What an intriguing hook à la Michael Crichton: An inexplicable disease is sweeping the globe. After brief bouts of overwhelming feeling — crippling grief, anguishing fear of aloneness, violent rage/anger/hatred, and so on — victims discover that they have lost one of their senses: smell, then taste, and so on. The affliction strikes in waves, each stage followed by a respite before the next one arrives. It's not contagious, says Glasgow epidemiologist Susan (Eva Green), yet it nonetheless spreads rapidly. The cause is unknown. An eco-apocalypse? God's wrath? A government-military conspiracy? Space aliens? The biggest question of all is: If it can't be stopped, how will it (or we) end?
Now, that's one terrific premise for a "science mystery" beat-the-clock thriller, and there were early moments when Perfect Sense brought The Andromeda Strain to mind. Perfect Sense is even described in some of the press material as a "thriller/romance."
However, Perfect Sense is not that movie. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing; it's just that the premise is more interesting than what the movie does with it. Which is a shame because director David Mackenzie and screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson use that premise as a poetic metaphor — this subdued, broody movie is ultimately not "about" the disease at all, see — and do a reasonably interesting job of it.
Yet in the end Perfect Sense feels like a long (even at only 88 minutes) distended allegory engineered to deliver a worthy but, by the closing credits, too bluntly obvious Author's Message.
Perfect Sense isn't "about" their tragic romance either, not really. Again, that's just a component of the movie's over-arching poetical metaphor: As victims lose their physical senses one by one, most of them discover and appreciate the newly revealed sensations around them. Lose the sense of smell, and taste becomes that much more important. Lose taste next: sight and tactile sensations take on new dimensions. (The restaurant setting was chosen with easy utilitarian story purpose.) Then when hearing goes, the sensuality of touch, even music via vibration, elevates to hitherto unexplored levels. And so on. Each time, people learn to live with the new Normal or else lash out to hasten the destruction of themselves and the world as a whole.
|Ingmar Bergman, is there no film you can't influence?|
Once more, and so on.
The theme of "life goes on" gets repeated in the dialogue like a blinking neon arrow spelling out "Meaningful Message Here." By the midpoint, subtext gets piloted to the surface like a submarine needing air. By the end, the story and its characters have become neither story nor characters, but conveyors of the Message.
Granted, yes, it's a fine message, one that we should indeed be reminded of now and then. But Perfect Sense, while mostly well-crafted and just gripping enough to carry us through to its closing moments that arrive with the inevitability of a melting ice cube, is too clumsy and mechanical to illuminate that message beyond a pat 12-step platitude that you could more easily fit onto a Starbucks cup.
Basically, the movie is one big Life Coaching session. That it stars Ewan McGregor, Eva Green, and her breasts, well, that's the full-color glossy trifold brochure that gets us in the door.
It's not in all respects a "bad" movie. It's well cast (Green's physiognomy was bestowed by nature to play melancholy) and good-looking (minus several examples of how not to use verité shaky-cam). It aims to work with interesting themes and ideas. I'm wholeheartedly on board with what the director and screenwriter are reaching for. (It's a bold stroke to attempt an "up" feeling as the world literally fades to black in the final frames.) And I can't say it doesn't possess a certain quiet power. Not to mention, let's be forever grateful that M. Night Shyamalan didn't grab its "hook" premise first.
But as a film the too-somberly paced Perfect Sense (could they pick a more affectedly twee title?) might have worked better as a short, and without Eva Green's yellow-highlighter narration ("Without smell, an ocean of past images disappears," ew). The scene when the whole world is, apparently, simultaneously stricken with grotesque, animalistic hunger (before losing the sense of taste) not only strikes a jarring, off-key Sam Raimi/George Romero tone, it came across as filler mandated by the marketing department to jazz up the trailer.
While I can appreciate Perfect Sense "academically" or as an interesting exercise, it struck no emotional chord in me. I didn't feel anything while watching it, and I suspect that I was supposed to walk out of the theater feeling a very great deal.
Music: B.B. King & Friends, Blues Summit
Near at hand: The front door open to the sun and air