“Life will go on . . . it has to.”
The H-Bomb: A mysterious epidemic has been causing people to gradually lose their senses. The first to go is the sense of smell, then their sense of taste, followed by their hearing . . . and you get the picture. Right before a person loses his or her sense of smell, they break down crying from overwhelming sadness and despair, and it is soon learned that the loss of each sense is preceded by some extreme feeling of emotion. Much like the infertility that plagued mankind in Children of Men, nobody knows what’s causing this virus (if it even is a virus), how it’s being spread, and especially how to go about stopping it. It would seem that the end, as they say, is nigh.
In the midst of this epidemic, there’s a scientist named Susan (Eva Green), who becomes aware of the virus fairly early on, and Michael (Ewan McGregor), a chef at an upscale restaurant who sees the business dwindle to nothing as more and more people are unable to smell and taste the food. They both have a tendency to keep people at a distance, emotionally, and neither one of them has ever truly been in love . . . that is, until they meet each other. Their relationship starts out with a bummed smoke and some awkward flirting. But soon their romance begins to blossom, even as the world around them falls apart. Even as they lose their senses, one by one, they remain there for each other.
That, in essence, is what Perfect Sense is, an apocalyptic love story. A film about two people who finally meet their soul mates, when sadly, it’s too late. We get glimpses of how this plague is affecting people on a mass scale the world over, but mainly the focus is kept on Susan and Michael, and how they are dealing with it. Michael, the optimist, thinks that this too shall pass and everything will go back to normal. Susan, the scientist, the realist, knows better. She sees what’s happening, and has a pretty clear, and grim, idea of how it’s going to end. Yet, despite that, she and Michael are able to enjoy some amount of happiness together, before the shit really starts hitting the fan (when people start going deaf).
In terms of its tone, Perfect Sense reminded me a lot of Never Let Me Go, another under-seen film I reviewed sometime last year. They both are understated and share a similar feeling of melancholy that constantly looms over the romance. Much like Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield in Never Let Me Go, Michael and Susan’s love for each other is very real, but deep down they know that it’s doomed, that it has no future. It’s the tragedy that we feel for these characters that drove it home and left me genuinely moved when the story reached its poignant climax.
Of course, that the film features two flawless lead performances by McGregor and Green doesn’t hurt, either. Despite the film’s dour nature, McGregor, who remains upbeat through most of it, shows his easy smile and is allowed to be as charismatic and likeable as he’s ever been. Green is absolutely outstanding as a cerebral woman who lets her emotional guard down as the disease progresses and society crumbles. If there’s any actress out there who can play both emotional and cerebral convincingly, it’s her. She and McGregor play off each other perfectly, further cementing the sincerity of their romance.
Director David Mackenzie gives the film a grey, gloomy look, which really helps in setting the somber mood of the piece. He also employs some effective, if obvious, tricks with the sound once people start losing their sense of hearing. His montage of people disgustingly gorging themselves before losing their sense of taste was effective in forcing me to avert my eyes at least a couple of times. If nothing else, this is the only film I’ve ever seen in which a person is shown eating lipstick.
Is there anything to keep you away from Perfect Sense? Well, like any film dealing with the end of days, it is, with some moments of levity aside, a pretty bleak, depressing journey. Films like this are just not going to be everyone’s bag, and that’s fine. I can only enjoy this kind of apocalyptic tale so much, myself. It‘s not as relentlessly downbeat as say, The Road, but in all likelihood it will not brighten your day.
However, if you are interested in a different kind of end of the world film, told on an intimate scale from a unique angle, or those yearning for an intelligent romantic film in this (soon to be post-) Twilight age, should definitely go out of their way to see Perfect Sense. It just makes perfect sense . . . sorry.