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Marshall Fine

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Movie Review: Perfect Sense

Posted: 02/ 2/2012 11:20 am

David Mackenzie's Perfect Sense is an end-of-the-world romance in which the world disappears incrementally. Being involved in this velvet apocalypse is a little like being the Cheshire cat, unable to control which part of you will disappear next.

Like Steven Soderbergh's Contagion and Fernando Meirelles' Blindness, Mackenzie's cataclysm comes in the form of an unexplained epidemic. But Mackenzie's view of this event tends to be more microcosmic. Though he shows bits of each stage of the mysterious illness in other parts of the world, his focus primarily is on two people in Edinburgh, Scotland: a chef named Michael (Ewan McGregor) and an epidemiologist named Susan (Eva Green).

They meet because her apartment windows overlook the alley onto which the back door of Michael's restaurant opens. He brazenly tries to pick her up and, when it works, he finds himself attracted by her slightly cold and impersonal approach to sex -- not unlike his own.

Even as they are getting to know each other, the pandemic breaks out. The first manifestation? People inexplicably are thrown into a state of profound grief, weeping uncontrollably -- and when that passes (in about 15 minutes), they discover they've lost their sense of smell.

Eventually, doctors figure out that nothing seems to stop this illness and that no one is immune, no matter what precautions are taken: germ masks, quarantines and so on. Not long afterward it strikes again: People are overcome with ravenous hunger, eating every foodstuff in sight in gluttonous amounts, again for about 15 minutes. When they emerge from this eating delirium, they find that they've lost their sense of taste.

It moves through the other senses -- but not before Mackenzie and writer Kim Aakeson have time to explore the impact of the loss of each individual sense. The loss of taste buds, for example, would seem to be the death knell for restaurants but, as Michael discovers, people still want to eat out -- except, instead of flavor, they now crave different textures and temperatures, since they can't taste anything.

It's an intriguing premise, which Aakeson builds to a moment of romantic tension, as Michael and Susan split up after the next wave of the malady: a bout of uncontrollable, destructive rage that pitches the world into chaos -- followed by the loss of hearing. Will Michael and Susan get past the horrible things they say to each other while in the throes of illness-induced anger to find their way back to each other before the next sense (there are only two left at this point) disappears?

But the problem with Mackenzie's film is that, by this time, you've lost interest. The gimmick isn't enough to sustain drama because it doesn't provide any jeopardy. And these two central characters are such cool customers that they seldom generate any heat. They're too busy fortifying their own emotional shells against any intrusion.

As a result, the sex is never particularly sexy and there is no romance to play against the surrounding events. Even as humanity is slowly stripped of its senses, nothing seems to be particularly at stake. There's no one to root for; you keep watching Perfect Sense out of a sense of curiosity -- and dwindling curiosity, at that.

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