Review: Perfect Sense (15) / Directed by: David Mackenzie / Screenplay by: Kim Fupz Aakeson / Starring: Ewan McGregor, Eva Green, Denis Lawson, Ewen Bremner, Connie Nielson, James Watson, Caroline Paterson / Release date: 30th January 2012
“It’s about what it means to be human.” If I had a shiny shilling for every time I’ve heard this cliché trotted out by some desperate producer, actor or screenwriter in an attempt to give some credibility to their humdrum science-fiction movie or TV show I’d have a big bulging bag of admittedly-unusable currency cluttering up the place by now. But I won’t be coining it in for Perfect Sense (even though the term is used twice by actor Ewan Bremner in one of the DVD’s special features) because, just for once and at last, here’s a film which really and absolutely is all about what it means to be human and, more terrifyingly, what it means to lose that humanity.
Last year Starburst created the term Artmageddon to describe a string of end-of-the-world films which weren’t all about spectacle and special effects but which used the idea of the world ending (or some equally big SF concept) as a backdrop to a more intimate human drama. It was a term we quickly appended to films like Melancholia, Take Shelter and Another Earth, art house films which don’t have the budget for the spectacular and which aren’t, in any case, concerned with such multiplex frippery. These are more considered, character-driven pieces, often slow and measured in their pace but almost always movies likely to linger longer in the memory than the most recent Transformers movie or more typical apocalyptic hokum like The Darkest Hour. We can now add Perfect Sense to the ‘Artmageddon’ list; an understated, quiet British film which slipped into the cinemas in October last year and then, criminally, shuffled away virtually unnoticed. As ‘Artmageddon’ movies go, Perfect Sense is head and shoulders above the rest of the bunch…
We’re in modern day Glasgow and serial womaniser and chef Michael (McGregor) is trying to avoid a relationship with scientist Susan (Eva Green, never knowingly-clothed) despite the obvious attraction between them. As their relationship stutters along the world starts to come off the rails as a strange virus attacks human senses - smell and taste are the first to go. But humanity adjusts, copes, starts to come to terms with its altered condition and hopeful scientists reason that the virus may spread no further, such is the connection between the two senses so far affected. But garbled messages from Bangkok about a worrying increase in cases of sudden deafness cause alarm bells to ring across the world and before long panic sets in and the infrastructure of society begins to crumble. During all the confusion, Michael and Susan become closer, their relationship so intense they’re almost able to blot out the changing world outside their window. But when the deafness virus affects Michael and he displays the rage and irrationality which accompanies imminent loss of hearing, he risks losing Susan forever and faces a life of silence and, possibly, something even worse…
I was bowled over by Perfect Sense. Tales of the collapse of modern civilisation have always held a morbid fascination but it’s an idea which has been done so often now that it’s hard to find a story which can bring something new to the end-of-the-world table. The ‘senses pandemic’ is a genuinely original idea, uncomfortably chilling because the film doesn’t offer up any explanation for it, it just happens and I suppose those of us fortunate enough to be in possession of all our senses and faculties will always have an unspoken fear of losing one or more of them. Perfect Sense reminds us how lucky we are and how easily we take for granted all those things around us which are so commonplace - our friends, our families, the simple joys of eating, speaking, seeing.
Whilst not a film intended to impress you with its visuals, Perfect Sense evokes the slowly-decaying society in a handful of powerful street-scenes depicting a panicked population and a city slowly going to Hell, patrolled by authority figures in protective suits herding the deaf indoors and promising them deliveries of food and water. Most striking of all are the sequences of emotional disorientation which precede each sensory loss - the ravenous hunger before the loss of sense of taste, a raging fury before the loss of hearing and a final glorious euphoria before the lights go out once and for all.
Despite having the gloomiest ending of any film I’ve seen since The Mist, Perfect Sense still manages to be life-affirming because, in the end, love conquers all and Michael and Susan, you’ll not be too surprised to learn, find a ‘happy’ ending of sorts. With dazzling performances from McGregor (acting with his uncle Denis Lawson for the first time) and Green and a mature and intelligent script, Perfect Sense is absorbing, disturbing, challenging and unsettling. It’s also quite unique and really quite brilliant.
Special features: just a brief interview snippet with McGregor at the film’s Edinburgh premiere and a ‘making of’ featuring Lawson, Bremner and the Director’s brother Alister Mackenzie who appears in the movie.