Movie review: Perfect Sense by David Mackenzie

Directed by: David Mackenzie
Screenplay: Kim Fupz Aakeson

Suzan: Eva Green
Michael: Ewan McGregor


Susan, an epidemiologist, is getting over a broken heart when a new kind of epidemics strikes out right where she lives and works, in Scotland. It starts with a truck driver who suddenly has lost his sense of smell. The doctors don’t know when, why or how he got infected (if he got infected at all). Soon the news about people losing their sense of smell come from different countries around the world; the strange disease (?) is affecting everyone, no matter their skin colour, sex, age or living conditions. Nobody knows whether it is a virus, a toxin or a strange bacteria and how it propagates.
Meantime Susan meets Michael, a chef working in a restaurant near her flat. At first she is pretty sure Michael is not the right man for her and let’s face it, everything indicates she is perfectly right – Michael, a handsome but ruthless womanizer, is a fan of one-night or rather one-two hours stands.  He kicks his girlfriends out as soon as he finishes having sex with them claiming that he can’t sleep well with somebody else sharing his bed (sic! Have you heard a lamer excuse?) Still Susan decides to date him (yes, he managed to stay with her the whole night – in his case it is tantamount to a serious commitment). However soon enough she, her new boyfriend and his colleagues lose the sense of smell as well.
 After a while they lose the sense of taste – something disastrous if you cook professionally, small wonder Michael and his boss are devastated. Fortunately plenty of other people can’t either smell or taste anything any longer so the cooks focus on appearance and texture of food and the restaurant stays open. However it becomes obvious the disease is unstoppable and people will sooner or later lose all their remaining senses – the doctors don’t know how to prevent that. Susan and Michael take it in their stride and try to make the best use of the short time that is left. Still, is it true love or just taking the easiest way out with the person who is your best alternative at the moment?
My impressions:
Another low-budget film which was really better and scarier than one of these Hollywood super-productions I’ve seen lately. It proves you don’t need fancy special effects, digital monsters and a lot of bloody scenes to create an atmosphere of danger. Losing your senses was horrible enough without any alien invasion but there were some funny moments to make the glumness more bearable – for example Susan and Michael were sitting in a bathtub eating…soap. Yes, it was after they lost their sense of taste 😉 Overall it was an emotionally intelligent movie which doesn’t mean especially clever. Yes, I have some complaints. Melodramas don’t agree with my stomach I suppose, or maybe I simply can’t relax enough to stop overthinking the entertainment?
First of all I  couldn’t believe the people, once the initial shock was over, gave up on their senses so quickly. Loss of smell? No problem, most of scents are not so pleasant to start with and you won’t get ruined again buying that bottle of overpriced French perfume. Loss of taste? Oh well, there are different methods of enjoying your food if you actually need to enjoy it at all…Loss of hearing? Well, there’s still the tv and the sign language available so let’s go and look at those pretty pictures in comfortable peace and quiet…I mean would you be reconciled with the loss of any of your senses so easily? I most certainly wouldn’t. Perhaps the intention of the director was to show that humankind is flexible to the extreme and will adopt nicely in almost any circumstances but I found it a bit too smooth and too quick to be believable.
Secondly I waited and waited and didn’t see any reaction from the government or those super-rich and privileged who wouldn’t want to have anything in common with any disease at all. Their relatives, friends, coworkers and employees are dying and suddenly there is one big void. Have they immigrated to Mars or something? Have they been infected like the rest of commoners but died off more quickly due to lower resistance? How come nobody tried to put some pressure on Susan and her colleagues to work harder/faster/more efficiently? A weird situation, don’t you think?
My last complaint concerns the female lead, Susan. As an epidemiologist living in times of a global crisis and facing probably the biggest challenge of her professional life, she simply had way too much free time in hand. I might be wrong but I  suppose she should have been working 24/7 along with her colleagues, with short potty breaks only, to find out more about that strange disease and to stop it at all costs. Actually I could imagine her sleeping on the floor of her laboratory and spending endless hours on the Internet, consulting live with scientists and doctors from other countries. All the humankind is on the brink of a major disaster, right? And what is she doing? Instead of working her skinny bottom off our lovely heroine enjoys her private life as if nothing untoward was happening around her – she goes on a romantic stroll, she admires buskers, she dances with her beloved Michael in a club for most of the night, she eats out and so on. Holiday in Paris, sponsored by a rich uncle – that’s how it looked like. Apocalypse? What apocalypse? Oh, losing your senses…right… honey, let’s jump to bed, drink some champagne and smoke ciggies till we can.
All the snark aside, it seems she’s surrendered so easily, assuming too quickly nothing can be done and  just passively waiting for the next stage of the disease. A very strange attitude for a scientist especially as she knows NOTHING, literally nothing, about her illness. Once again would you be able to enjoy your life (or what is left of it) in such a situation, without some nagging pangs of conscience that you, as a specialist, could have tried harder to prevent the worst? I understand the director wanted to show how Susan’s and Michael’s character evolved when influenced by a major crisis but I think he forgot that survival is mostly about hard work under pressure and the courage of pushing your boundaries, not about drifting passively while waiting for your death. By the way, we are never shown scientists at work in this movie, not really – feeding and hugging bunnies can’t substitute scientific research.
Final verdict:
If you are willing to suspend your disbelief a bit and follow just the romantic thread this movie can certainly keep you interested and entertained; still it keeps asking some existential questions like what sense you really need to survive or what is really important in your life. Just don’t expect any straightforward answers and sometimes any logic at all. My final remark: I don’t get the title. Perfect Sense? What sense? There’s no such thing – neither in this film nor in real life.
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