Ewan McGregor and Eva Green face a very different apocalypse
When members of the public start presenting with curious symptoms including a spontaneous loss of smell, a scientist (Eva Green) works with her team to try to get to the bottom of this strange affliction. As it becomes apparent that our sense are the target of the illness, she falls for chef Michael (Ewan McGregor) while the world slowly unravels around them.
Perfect Sense is the latest from British director David Mackenzie, who has brought the likes of Young Adam and Hallam Foe to the big screen. He reteams with star McGregor and the Scottish setting for a very different kind of film, both more epic in its sci-fi trappings and more intimate in the examination of humanity at the end of its tether.
The science in Perfect Sense is almost incidental; the film doesn’t spend much time on the attempts to cure the illness or even find out how it is transmitted. Instead, the drama comes from the slow creep of symptoms, from the dawning realisation that the disease just beginning and that our sense of smell is only the first victim in the cycle.
Thereafter, it becomes an account of the incredible staying power of humanity, of its ability to persist and survive against incredible odds. This is exemplified by Michael’s job as a chef – when the punters leave because they can no longer smell the food, the restaurant reacts by providing more spice and greater flavour. As the epidemic progresses, they constantly react to make food engaging again, as the world around them moulds itself to the new rhythms of life.
This tenacity is also seen in the relationship between Green’s Susan and Michael. They come together during the rush of emotions which accompanies the first stage of the illness and form a bond that’s constantly under threat from terrible events occurring outside. As the senses flee, they become more and more intimate even as the rest of the world is retreating from life.
Emotion plays a huge part in the experience of watching Perfect Sense, with many scenes of overflowing grief, anger and happiness which could have been bizarre or even hilarious in other hands. But Mackenzie pulls it all together with a deft touch, weaving in some international scenes to sell the global problem and drip feeding us information via a stoic, retrospective voice over. As the finale approaches, you’ll wish for a different outcome but the sheer lyricism of the ending, and the fever pitch it reaches through careful editing and cumulative emotional connection with the leads, makes it one of the most satisfying final moments I’ve seen in years.
McGregor is suave and arrogant as Michael, softening realistically rather than abruptly throughout the course of the film. Green is cold and wry at the start, perplexed by the disease and untrusting of her emotions; all valid aspects of a brilliantly drawn character. Supporting roles are limited but effective, from the likes of Ewen Bremner, Denis Lawson and Connie Nielson. The scale of the production is small but it never feels constrained, conjuring up some sense of scale in its depiction of a mob ravaged Glasgow and there’s some interesting subjective camera work from Giles Nuttgens.
Perfect Sense is a startling and emotional portrait of human fortitude and a haunting alternative vision of how the world might end – not in sound and fury but silence and utter darkness. This mixture of hope and despair is brilliantly captured by the talented stars all the way up to the terrifically played finale.