fate and circumstance conspire to place her and a local chef (Ewan McGregor) together on the particular evening where they both suffer the initial emotional breakdown that signals the onset of the disease. As they have “taken leave” of their senses in tandem, they begin, naturally, to fall in love (there is lots of room for metaphor in this narrative).
Since this is a malady with a relatively leisurely incubation, people do have a certain (if indeterminate) amount of time to adjust to each progressive sensory deficit. Also (if you can make it over the hump of that suicidal despair part), it isn’t necessarily what one would call a “death sentence”. That’s what makes this film unique in an already overcrowded genre. While there’s still an understandable sense of urgency to find a cure, the question is not so much “can the human race be saved?” but rather “can the human race make lemonade out of this lemon?” I suppose your chances for survival would hinge on how you answer the old “half-empty or half-full” conundrum.
As far as any “takeaway” goes, there are likely to be as many interpretations as there are viewers of this film. I mean that in the most positive way; that’s the beauty of it. The director and the screenwriter do an admirable job of suggesting possible philosophical and sociopolitical reverberations that could result from such a scenario, without getting too heavy-handed. The film is strikingly photographed by cinematographer Giles Nuttgens.
Most central to the film’s appeal, however, are McGregor and Green, who deliver performances that are at once broodingly intense and deeply compassionate. There’s great supporting work as well, particularly from Denis Lawson and McGregor’s Trainspotting alum Ewen Bremner (retaining his crown as the most unintelligible Scot in the history of sound films). See it, while all your senses are intact.