I give Perfect Sense writer Kim Fupz Aakeson and director David Mackenzie a lot of credit – they have made a film with the depressing “world is slowly coming to an end” tone like Children of Men and somehow found a way to make a romance out of it. Then again, calling the relationship between chef Michael (Ewan McGreggor) and scientist Susan (Eva Green) a romance might be a bit misleading – it begins as a desperate search for feeling in a world that is slowly losing all feeling.
In the film, humanity is slowly losing its sense perceptions because of an unknown virus. First goes smell, then taste, then hearing (and, then by default, voice), and accompanying each loss is a different emotional outburst. It’s a much more unsettling end than the less imaginative nuclear explosion, alien invasion, or giant flood in the average apocalyptic Hollywood blockbuster. The world at large seems to be able to carry on – albeit with far less joy – without smell and taste, but the loss of hearing ultimately plunges the world at large into chaos. Then again, in a world where so much communication is done through texting and e-mail, it’s hard to imagine society completely failing if humans lost the sense of hearing. In fact, at one point in the film – when Michael has lost his hearing and Susan has not – Michael calls her cell phone to speak to her on her cell phone even though he can’t hear her. Perhaps Michael had reached his monthly text message limit?
In all seriousness, it becomes increasingly apparent how much worse this type of end would be, especially since the 93 minute movie proceeds at a snail’s pace, with somber music and Susan’s pained narration, which sort of makes you suffer along with the characters (and I mean that in a good way). But the runtime doesn’t really help the movie, and as the film lumbered on I thought about how this would’ve made an excellent episode of The Twilight Zone – with one of Rod Serling’s classic setups and open-ended, thought provoking endings.
The lack of a satisfactory relationship to move the plot forward doesn’t help. It seems Michael and Susan are simply together to provide comfort to each other – Susan even points out “all of a sudden we’ve become roommates” – as the world around them makes less and less sense. Yet the couple’s relationship, and humanity’s reaction to the changing world, gives the film a profound sense of hope. Once humanity begins to understand what is happening, it collectively begins to appreciate small sensations that we might forget to appreciate in our five-sense lives. Again, it’s worth complementing the filmmakers for not going the much easier gloom-and-doom route, which this plot, in the hands of lesser storytellers, would ultimately end up.
Still, it’s no real surprise that this film — which premiered at Sundance last year — took so long to finally make it to U.S. theaters, since it definitely isn’t a showstopper. Perfect Sense is a far from perfect movie, and perhaps would have made a brilliant short film. As it is, it’s an overlong feature film in which the stakes are high but the drama is not. We never really get emotionally invested in the characters, and the film suffers for it – but the film is thought provoking on a very human level, which definitely gives the filmmakers something to be proud about.
Rating: An overlong, but mindful movie about the senses we take for granted (5/10)