By Anna Bielak | February 4, 2012
Director: David Mackenzie
Writer: Kim Fupz Aakenson
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Eva Green, Connie Nielsen, Stephen Dillane, Ewen Bremmer
In most cases, science-fiction features about catastrophes on Earth are made according to one, well-known scheme — harmony in the world is destroyed by a sudden tragedy. Nowadays – more often than previous years – mankind needs to fight against strange, deadly viruses like in Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011). In that kind of film, fear turns into panic. The majority of humankind does not believe in anything anymore. People start to behave like wild animals, fighting for their lives. Those who still have any strength, devastate malls, wear dirty clothes and rummage through rubbish. The final debasement comes upon humankind with the end of the world as a closing step of dying. In the latest David MacKenzie film nothing is so simple…
In Perfect Sense, David MacKenzie uses the typical schema of catastrophic films, yet he does not set it in motion to give us just another boring and predictable picture. The British filmmaker goes one step further, taking the path that not many directors ever even catch a glimpse of. The uniqueness of his film lies in what Mackenzie looks at very intensively. He does not stare at images of a devastated world, he focuses on observing people who can perfectly adapt themselves to the new living conditions. The virus is not killing at the moment; it attacks slowly and precisely, depriving people of their senses and gradually destroying one’s abilities to communicate with the environment. Yet, the virus gives humans some time to get used to it, to learn how to act in this new world.
Let’s start our new lives without a sense of smell. It is easy not to have one, right? Hitherto, being sure of that belief, we hear the narrator’s voice whispering that smell is strictly connected with memories. Reminiscences of visits to grandma’s house spring up thanks to the cinnamon fragrance with which her skirt had been always saturated. Without smell, we loose our memories as well. There is no accident in linking senses with emotions. Enormous sorrow caused by losing someone or something leads to the loss of smell. Fear of dying coupled with compulsive eating ends in the loss of taste. MacKenzie associates senses and emotions on the basis of synesthesia. He transforms one sensation into another, tells about smells through the logic of sounds, using colors to replace taste. On the basis of a similar allegory, MacKenzie joins social catastrophe with the intimate story of two leading characters — replacing the end of the world panic with fear of falling in love.
As a result, viewers follow Susan (Eva Green) and Michael (Ewan McGregor) rather than go with the crowd through the disintegrated world. Susan and Michael meet in the back of a restaurant. She is an epidemiologist, he is a chef. Susan usually meets bad guys, Michael does not want to be in any relationship…yet, Michael is the one who teaches her how to trust one another. She is the one who does not disturb him in bed when the high time to sleep comes up after romantic intercourse. So, the end of world is the perfect situation for them to change their attitudes to romance? Yes and no. Are they a perfect couple? No. They would not be a perfect one in the safe world; therefore they are not perfect in this reality that is being slowly disintegrated by a mysterious virus — because there is no difference between the two.
Everybody pretends that nothing is going on. Images of disease come in and out of the plot like refrains in a song — they are brief, similar to each other and pass quickly to save time and space for the next long verse. It usually starts in Michael’s restaurant, which is the first place that confirms that everything has returned to normal. When there is no taste anymore, people go out for dinner because they want to be with each other. Women wear evening dresses, men suits. The pleasure of being served is irreplaceable. The need to hear wine pouring into glasses and the breaking of crispy bread — unique. When people become deaf, they still sit around the table because they have already learned sign language to communicate with each other no matter what.
Their ability to adapt is almost unconditional. Plying in pretending is brought to perfection. What is interesting is that there is no sign of absurdity in it. On the contrary, this is real. This is what fascinates me, this is what I believe in, because this is purely human behavior in the face of the end — and not only the end of the world. We pretend that our families are not falling apart, that the love in our relationships is still as strong as it was at the very beginning, that everything goes perfectly well, when somebody asks us — how are you? This conviction makes me believe that MacKenzie’s Perfect Sense is something more than an action movie, good enough to watch during a Saturday night in the cinema covered with buckets of popcorn and cans of coke.
Go to Stopklatka.pl for the original Polish-language version of Anna’s review.