I first saw "Perfect Sense" at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and I can honestly say that it was one of the most visceral movie-going experiences of my life. I have never walked out of a theater so happy to be alive- in a good way! Ever since then, I've been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to see it again. Unfortunately, the film didn't receive much of a theatrical release in the US, so I look forward to introducing it to my friends and fellow film lovers once it's released on Blu-ray.
To be fair, I can understand why "Perfect Sense" might not have got the release it deserved- it's a hard film to categorize. The film focuses on two residents of Glasgow; a chef, Michael (Ewan McGregor, "Trainspotting") and an epidemiologist, Susan (Eva Green, "Casino Royale"), as they meet & begin to fall in love- meanwhile, an unexplained illness begins to cause humans across the globe to lose their senses one-by-one. In the beginning, it's just a few people losing their ability to smell, but things escalate quite rapidly from there. While this might sound hokey (and usually is, on an indie budget), director David Mackenzie and his team succeed in evoking an effective & terrifying global disaster from a local perspective, and the film does enough to suggest plausible causes for its illness while keeping it ambiguous enough to allow the larger metaphor to shine through.
The effect of the disease is made even more immediate thanks to an interesting side effect: prior to each new sense that is lost, victims are hit with a uncontrollable wave of emotions, varying from despair to hunger. This leads to terrifying scenes such as crowds of people devouring everything in sight like animals- edible or not! These montages are quite effective at putting the viewer in this situation- one can't help but imagine how you would feel if you were losing your connections to the world and had no control over it.
Adding to the cinematic power of the disease are the unique perspectives of our protagonists. As a chef, Michael finds his whole livelihood threatened with the loss of taste and smell, and struggles to adapt to a world with little needs beyond the base essentials of "flour and fat". Likewise, epidemiologist Susan finds herself on the front lines of the disease, desperately trying to understand an illness that is clearly beyond comprehension (and one could argue is punishment for humanity's sins).
With all the mysterious disease and global chaos, one might place "Perfect Sense" squarely in the burgeoning indie apocalypse/sci-fi genre (a la "Children of Men"). However, it's clear that "Perfect Sense"'s dark backdrop exists to illuminate the film's true focus: the romance between Michael & Susan. These two lovers are hardly an ideal pair- both come with their own set of very human flaws, sabotaging their efforts at intimacy and admittedly making it hard to relate to either of them at first. But for this reason, their relationship feels very real - their flaws reflect humanity's flaws. Both Ewan McGregor & Eva Green give excellent performances, anchoring the film with their natural characters and physical chemistry, even while serving as metaphors for the whole human race. As Michael & Susan find themselves drawn together, each new sense that is lost brings an examination of what it means to be human, and what is most important to us in this world. In the end, when even our bodies betray us, the only solace to be found is in the people that we love.
It would be criminal of me to spoil all of the film's pleasures, but I must mention several other aspects that made "Perfect Sense" such a powerful experience. First, the supporting cast is fantastic, and collectively they sell the reality of the situation. The film features several familiar faces, including Connie Nielsen ("Gladiator"), Ewen Bremner (Ewan McGregor's "Trainspotting" co-star, "Black Hawk Down"), and Stephen Dillane (currently starring as Stannis Baratheon in HBO's "Game of Thrones").
Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, I must call attention to the incredible score by Max Richter ("Shutter Island"). His beautiful and heart-breaking music on piano & strings was truly captivating, and hooked me into this emotional journey from the very first frames. Indeed, the score elevates the entire film, adding layers of emotional depth & power to the larger ideas the film could only visually suggest for the sake of budget. I hope somehow there is a soundtrack release, because if you're like me, once this music gets in your head you may not want it to leave!
"Perfect Sense" was one of my favorite films of 2011, and I am delighted that it is finally being released in America. It's not for everyone, but it may just make you appreciate the world more, and realize that the things we should value most aren't possessions, but people. I hope you walk out of "Perfect Sense" as I did - thrilled and appreciative of the wonders of life, and filled with a desire to share them with your loved ones. As the narrator so eloquently states, "without love, there is nothing."
(Update 10/17/12: I just wanted to add that Max Richter's amazing soundtrack for "Perfect Sense" is now available to download in the U.S., via Amazon, iTunes, etc.)