Review: Perfect Sense (2011)

Director: David McKenzie

***

It’s typical, isn’t it? You meet a highly attractive member of the opposite sex and the world starts crashing down around you. Romances set against the backdrop of disaster have come and gone, but the hypotheticals in Perfect Sense show how a worldwide catastrophe can impact on just one relationship. Don’t expect Titanic-style melodrama; it’s the tangibility factor that gives this one its edge.

Susan (Eva Green) is an epidemiologist in Glasgow who’s assisting with research into a quickly-spreading disease that causes its victims to break down with overwhelming grief and then, as soon as they stop crying, lose their ability to smell. Around the same time Susan meets Michael (Ewan McGregor), a chef whose restaurant is feeling the effects as the smell-bereft stay away. At first, the mutual attraction and affection helps Michael and Susan overcome the loss of their sense of smell. It’s only when the sense of taste follows, and the inevitable chain of sensory deprivation becomes a greater threat, that cracks begin to appear. Marrying sci-fi and romance in some sort of even balance is not easy, so fair dues to writer Kim Fupz Aakeson for giving both the love story and the disaster element room to breathe. The simplicity of removing the senses one by one builds a sense of dread throughout the film. It also causes us to consider our reactions to such a disaster. Michael and Susan admit to themselves and each other that they can be unfeeling and unlikeable; are the senses being removed because of our failure to use them to our betterment and the betterment of others? Perfect Sense will certainly give pause for thought. The only problem is that it’s hard to feel any great hope for the romance when there’s little sense of hope or survival. Green and McGregor bare themselves (in every sense) in committed performances and generate sparks together, but the relentlessly increasing misery of the pandemic threatens to swamp them.

Director David MacKenzie (Young Adam, Hallam Foe) shows his usual preoccupations with human interaction and sexuality, but also shows a great knack for slow-build angst. Give him the reins of a thriller; it may prove very interesting. However, he does feel the need to squeeze whatever emotion he can out from under the disease angle; hence Max Richter’s tear-wringing score and romantic montages in fluid slo-mo. Perfect Sense works best if taken as a minimal apocalypse movie; it’s more heartfelt and relatable than anything involving a meteor heading towards the Earth. It’s just a pity that the central romance is often threatened by an unrelentingly bleak outlook and morbid sense of profundity.

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