Features Live Action Movies

Perfect Sense

Director – David Mackenzie – 2011 – UK – Cert. 15 – 92m


Love story set in a pandemic captures something of the emotions felt during the 2020 COVID-19 crisis, when this review was written (one of the first to appear on this then fledgeling site) – streaming on the Arrow Channel from Friday, March 24th to Sunday, April 30th 2023

Glasgow, Scotland. Michael (Ewan McGregor) is a chef. He likes to sleep alone, so if he takes a woman to bed, he’ll turf her out afterwards to get back his space. That changes when he meets Susan (Eva Green), who then does the same thing to him. And yet, there’s something between them. They’re drawn to one another. A relationship ensues.

Which might sound like just another boy meets girl movie, but Perfect Sense is different. Behind the foreground of walking along river banks and sleeping together lies a very different backdrop. Susan is an epidemiologist at a local hospital. A man has lost his sense of smell and is kept in isolation. There are other cases all over the country. Suddenly, people are being overwhelmed with grief and losing their sense of smell. Some time later, they eat ravenously then lose their sense of taste. Later still, they go berserk then lose their sense of hearing. Even later, they look at things that really matter to them before going blind.

The script isn’t interested in why or how all this is happening so much as its immediate effect upon the two lovers and their two sets of work colleagues. It is at once a story of two people so in love with each other that the worlds around them cease to exist until they are all that’s left, experiencing an incredible sense of loss for everyday things formerly taken for granted that have disappeared for ever one by one.

If Susan’s job as an epidemiologist allows her to see what’s coming in each stage of the pandemic before it happens to herself and her lover, Michael’s job as a chef undergoes several profound changes as his restaurant must adjust to serving people who can’t smell then can’t taste then can’t hear. Serving food to customers becomes about the sound of the eating out experience. Later it becomes a world in which those fluent in sign language have an advantage over the rest.

For Michael, however, once his hearing goes, confinement to his own home follows. Basic pre-packaged food is delivered to him by workers clad in protective suits. Their protective clothing will be found damaged and abandoned in the street later on. Michael has talked a lot with his boss about how the glories of cooking are reduced to “fat and flour”, a phrase which seems all the more pertinent when in isolation he’s given a sealed packet of pasta.

Earlier, after taste has gone, the two lovers fool around in the bath painting each other’s faces with shaving cream which they then proceed to eat along with the soap, since touch and physical feeling has replaced taste.

Building on Kim Fupz Aakeson’s powerful screenplay, Green and McGregor both deliver superb performances as their world closes in on them little by little. Each time a sense is lost, both they and those in the world around them try to carry on adjusting to the new reality, something which becomes more and more difficult with each successive, sensory loss. The whole is underscored by Max Richter’s evocative, melancholy score of strings and electronica which completely understands the devastating emotional journey of the piece.

When David Mackenzie’s film first appeared in 2011, no one could have imagined that almost a decade later we’d be facing a pandemic that would, temporarily at least, shutdown most of the world. Some of the details here are different from our current experience – people going out and about doing their jobs, trying to carry on, no enforced isolation at home (at least, not until the deafness hits) and also this appears to be a pandemic that infects everybody rather than only a part of the global population.

What does resonate, however, is the sense of the world changing forever and the terrible feeling of grief and loss at what’s gone and in this, the film is absolutely spot on. Watching it today in 2020, this loss is something we feel profoundly. Perfect Sense was always a powerful and moving film, but in our current situation it captures something of the collective angst we’re all feeling. There was nothing quite like it before and there’s been nothing quite like it since, so this is the time to sit down and watch it again.

Perfect Sense is available on the Arrow Channel from Friday, March 24th to Sunday, April 30th. It originally came out in the UK in 2011. It was available to stream on Amazon Prime during the pandemic in 2020. Here’s the trailer:

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