Sundance 2011 Review: PERFECT SENSE
What would you do if you woke up one day and could no longer smell anything? Or hear anything? What if you could not use any of your five senses? David Mackenzie’s PERFECT SENSE explores what the loss of these senses would be like and the impact it would have on not just each person, but the world as a whole.
We meet our two leads, epidemiologist Susan (Eva Green) and chef Michael (Ewan McGregor), who each seem to be struggling with relationships. Susan cannot seem to find a man she considers worth her time, while Michael cannot seem to keep random women out of his bed. But when the two begin seeing one another, the epidemic that is unraveling the lives of the world around them seems to bring them closer together.
Because of her profession, Susan is one of the first people to find out about this strange phenomenon slowly sweeping throughout various countries around the world, causing people to suddenly become overwhelmed with grief - when the tears subside, they find their sense of smell is gone. As we watch Susan try and outrun this seemingly incurable and unstoppable “disease,” we in turn watch Michael struggle with keeping his profession relevant as the value of food and eating out lessens without the sense of smell to accompany it.
In the beginning, the loss of a sense is preceded by an incident or “symptom” that acts as a warning of what is coming. Before losing certain senses, people seem to overindulge in them, from overeating before losing their sense of taste to saying terrible things no one would want to hear before losing their sense of hearing. As certain senses disappear, the ones that remain become heightened and different textures become the way people get enjoyment out of food again, while bass tones and rhythm help them feel rather than hear music.
In the middle of all this chaos and constant change, PERFECT SENSE is really a love story that shows the impact of these changes through the eyes of Michael and Susan as they fall for each other in the face of losing everything else. The final “symptom” we see occurs before losing one’s sight which causes people to feel a sudden need to be with the people they love. Although they had never actually said it to each other (or at least not when both parties could hear it), Michael and Susan find themselves running back together as their fourth sense literally disappears in front of their eyes.
Mackenzie takes a difficult idea and puts it to film brilliantly using images and situations to truly depict what it would be like to go without the traits that make us human. I was intrigued to see how such a story would be portrayed, and the performances by McGregor and Green were magnetic as their palpable chemistry kept them coming back together and gave the audience a hope to focus on.
Throughout the film, it is suggested that even though the idea of losing one’s senses is upsetting, people would simply adapt and the world would continue on. But as the film ends you begin to realize what it would mean to be without all your senses except for touch. And then what would happen once you lose that sense as well. This open ended ending was effecting and left me contemplating, and fearing, the possibilities long after the credits rolled.