Thursday, January 19, 2012

Perfect Sense - Apocalyptic Musings

Like the proverbial thief in the night, it comes in fortuitous stages. The illness is ominous. First, a person is overcome with an overwhelming grief. Truck drivers who were never emotional cry like little girls who have their hearts broken. Then they lose their sense of smell.

They call it S.O.S. Severe Olfactory Syndrome. Scientists are baffled because they couldn't find the usual etiologies; there’s no pattern or apparent source, nor mode of transmission. Within 24 hours, 120 cases are reported in England. Hundreds more spread across Europe, Africa, Asia, Middle East. Against this backdrop, we follow Michael (Ewan McGregor) and Susan (Eva Green) whose paths cross in a world of uncertainty.

Michael works as a chef in a busy fine dining restaurant. Epidemiologist Susan, who’s nursing a broken heart, lives at an apartment next block. One morning, while Michael gets his ciggie fix, he finds Susan by her window. In such prodigious rendezvous, two strangers meet and fall in love.

As they deliberately learn about each other, the spread of the “disease” turns pandemic. Both of them eventually become part of the growing statistics.

What becomes of a chef who can’t smell? But the resilience of humanity allows people to adapt. As people settle down with their sensory loss, food in restaurants become spicier, saltier, sweeter to account for the loss of smell. People after all can still “taste”. Then comes the next stage : those afflicted are overcome with insatiable hunger. At that particular moment, they are cloaked by an immense desire to eat. So they grab anything they could. Cotton, lipstick, paper, raw fish. India, Japan and the rest of the world turn into famished beasts, devouring any item they could grab. After satisfying their desire, they lose their sense of taste. Still, people adapt. Once accustomed to it, they started going back to restaurants for the memories of gastronomy; the food presentation, etc. Where is this syndrome leading to?

In what could be one of the most petrifying cinematic imagining, director David Mackenzie paints a unique landscape and a bleak scenario to usher us into a dying humanity; the end of the world as we know it. In its contemporary setting, humanity is abruptly beset, not by wars, extreme weather or zombies, but by a series of emotional upheavals before a sensation disappears forever.

When each symptomatic prodome starts, we were constantly anticipating for a light at the end of the tunnel. After all, big men don’t just burst into inconsolable tears; mothers don’t suddenly eat lipsticks out of perverse hunger. Which sensation would follow? From what emotional outburst is it coming from? "Perfect Sense" is an unseemly horror flick. I was on tenterhooks from start to finish.

Ewan McGregor returns to quirky film making. In the past, he’s always favored interesting stories thus gaining a cult following from movies like “Trainspotting”, “Velvet Goldmine”, “Young Adam”, “The Ghost Writer”, “The Man Who Stare at Goats”, “Little Voice”, etc. Recently, I saw Mike Mills’ “Beginners” where Ewan plays a son who learns that his septuagenarian father is battling cancer – and in his advancing age, keeps a male lover. After a series of Hollywood debacles, McGregor has retraced his cinematic pathway. This is even evident in his preponderance to take his "kitt off". Yes, in "Perfect Sense", he once again shares Obi-wan Kenobi's enviable "light saber", albeit for a few precious seconds (see screen cap below).

Eva Green, who played Vesper Lynd of “Casino Royale” opposite blond Bond – Daniel Craig, isn't so bashful either. When she shares her bed with McGregor, she displays her proud mammaries. Equal opportunity for every pervs. J

The film is peculiar. The veneer is contemporary, yet there’s a conspicuous darkness that foreshadows a cataclysmic holocaust. It throws a hint of optimism withinin the stark desperation of the situation, yet an undercurrent of restlessness keeps reminding you to brace yourself for an eventuality. What’s more jarring is its suggestion of how we gradually lose everything… in unexpected stages.

I was pushed into introspection. Would I cope if I were inflicted with “crippling grief, a spell of extreme derangement, violent rage”? Then gradually lose all my sensations! That night, I sat on my bed with a disconcerting feeling. As a realist, will I be capable of emotions if I were to lose my senses? Oddly, McGregor thought of the brilliant script as a metaphor for “falling in love”. “You know how we say that you lose your senses when you fall in love?" he said. True enough; a concluding scene displays a possible scenario as people started losing the next sensation.

But we’re not telling what it is.

Susan and Michael share a morning in Mackenzie's "Perfect Sense".

Ewan McGregor

Ewan McGregor. One of my favorite McGregor films is a low-brow English comedy called "Brassed Off" where McGregor played a tuba.

Ewan McGregor

Eva Green has a fraternal twin - a girl who doesn't look like her. She appears next in Tim Burton's gothic tale of vampires, "Dark Shadows" along side Johnny Depp, Jonny Lee Miller and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Eva Green

Eva Green. Her first film was the sexually ambivalent "The Dreamers" by film master Bernardo Bertolucci.

Eva Green

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