David Mackenzie’s Perfect Sense takes a fascinating premise – a global pandemic results in the loss of the senses, one-by-one – and tells it through the story of two lovers caught up in the whirlwind crisis. Ultimately, it doesn’t really work as a biological thriller (for that, see Contagion) or a romance, but it’s an affecting and adult story nonetheless.
Perfect Sense stars Ewan McGregor as Michael, a Glasgow chef and ladies’ man who falls for Susan (Eva Green), the jaded epidemiologist (ain’t that convenient) who lives in the apartment across the street from his restaurant. Reluctant to get involved after a failed relationship, she initially rebuffs his advances.
Unfortunately, there’s a bigger problem: SOS (Severe Olfactory Syndrome), which begins with an intense feeling of grief, followed by the total loss of smell. It slowly spreads from person to person, in Scotland and other countries throughout the world, and doctors are unable to explain it, treat it, examine it, or determine how it is spread.
Soon, the other senses begin to go: it’s always the same, an intense emotion followed by the complete loss of a sense. Taste is next; that’s not gonna be good for Michael’s restaurant. Why are the senses lost in this order? Because sound/sight/touch are too important.
Though I’d love to see the movie where those senses are lost first, and the young lovers have to get by smelling and tasting each other. And don’t get me started on all the other senses, which include balance, temperature, time, hunger/thirst, etc.
But I digress. In the midst of the loss of senses, Michael and Susan fall in love, which has its own set of complications given the extreme emotional response that precedes each loss of a sense (watch out for rage!) McGregor and Green are both good here; they’re talented actors who aren’t afraid to bare it all for the camera (in this film, and many others).
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the level of emotional investment in their characters required for this film to work. Neither is a particularly sympathetic character, and while that can be overcome, I found myself far more interested in the pandemic than their relationship, while the film seemed to feel the other way around. In the end, neither of us felt satisfied; some overbearing narration – telling us, explicitly, what we should be thinking, doesn’t help.
Director Mackenzie is no stranger to adult romance; his previous work includes Spread, which was far more thoughtful than expected for an Ashton Kutcher movie (and, no coincidence, the actor’s best) and Young Adam, which also starred McGregor, and earned some notoriety (and an NC-17 rating) for its explicit sex scenes.
While I didn’t respond well to Perfect Sense, I did appreciate it, and the field that Mackenzie is working in: there are far too few adult, exploratory romance films being made today, even in independent cinema. Watching Mackenzie’s films, I’m reminded of the era of Carnal Knowledge and Bad Timing (and even films that didn’t star Art Garfunkel), which seemed to end a long time ago.
Going by the plot synopsis, one might presume Perfect Sense to be one of the director’s more accessible features. In fact, the opposite is true: many will be turned off by the slow, deliberate pacing and the lack of detail surrounding the premise. Still, romance fans might find a lot to like here, as long as they know what they’re getting into.