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perfect sense2011

Genre: Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi

Directed by: David Mackenzie

Starring: Eva Green, Ewan McGregor

Perfect Sense is an alternative love story surrounding the disturbing premise of a global epidemic. It centres on Susan (Eva Green), a scientist who is part of the team trying to understand the new epidemic and Michael (Ewan McGregor), a chef whose true love affair has always been with cookery. Susan and Michael are just two regular people in the world. This is a story of how their love grows as their lives disintegrate into chaos and despair. It’s a heart-breaking tale of loss, exploring what human beings can endure when they have no options.

The film begins when Susan and Michael meet as the first trace of the epidemic appears. What starts as nothing more than a puzzling illness with a few cases here and there, leads to an eventual spreading of the disease that strips people of their sensory perceptions. Unlike other films with similar epidemic storylines (Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men or Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion), nobody is immune to this particular disease; genetics won’t save you here.

Initially the disease hits people with an immediate and severe feeling of grief, causing them to weep uncontrollably. When the grief subsides they realise they have lost their sense of smell. This is ultimately followed by the loss of taste, then hearing, then sight.

Whilst the idea of an epidemic is certainly not a new one (even the concept of losing sensory perception was explored in the 2008 drama Blindness), the film doesn’t focus on the spreading disease. Instead, it concentrates on the human response of dealing with such devastating symptoms. It shows how the world keeps turning and humans do what they’re good at, which is maintaining the status quo by going on living as best they can.

It’s extremely pertinent that the character Michael is a chef. The loss of smell and taste are acutely distressing to both his profession and him personally, yet he continues to cook and, like his customers, he reacts and adapts to the situation. People still go to restaurants to eat, but they find alternative ways of enjoying the food. Instead of taste and smell they look for touch, colour, consistency; things they can still measure.

When the deafness kicks in, Michael and Susan are not the first to experience it. It’s almost more frightening for them as they’re simply waiting for the symptom to happen. When they eventually both go deaf, so do we (for a while). There’s no dialogue, no sound effects, no music. It’s disorientating simply because we as audience members are used to hearing sound on films. At one stage I even had to check that I hadn’t accidentally muted the TV. It’s a risky move to have a large portion of a film in complete and utter silence, but it was also a clever tactic to give the audience a taste of how these characters feel. It worked 100% for me.

Each loss of sense is a fresh gut wrench and a whole new level of despair for the characters. During the different stages of infection I felt as if I was watching patients in a psychiatric facility. The film truly does suck you in and make you feel a sense of the grief and defeat that Michael and Susan suffer.

However, even after losing their hearing, people find ways of coping as people do in real life. They learn sign language or write things down. They go to nightclubs and enjoy the atmosphere. Just because they can’t hear a song doesn’t mean they can’t feel it; hit a drum hard enough and you’ll feel the vibrations bouncing off objects surrounding you. Losing their main senses sparks new sensory experiences

These short moments of brightness keep the film from being entirely miserable. Small and delicate bits of humour help to express the power of the human spirit, which is essentially what the film is wholeheartedly about. The beautifully subtle cinematography, such as when dust sparkles in a beam of light, helps lift the film and show there’s still gentle beauty in the world, even when the characters are at their lowest points.

The ending, whilst somewhat predictable from the start, is both tragic and achingly beautiful. There isn’t an explosive finale and the world doesn’t implode, but the sadness hits you with force. Unlike Contagion, it doesn’t carry with it a cure that magically makes everything better at the end. Eventually these characters are nothing more than breathing entities, existing but not living. The message expressed is that the human condition is complex and intricate. Probably the only real thing that matters for Susan and Michael at the end is the thing that’s most dear to us all. It’s the most resilient of qualities and can’t be measured or stolen from us. It can’t be tasted, smelt, heard or seen. It’s felt. That thing is love.

Whilst I can’t say the film was enjoyable (it was quite depressing actually), it was a thought provoking and a brilliant piece of filmmaking.

The acting is superb, with Eva Green stealing the show as she has a habit of doing. I was even able to overlook my slight dislike of Ewan McGregor as an actor, because he played his part equally as well.

It’s a slow moving film, so if you’re after something thrilling and fast-paced this isn’t for you. It does however restore hope in humanity and prompts you to ask yourself what you would do if you were in these characters’ shoes.

★★★

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