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Perfect Sense

2011 | 92 min | 2.39:1

Perfect Sense


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Theatrical release date

 10 February, 2012
 07 October, 2011

Country of origin

 United States



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Perfect Sense Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, January 26, 2012

“Perfect Sense” has a killer hook for its take on the end of the world. Instead of bombs or the wrath of nature, the film details the final days of civilization as a gradual loss of sensory function, spreading as a global pandemic. It’s reminiscent of last autumn’s “Contagion,” only here the erosion of society is handled more artfully and rationally, recognizing that such loss of perception wouldn’t crash the planet at first, but bring it to its knees slowly. David Mackenzie’s feature is frustrating at times, possibly too insistent when it comes to screen poetry, but the concept is intriguing, offering enough scenes of oddity and distress to hold attention and occasionally raise anxiety levels.

In London, epidemiologist Susan (Eva Green) has come across a seemingly rare disease that robs the host of its sense of smell, an event proceeded by an overwhelming experience of grief. Studying this strange development, Susan has difficulty capturing the enormity of the plague, with her colleagues urging the world to carry on as usual. During this time, Susan meets Michael (Ewan McGregor), a gifted chef who takes an immediate liking to the scientist, despite both possessing a fear of intimacy. Gradually slipping into a relationship, the lovers are soon tested in full by the loss of taste, hearing, and eventually sight, riding a turbulent wave of emotions, trying to stay connected as the end draws near.

“Perfect Sense” is not a film of hysteria, clinging more to the illusion of order as human beings maintain reassuring routines and behaviors as the senses expire. It’s an inventive screenplay by Kim Fupz Aakeson, who doesn’t make much of an effort to explore the global perspective, keeping to a British mood of uncertainty as the scientists and shopkeepers attempt to ignore the inevitable for as long as possible. Mackenzie (2003’s “Young Adam” and 2009’s rancid “Spread”) takes the doomsday potential seriously, developing the love story between Susan and Michael while creating a powerful vibration of fright, with every sensory depletion met with panic and destruction, eventually settling into acceptance, with citizens attempting to carry on as normal.

For Michael, this normality is rooted in his work with food, leading a hectic kitchen inside a restaurant doing its best to remain open for the brave to reclaim what’s left of their senses. Mercifully, the production doesn’t clamp down on the irony of a chef losing his bodily instruments, instead pursing hope, with the business of food service representing the divide between sustenance and the rich flavor of life itself. Once the world is down to “flour and fat,” it’s over, folks. The romance is also satisfactorily handled here, with Green and McGregor creating a warm flow of sensuality to maintain the feature’s low profile, with their thawing chemistry a crucial part of the “Perfect Sense” experience. While the performances favor reaction instead of dramatization, the actors unearth a compelling balance between nightmarish discoveries and peaceful reconciliations with the mistakes of life, an equilibrium made all the more important during the peaks of the pandemic.

The end of the world is met with some strange behavior in “Perfect Sense.” Before physical faculties run out, Mackenzie stages a few odd bursts of behavior, with citizens haunted by rage and hunger before interior switches are flipped off for good, the latter creating a wild moment where everyone immediately devours anything within reach for a few frantic minutes -- raw animals, live animals, flowers, and make-up being the food of choice. The film does make a visual effort to survey the plague in other countries via stills and stock footage, but the most potent examples of distress are kept personal and compulsive, with a full comprehension of the urges kept just out of the viewer’s reach.

“Perfect Sense” takes some risks without a satisfying exit strategy, yet the balance between harmony and gloom is smartly managed, gently carrying audiences to the end. It’s a peculiar feature, perhaps frustratingly so, yet it manages to create an original tone of global decline, electing the gradual erosion of humanity over a fat wallop of ultraviolence.

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Eva Green, Connie Nielsen, Stephen Dillane, Denis Lawson, Ewen Bremner
Director: David Mackenzie

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