Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Perfect Sense

Illustration for article titled Perfect Sense

Blame the Mayan calendar or our general growing sense of impending doom, but the end of the world has become an almost commonplace movie setting. It provides the backdrop for a reluctant romance in Perfect Sense, the latest from Scottish filmmaker David Mackenzie (Young Adam, Mister Foe). In the film, the global population is infected by a mysterious ailment that’s slowly stripping people of their senses—first smell, then taste, then hearing. Each loss chips away at societal structures. As some give into looting and nihilism, and others continue heading to work and trying to maintain order, chef Ewan McGregor and epidemiologist Eva Green tumble into an affair fueled by lust and catastrophe.

Perfect Sense flashes clips from around the world—some of them appropriated, non-fiction footage—but it otherwise keeps close to the Glasgow cul-de-sac where Green lives and McGregor works, and where they meet. They’re a pretty but emotionally remote pair—“Mr. and Mrs. Arsehole,” they proclaim themselves, only half-joking—who are guarded and brambly, and share a tendency to kick their lovers out of bed instead of letting them stay the night. It’s possible they’d never have managed to open up to one another without the creeping chaos outside, but the filtering of the apocalypse through their perspectives gives the entire film an unpalatable tang. The plague is more compelling than the love story, an allegory-inflected ailment (similar to, but less ponderous than, the epidemic in Blindness) in which each deprivation is preceded by a flurry of emotion that leads to the film’s most vivid sequences. People gorge on whatever’s at hand, including flowers and raw meat, before losing taste, and weep over memories evoked by certain scents before the departure of smell.

The perseverance of McGregor’s restaurant, in spite of its apparent inutility in the changing world, ends up having more poignancy than his parting and reuniting with the glowering Green. People keep coming long after they’ve become unable to taste the food—to be served, to be together, and out of fondness for what the experience used to be. In an otherwise uneven film that botches its ambitiously off-kilter romance, the persistence of habit attests more to its themes about appreciating life’s every fleeting sensory detail than the frantic search of lovers hoping to lay eyes on each other one last time before the world goes dark.