Review | Perfect Sense (2011)


Among the more inappropriate and unfortunate choices of a title this year, Perfect Sense is an apocalyptic romance which offers little in the way of what its title suggests. Ewan McGregor and Eva Green star as Michael and Susan, two lonely people drawn together in Glasgow as a strange epidemic spreads across the world, gradually depriving humankind of its senses.

Director David Mackenzie made his career with 2003’s Young Adam, a career he somewhat derailed with his critically derided previous effort Spread. Perfect Sense reunites the director with both McGregor and the Glaswegian setting of Young Adam; perhaps with this he is attempting to return to the roots of his success. Alas, success is not a word that comes to mind on watching the film, its increasingly manic and erratic treatment of a reasonably good idea quickly demolishing any chance of reaching the level of profundity it aims for.

Much of Perfect Sense’s story and implementation is admirable, its basic premise interesting and original enough to make it workable into something unique. What results, however, is a shambolic mess of unabashed overacting, gaping narrative inconsistencies, and glaring overuse of slow-motion. Doubtlessly the scene wherein McGregor and his fellow chefs lose their sense of taste was intended to be a moment of high drama, but the script’s insistence on making insatiable hunger the key symptom sees a kitchen full of respectable actors made to rush about cramming whatever food they can get their hands on into their mouths. Absurdity, of course, is fitting in this scene, the phenomenon it documents close to unimaginable, but the sight of McGregor almost drowning himself in milk yields more comedy than dramatic tension.

It is in scenes such as these that Perfect Sense loses itself beyond redemption, its apparent inability to handle raw emotion without turning everything up to eleven replacing the intended meaningfulness with a fitful lunacy. McGregor and Green are each given plentiful opportunity to shout and scream whilst trashing entire rooms, reducing their characters from realistic portraits of people clinging together in times of hardship to petulant caricatures. The development of their relationship seems less motivated by an understanding of these characters than a need to work a breakup and subsequent reunion into the story, rendering them entirely unbelievable and the panic around them infinitely less concerning.

Susan best epitomises the fatal flaw of Kim Fupz Aakeson’s screenplay: its failure to deliver real relatable characters. She is employed as an epidemiologist tasked to work on discovering the nature of this phenomenon, a job she firmly ignores in favour of staying in Michael’s bed all day. It becomes increasingly difficult, with each additional instance of sensory deprivation, not to lose all patience with the character and begin screaming at the screen for her to put her pants back on and get to work. She lacks any drive, preferring to lie about complaining about her impending loss of senses than actually going out and trying to do something about it, stripping her plight of any sympathy from the audience.

Aiming perhaps to create a unique visual style, MacKenzie opts to mount a camera upon the handlebars of Michael’s bicycle in no fewer than three scenes, an immensely irritating idea that serves solely to provide a visual equivalent of the narrative’s rocky instability. His liberal use of slow-motion, too, contributes to Perfect Sense’s considerable aesthetic flaws. This is a film less than pleasing to look at, its capturing of Glasgow lacking any of the vivid life of, say, MacKenzie’s shooting of London in Hallam Foe.

Invariably comparable to the similarly-plotted but far superior Contagion, Perfect Sense fails to capitalize upon an interesting initial idea. With wholly unbelievable and eventually annoying characters, unintentionally funny scenes of emotional breakdown, performances devoid of any restraint, and a director who seems to have forgotten how to direct, this is a film that fails on almost every level.

35/100 - Among the more inappropriate and unfortunate choices of title this year, Perfect Sense is an apocalyptic romance which offers little in the way of what its title suggests.

Ronan Doyle

Having spent the vast majority of my life sharing in the all too prevalent belief than cinema is merely dumbed-down weekend escapism for the masses, I was lucky enough to turn on a television at the exact right moment to have my perspectives on the medium completely transformed. Those first two and a half hours marked the beginning of a new life revolving around—maybe even depending upon—the screen and the depth of artistry, intellectual stimulation, and emotional exhilaration it can provide.