Cinemagoers have been treated to a lot of subtle and intelligent science fiction in recent years. From Another Earth to District 9 to Monsters, sci-fi buffs have been able to savour some truly fantastic pieces of storytelling, even if the mass-market stuff such as John Carter seems to have failed to capture the public’s imagination. David Mackenzie’s 2011 film, Perfect Sense – which didn’t receive a big screen release here in Australia as far as I know – is a brilliant and poetic tale which is equal parts harrowing and uplifting.
Ewan McGregor plays a chef, Michael, who sparks up a romance with Susan (Eva Green), an epidemiologist, just as an epidemic has broken out. All around the world, people are losing their sense of smell. Not only that, but the disease’s initial symptoms include a profound sense of sorrow. People are struck down and burst into tears as if they have suddenly been confronted with all the bad things they have done or the general wretchedness of human existence. Whilst this doesn’t initially have a drastic effect on society, things soon begin to fall apart as the symptoms spread and become more varied.
Perfect Sense is a film that comes with a weighty dose of melancholy. Seeing people wracked with grief as they are infected is a hauntingly memorable image. The knowledge that they are completely powerless to do anything about it only adds to the poignancy of the moment. The film is a reflective study of the human condition, of modern society and that which we take for granted, and it succeeds on almost every level.
The performances of McGregor and Green, as well as that of the supporting cast – the likes of Ewen Bremner and Connie Nielsen – are all pitch perfect. Susan and Michael are realistically portrayed characters, each with their own personal fears and flaws. Watching their love begin to blossom as the world turns to shit is one of the beautiful paradoxes that make the film so impressive.
This film may not be for everybody. Whilst it didn’t distract me to any great extent, the serious moments sometimes have the potential to be unintentionally comedic, and many may find the inflated tone of self-importance to be a little pompous. But for me, the film struck exactly the right chord.
The Blu-ray is an impressive presentation. The darker moments have a tendency to be grainy – this not being a big budget production, after all – and the special features feel a bit slapdash, but like many whose movie collections have been growing at an exponential rate over the years, I have to confess to having trouble finding the time to watch such things these days anyway.
As heart wrenching as Perfect Sense is, it’s also uplifting, something we can’t be said for the similarly themed Blindness. It also has the courage to follow its premise through to its natural conclusion, despite the narrative difficulties that such a course offers. Though not science fiction in the strictest sense (there’s no sense that we’ve trespassed God’s domain), it’s a genius piece of ‘what if’ storytelling.
Perfect Sense is available now on Blu-Ray and DVD from Madman.Rating: