There are plenty of movies about the end of the world, and most of them follow the adventures of a small group of survivors who are fighting off whatever has laid waste the planet or taking on the resulting mutants / strongmen / warriors of the wasteland who’ve arisen from the apocalypse.
David Mackenzie’s new film, Perfect Sense, which opens Friday, Feb. 24, at Reading Cinemas Gaslamp, is not one of those movies. Humanity is certainly in peril here, but Mackenzie’s interested in what people truly need to survive when faced with the end. The answer might be, as Ewan McGregor’s character Michael says, just fat and flour—meaning that nourishment is all that’s required. But as things go from bad to worse, even Michael, a chef trained in the effective use of those two ingredients, begins to doubt his own words.
See, there’s a disease on the loose, one that attacks its victims with an enormous upheaval of emotion before leaving them without any sense of smell. And by victims, I mean everyone on the planet, not just Michael’s home country of Scotland. In a matter of days, the entire world is unable to smell a thing, and every man, woman and child has experienced a dreadful sense of loss. In the midst of all this, Michael meets Susan (Eva Green), an epidemiologist who lives behind his restaurant. They bond as the disease provokes intense vulnerability in them, and soon they’re lovers, together against the insanity that is the outside world. The thing is, even though no one can smell, the world keeps on turning, and Michael and Susan must decide if their relationship is based only on sharing a traumatic event or if there’s more to it.
The good news is that there’s more to it. The bad news is that there’s more to the disease, too. It returns, with a vengeance, stealing different senses one at a time. Each attack is accompanied by an extraordinary welling of emotion, as humanity is forced to sift through sadness, loneliness, desperation and joy. Even so, life continues to go on, even as people cannot taste or hear.
What becomes clear is that humans need so much more than just fat and flour to survive. As people’s senses are taken away, each is left more and more isolated in a world that continues to get ever smaller. Mackenzie’s message is that the only way we can pull through is if we pull through together. It’s an apt analogy for our times, and one that’s well conveyed by Green and McGregor, the latter whose work in films like this and last year’s Beginners is almost enough to make you forget those Star Wars prequels. Almost.
The point is, no matter what you do, the world’s coming to an end. Whether we’re wiped out by nuclear war, the swine flu, a zombie apocalypse, a disease that robs us of our humanity or just by getting hit by a bus while staggering across the street to get a burrito after a night of drinking, the clock is ticking for each of us. Perfect Sense isn’t offering solutions to what ails our poor, pathetic species, but Mackenzie has delivered a film that makes you consider what you might wish for in the face of mortality.
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