David Mackenzie’s Perfect Sense (2011) – starring Ewan McGregor, Eva Green and Connie Nielsen – is a fascinating, well-constructed film, beginning as a bleak romantic drama and ending like an episode of The Twilight Zone. Set in a liberal, well-to-do area of Glasgow, it depicts a fairly ordinary love story in extraordinary circumstances. This is a science fiction in the classic hypothetical tradition, the ‘what if?’ here being: what if the human race, gradually, simultaneously and universally, started losing all their senses?
The premise is intriguing, rich and fertile with ideas, but it takes a little while for it to reveal itself. An opening sequence does not bode well, as an unseen narrator feebly muses on life, the universe and everything (“There is life… and there is death”, she grandly observes), as a bland montage of stock footage illuminates nothing in particular.
The first half-hour doesn’t fare better, dragging interminably as director Mackenzie indulgently establishes the melancholy backstories of our lead characters: Michael (McGregor) is a commitment-phobic chef; Susan (Green) is a depressed scientist. Neither are immediately endearing, and Mackenzie’s fruitlessly pretentious art film approach initially puts Perfect Sense in a very real danger of disappearing up its own arse.
Thankfully, as soon as the unprecedented events take shape, and the human race begins to lose each sense, one-by-one, the pace quickens and our interest is piqued in tow. Kim Fupz Aakeson’s tenacious, highly original script imagines our reactions and responses to a spontaneous mass disease with colour and invention.
Humanity survives, adapts and gets on with life as smell, taste, sound et al are slowly removed from our species. As a chef, McGregor’s character must confront humanity’s lack of taste head on – so buckets of spice are added to every meal, whilst texture and presentation becomes crucial. The side-effects of these diseases are abrupt and dramatic, too: before losing their taste, humans become ravenous with hunger, devouring anything to hand, even raw fish, or flowers. Clever, inspired touches make the film.
At its heart remains a highly-charged love story between the two leads, which, in another film, could be easily dismissed as superfluous. But here it seems entirely appropriate, the extraordinary events they face forging the path of their young relationship. Though you may struggle to entirely empathise with them as characters, their ultimately doomed plight provides a candid window into a terrifying series of events.
And when the film seems at its bleakest ebb, it spins out an unexpected thread of positivity for the well-crafted and even rather moving ending, somehow managing to simultaneously be both apocalyptic and optimistic. It’s the kind of ending that leaves you blinking and dazed as you leave the cinema. There are plenty of flaws to Perfect Sense in plenty of respects, but it manages what all great sci-fis achieve: making an imaginative idea worm its way into your head, until you start seeing the world in a strange new light.